The Legend of Blind Bart

Let’s ask Jesus to help us see – see how much he loves us, see him leading and guiding us, see people we might not be seeing, see people’s value despite how they seem on the outside, see how we can be legends.

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Mark 10:46-52

What will your legacy be?

I have what I think might be an unusual habit.  When someone is not getting along in a particular situation, or not fitting in with the group, I try to imagine how they might be in an entirely different setting.  For example, a kid that’s being bossy can get in trouble with their friends and with adults, but what if we could fast-forward 20 years and that kid was the president of a company or an entrepreneur?  Then their bossiness is exactly what’s expected. Thinking of that kid in a different situation helps me to see them differently, to see more than just difficult behavior.  Maybe they just haven’t yet become all that they have the potential to become.

We’re all always in the process of growing into our potential, of becoming the legends we will be.  What will we be remembered for?  This reminds me of what Paul says in Philippians 1:6, that he is confident that God who began the good work in us will continue to perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ.

I called the story in today’s scripture the legend of blind Bart. I can’t take credit for the title. My wise and creative husband Rob suggested it.  And it turns out that former Union Seminary professor Paul Achtemeier wrote a 32-page journal article arguing that this story is a legend and a call story almost more than it is a miracle story.[1]  One of the reasons Achtemeier gives is that, unlike other stories of healing blindness, in this story, the blind person has a name. 

Do you remember his name?  Bartimaeus. 

Bar means son, so he is the son of Timaeus.  This son of Timaeus is calling out to Jesus, son of David.  “Son of David, have mercy on me.” (v47 and 48) “Son of David” is a title that can mean Messiah.  Though Bartimaeus was physically blind, and an outcast who sat by the road begging for money because that’s all he could do, Bartimaeus saw who Jesus was. The Messiah. The Son of David. His savior.

The gospel of Mark is known for a particular writing device called an inclusio, or a Markan sandwich. Mark frames stories with a particular theme with something at the beginning and end that ties them together.  The story about Bartimaeus is the end of a frame that begins back in chapter 8 with another story about healing blindness.[2]  In that first story, the blind man is not named, and his blindness is at first only partially healed and so, at first, he sees people “like trees walking around.”  (Mark 8:22-26)

What follows are stories about people who are unable to fully see and understand who Jesus is. For example, Peter declares that Jesus is the Christ, but then when Jesus tells them what’s going to happen when they get to Jerusalem, that he would be rejected by the elders and chief priests and killed, Peter reprimands Jesus for saying such discouraging things. (Mark 8:27-38) He can’t see that this is the very plan.

Here in chapter 10, we see people coming to Jesus with questions that show that they don’t really see who Jesus is.  The Pharisees ask Jesus a question about divorce, not because they want to know something helpful, but because they’re trying to trap Jesus into saying something for which they can arrest him.  They see him as a heretic and troublemaker.

Then a rich man asks Jesus what he can do to earn eternal life.  He calls Jesus a teacher and goes away sad because he doesn’t like what he hears.  He couldn’t see that Jesus was offering him a way to throw off the burden of trying to be good enough to earn salvation.

Then James and John ask Jesus for a favor.  Like in the story of Bartimaeus, Jesus asks these two disciples, “What do you want me to do for you?”  James and John ask for seats of honor because they think Jesus is going to be a political success.  They couldn’t see that Jesus was demonstrating a different kind of success, humble service. They didn’t yet see that Jesus was God in the flesh who willingly became the servant of all.

Now, we come to today’s story, the legend of Bartimaeus, a blind man who sees more clearly than others have,[3] that Jesus is the Son of David, and who asks him for mercy.  (Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Mark 10:47-48) Mercy is something God is known for granting. We give thanks to God for mercy. We ask God for mercy in our prayers when we confess our sins and ask for forgiveness, and when we ask for help for ourselves and for other people.  We say, “Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.”

It’s a humble ask.  It’s a way of saying, “I’m asking even though I know I don’t deserve what I’m asking for, even though the one I’m asking is under no obligation to grant what I’m asking.”

Bartimaeus is probably used to being ignored.  In Bart’s time, blindness was considered a punishment for sin.  If Bart had been born blind, then people assumed that his parents had done something sinful that caused Bart to be blind.  In Bart’s case, since he says, “I want to see again,” he may not have been born blind, in which case it would have been assumed that Bart himself did something sinful that caused him to be struck blind.  Either way, Bart would have been shunned and made to feel ashamed for being blind.

