Northminster folks are reading through Mark’s gospel in preparation for 3W on September 15th (you can find details here).
Mark is the earliest and shortest of the gospels. And for centuries it was assumed to be the simplest. Mark was seen as a fast-paced summary of the high points of Jesus’ three year ministry. End of story.
Then almost twenty centuries after the gospel was written some scholars began to give Mark a closer look, and they realized that John Mark was a more careful craftsman than readers had thought.*
In chapter 8 there is the story of the healing of a blind man (Mark 8:22-26). In chapter 10 there is another healing of a blind man (Mark 10:46-52). Looking closely raises some questions. Like, Why would Mark include two such similar healing stories? Why put them so close together? Aren’t these paragraphs the only mention of blindness in the gospel? (Answer: Yes). Is Mark trying to tell us something? (Yes, again.)
After the first blind man is healed, Jesus asks his small group of disciples what people are saying about him and who they think he is. Simon Peter then confesses, “You are the Messiah” (8:29).
Immediately Jesus begins to explain what kind of Messiah he is: the Suffering Servant the prophet Isaiah had described. Jesus carefully explains that he is going to suffer, be rejected and killed, and rise from the dead (8:31). “He spoke plainly about this,” Mark tells us (8:32), but the disciples do not understand.
Then, as Jesus is leading them to Jerusalem and the cross, they encounter blind Bartimaeus who shouts, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:46-52). Jesus asks this second blind man the oddest question in scripture: “What do you want me to do for you?” Is he kidding? The fellow is blind, for goodness sake, he wants to see.
Son of David is another way of saying Messiah. The fact is, despite his physical blindness, Bartimaeus “sees” who Jesus is when Simon, Andrew, James, John and the others cannot see.
The two healings of blind men bracket (and underline and highlight) the blindness of the disciples to the kind of savior Jesus will be—the innocent victim who absorbs all of the violence the world can inflict; the Suffering Servant who demonstrates with his life/death /resurrection that “God works all things into good for those who love God and are called according to God’s purposes” (Romans 8:28).