Journey to Jerusalem

The readings for Sunday, October 25, 2015, Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B, are Jeremiah 31:7-9; Hebrews 5:1-6; and Mark 10:46-52.

Jesus and his disciples are en route from Galilee in the north to Jerusalem in the south for Passover. Their journey began after the transfiguration of Jesus. The journey was sandwiched between a preview of the resurrection, (the transfiguration), and the resurrection itself. During the journey there were encounters with various  types — Pharisees, children, a man seeking a way to eternal life. Much of the time was devoted  to private instruction of the disciples. Among other subjects: humility, marriage, divorce and remarriage, Christian poverty, Christians and wealth, serving others rather than power over others, the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. Mark writes on two levels: the time of Jesus in the thirties and his own time forty years later. When he places material under instruction of Jesus’ disciples, he is instructing his own Christian community.

Mark informed us in 10:1 that the journey to Jerusalem took the safer route called “beyond the Jordan.” This means that at some time in Galilee Jesus and Co. crossed either the Sea of Galilee from west to east or the Jordan River south of the sea from the west bank to the east bank of the river. The more direct route was through Samaria, but that route had its dangers. As the Samaritan woman informs Jesus in John 4:9, “Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.” The antipathy between these two peoples had various causes dating from the eighth century B.C. So Jesus and his disciples, and probably a huge Passover caravan slowly made their way southward, down the east bank of the Jordan River toward Jerusalem. They re-crossed the Jordan to the west bank a few miles north of the Dead Sea.

Now they were back on the west bank of the Jordan. The first city they encountered was Jericho.  This wealthy city, on the southern end of the Jordan Valley, with a year round warm climate, was also called “the City of Palms,” Deut. 34:3. It was in this city that Jesus encountered the very rich chief tax collector Zacchaeus, but that story occurs only in Luke’s gospel. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus had just passed through Jericho “with his disciples and a large crowd.” As happens in rich cities of our day, there were beggars in Jericho. Mark writes, “Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus, sat by the roadside begging.” Above the noise of the crowd, Bartimaeus heard that Jesus was passing by. He cried out, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.”

The crowd tried to keep him quiet. Why? “Son of David” was a royal title attached to the long line of kings descended from King David. Under Roman occupation of Palestine it was highly dangerous for any man to be acclaimed with a royal title. The Romans would not tolerate a king unless he was made a king by Roman power. Despite opposition from the crowd, the blind man kept proclaiming Jesus by this royal title. What is Mark doing here? Except for a moment of enlightenment for Simon Peter in 8:29, the disciples of Jesus had been astoundingly slow to learn. Indeed they did expect him to take over Jerusalem and there, with their help, establish their concept of “the kingdom of God.” But “Son of David?” Too dangerous at this time! So Mark is saying, to the discredit of the disciples, that the blind man has a better insight into the servant/king identity of Jesus than they do. He wants to see. They want power. The concept of Jesus as Davidic king will come up twice more, first during Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem, then in a discussion with Jesus’ critics.   

The King commands, “Call him!” They alerted the blind man, “Take courage. Get up. Jesus is calling you.” The blind man threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came over to Jesus. As usual, but not always in Mark’s gospel, Jesus is gentle with the suffering. His faith in Jesus must have moved the Lord. Jesus asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?” This was a question either a king or a physician would ask. My Master, that I may see!” A simple request! How different from James and John. They had approached Jesus to request the first places in a political kingdom which they expected him to establish in Jerusalem. Actually he was about to establish his kingdom in Jerusalem, but not their kind of kingdom.  How different from all the apostles squabbling over who among them was the most important. Jesus recognizes the man’s confidence or faith in him and says, “Go your way. Your faith has saved you.”

Mark wraps up the story, “Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus on the way.”  What way? The road to Jerusalem, the Way of the Cross, the journey that every Christian must travel.