This is probably why the people were shushing Bart when he called out to Jesus.  They couldn’t imagine that someone so important as Jesus would have time for someone so sinful as Blind Bart.  But Jesus knew as we know now, that being blind is not a punishment for someone’s sin.  And besides, Jesus doesn’t go around punishing people for sin, he forgives people, and he heals people.

Do you know why blind people don’t eat fish?  It’s see food.

Bart could easily have been ignored, but Jesus hears Bart shouting and stops, and tells the people to call Bart to come to him.  We can just imagine the excitement Bart must have had as he throws off his cloak and jumps up to go to Jesus.  This reminds me of the encouragement we have in Hebrews 12:1 to “…throw off everything that hinders us and the sin that so easily entangles us…”  This is what Jesus was advising the rich man to do earlier in this chapter.  That cloak may have been one of Bart’s most valuable possessions, but he quickly throws it off to go to Jesus.

Then Jesus asks Bart what he wants.  I’ve often thought that was a curious question.  Wouldn’t it be obvious that a blind man needed to have his eyes healed?  But maybe Bart might have wanted to ask a theological question like the Pharisees did.  Or to know what he could do to atone for his supposed sin and earn his sight back. Or maybe he could have wanted a place of honor in Jesus’ kingdom like James and John did.

If Jesus were to be asking you, “What do you want me to do for you?” what would you ask for?

Bart’s request, “I want to see,” is both obvious and ironic.  He has already demonstrated that he sees what many others have been unable to see about Jesus.

Jesus grants Bart’s request and says, “Go, your faith has made you well.”  But Bart isn’t content to just use his newly regained sight to go back to his old life.  Instead, he follows Jesus and begins a new life as a disciple.  Maybe this is what has made Bart so memorable and legendary.

What will your legacy be?  What will you be remembered for?  Maybe it will be for something you haven’t yet become. Or maybe for the way you encouraged someone else to become something.

Do you remember Anne Sullivan?  She’s best known for being the one who taught Helen Keller how to communicate. As most of us might know, Helen Keller was deaf and blind and so had not learned to speak.  Anne Sullivan is the teacher who had compassionate patience with Helen and used sign language in Helen’s hands so that Helen could talk with the people around her. 

Did you know that Anne was also blind?  Anne’s mother died when Anne was a little girl, and her father, overwhelmed by grief and his inability to care for the children, left them.  So Anne was sent to an orphanage where she went blind because of a bacterial infection in her eyes.  The orphanage was apparently a horrible place, and when the authorities came to shut it down, Anne did something like Bartimaeus did, she cried out to those authorities for mercy, asking to be sent to a school for the blind.  It was at that school for the blind that Anne learned how to sign in someone’s hand, and that’s how she knew what to do for Helen Keller.[4]

Both Ann and Helen could have been easily ignored and dismissed because of their blindness, and yet they both became legendary.

Who might we be ignoring or dismissing?

For me personally, when I ask myself that question, I keep seeing Oscar the Grouch.  You probably know who he is.  He lives in a trash can on Sesame Street.  He’s always saying rude things and telling people to leave him alone.  But when people stick it out with him and have conversations, they find out that underneath the gruff exterior and despite the fact that he lives in a trash can, he’s actually a nice guy.  And because of that, Oscar is legendary.

What does it mean to be legendary?  It simply means to be remembered.  How will we be remembered?  Who are we dismissing who might be surprisingly memorable?

Several people saw and “were blind to” an elderly woman traveling on an airplane. The stewardess saw a person who needed help getting to her seat and would need more help in an emergency. The teenager seated next to her saw an inconvenient “old fuddy-duddy” and put on his headset. The man seated across the aisle saw her wallet bulging with pictures, and hid in his newspaper so he wouldn’t have to hear about her grandchildren. The people who met her at the airport recognized her and excitedly called out to her, “Mom, over here!  We’re so excited to see you!”[5]

What does it mean to be a legend? Maybe at the heart of things, it just means to be loved.

Let’s ask Jesus to help us see – see how much he loves us, see him leading and guiding us, see people we might not be seeing, see people’s value despite how they seem on the outside, see how we can be legends.

[1] Paul J. Achtemeier, “And He Followed Him: Miracles and Discipleship in Mark 10:46-52,” Semeia 11 (1978): 115.

[2] Alicia D. Meyers, Edited by Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery, Cynthia L. Rigby & Carolyn J. Sharp. Connections: Year B, Volume 3 (Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship) (p. 422). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.

[3] Timothy Adkins-Jones, Living By the Word, Christian Century


[5] Adapted from Carolyn C. Brown, Worshipping with Children,

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