Jeremiah prophesized during the time of the Babylonian exile, (597-537 BCE) a time of loss, sadness and dismay that God had disappeared from the Jewish people. Life, as they had known it, with the temple and worship as the centre of their culture had ended. They couldn’t see the way forward.
In this section of the book of Jeremiah (31:7-9) God speaks to the Jewish people. He refers to Jacob, later named Israel, patriarch of the Israelites, as an example of his loving kindness. In Genesis, Jacob was the third Hebrew progenitor with whom God made a covenant. He was the son of Isaac and Rebecca, the grandson of Abraham, Sarah and Bethuel.
As a result of a severe drought in Canaan, Jacob and his sons moved to Egypt when his son Joseph was viceroy. After 17 years in Egypt, Jacob died. Joseph carried Jacob’s remains to the land of Canaan, and gave him a stately burial in the same cave as Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, and Jacob’s first wife, Leah.
The reference to Jacob reminds the Israelites, indirectly, that, like their ancestors whom God rescued from slavery in Egypt, they too will be free. When they have lost sight of their history and God’s covenant, Jeremiah reminds them with words of compassion. Here is the whole of the first reading.
This is what the Lord says:
“Sing with joy for Jacob;
shout for the foremost of the nations.
Make your praises heard, and say,
‘Lord, save your people,
the remnant of Israel.’
See, I will bring them from the land of the north
and gather them from the ends of the earth.
Among them will be the blind and the lame,
expectant mothers and women in labor;
a great throng will return.
They will come with weeping;
they will pray as I bring them back.
I will lead them beside streams of water
on a level path where they will not stumble,
because I am Israel’s father,
and Ephraim is my firstborn son.
This passage’s reference to the blind and the lamepoints to Jesus in this morning’s gospel (Mark 10:46-52).
The gospel takes place as Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem and his death.
The gospels of recent weeks have walked us through earlier parts of this journey. Jesus has talked to the rich young man who wanted to inherit eternal life, but the rich young man was not willing to sell all he had, give it to the poor and follow Jesus. Jesus then prophesized his coming death for a third time. In the gospel last week, Jesus told his disciples that they must be servants of all. Throughout these stories the disciples seem to be out of tune with the reality that Jesus spoke. They wanted to know what was in it for them. They wanted to sit on either side of Jesus in glory. They seemed to be blind to the sacrifices that Jesus would have to make and that they, too, would make.
In this week’s gospel, Jesus shows God’s power and compassion by curing Bartimaeus’ blindness. Many also read this story as a metaphor. The blind Bartimaeus “sees” Jesus more clearly than the sighted disciples who stumble over issues of wealth, glory and self-sacrifice. Still, Bartimaeus’ comprehension of Jesus is only partial.
They came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus… was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus said, “Call him.”
So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.
A number of interesting gems lie buried in this story. Jesus’ fame had preceded him, so that Bartimaeus knew something of him and recognized Jesus as the Son of David, a complimentary, royal title. He asked Jesus for compassion.
When Jesus beckoned him Bartimaeus enthusiastically threw his cloak aside and jumped to his feet. He understood that this potential encounter with Jesus could be life-changing…and it was.
Jesus did not touch him or command that he be healed. Contrast this with Mark 8:22-26 where Jesus appeared to struggled a bit to restore the sight of the blind man. In Mark’s version of the gospel Jesus seemed to grow in power as he approached Jerusalem.
The original Greek word that this gospel translates as healed, leans more to “saved” and implies both a physical healing and a spiritual one. It suggests that Jesus touched him at a profound level, beyond physical sight. One sign of this is that Bartimaeusfollowed Jesus to Jerusalem. (Recall that when Jesus healed the ten lepers only one returned to thank him. Sometimes Jesus’ saving touched just the physical dimension of their lives.)
- Jeremiah reminds the Jewish people of their heritage as well as renewing God’s promise at a time when they had sunk into a collective depression. Is God’s “long view” something we miss these days? In what way?
- If you were one of the disciples observing Jesus’ cure of Bartimaeus, what would have struck you later: Bartimaeus’ knowledge of who Jesus was? His enthusiasm? The fact that Jesus cured him without even touching him? The fact that Bartimaeus was not only cured but followed Jesus? Jesus’ comment about his faith? Something else?
- Do you think that the disciples had missed the point of Jesus’ teaching and miracles? Had they lost sight of how significant Jesus was? Or did they never clearly see and understand who he was? What did they experience “when the light went on” in their minds and they recalled these incidents after the Resurrection and Pentecost?