The problem for a modern audience hearing a story like the healing of blind Bartimaeus is that we hear it and go say “Aaaaah, Jesus has kindly helped a disabled man” , not unimportant in itself, but if that is all we see then completely missing the spiritual depth of the story. Mark has offered us here a story of spiritual renewal and so can be seen as a parable regarding baptism. Yes, this story is about conversion and baptism! Let’s look again.....
The language Mark uses is deliberate and revealing.
The parable is an echo of Isaiah 35:5 and for those with ears to hear and eyes to see there is much to get our teeth into here.
Bartimaeus is without perception and in dire need and his condition is symbolised by his location. In Mark’s text he is “off the road” that is to say, not on the way, the path of the Kingdom. The Greek Mark uses here is exactly the same as he uses to describe the futile seed in the parable of the sower (4:4)
When Jesus calls Bartimaeus, the phrase the people use is “Get up” which is the standard phrase used for resurrection and is being used to describe his conversion to the Christian movement because in the baptismal formula one dies and rises with Christ. Your old way of being and living is symbolicly drowned and you emerge from the water with a new life.
Bartimaeus then “throws off his cloak”. By the time Mark’s gospel was written (40 years after Jesus was crucified) it was already the custom that baptismal converts took off their old clothes to be clothed in new clothes, usually white, to represent their new risen life.
The man’s sole desire is to “see again” that is, to be enlightened. The phrase “has made you well” means equally “has saved you” (Luke 7:50)
The gift is salvation, the man’s cure is conversion, so that he becomes a follower of Jesus. The man who started “by the way” is now “on the way” literally “in the way”.
“The way” is the road that Jesus invites us to travel. It is an active participatory journey in trust.
Mark also uses framing techniques in his gospel so where a story is put can have great significance. He uses a literary device where events are sandwiched between two other events and the two are supposed to interpret each other.
In Jesus’ literal journey from Caesarea Philippi to Jerusalem his journey, which ends on the cross is framed by two stories, both of them healings of blind men. Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem is framed by two stories of the healing of blind men.
Mark is trying to say, look at that journey and see if you have eyes to see. The way of healing, which is what the word salvation means, from the root “salve” – to heal, in a more holistic sense, leads to In Jesus’ case a literal death, but for us, following the way of Jesus means a death of self interest a death of selfishness, and being re-born with a new perception, resurrected to a new life in the Spirit, re-born to a fullness of life lived in the conscious knowledge of God.
This is what Jesus calls fullness of life.