Commentary Excerpt by Tom Boomershine
The story of Bartimaeus is one of the great stories of the Gospel of Mark. It begins with a statement about coming to Jericho. Notice that it's a very short sentence that gets a lot of emphasis. The emphasis is on Jericho as a place of victory for the people of Israel. All of the associations of Jericho are shaped by that great victory when the people of Israel crossed into the Promised Land. The contrast between that victory and the status of Bartimaeus is what gives poignancy to this first episode. To heighten that memory of Jericho is important in order to establish the contrast to Bartimaeus' lowly position in Jericho as a blind beggar.
The irony is even further increased by the beggar's name. Bartimaeus means "a son of honor." Mark makes the irony immediately present by spelling out that Bartimaeus is "the son of Timaeus" and, just in case you might miss it, "a blind beggar." Mark translates Bartimaeus into its parts: "the son of Timaeus," which everyone in Mark's audience would have known means honor. The contrast between his name, "son of honor," and being a blind beggar, the supreme experience of shame in Jericho, is made crystal clear by all of this attention to his name. For he was sitting in the dust "by the side of the road."Your goal as storyteller in this part of the telling is to heighten that contrast as much as possible.
Mark makes the volume of Bartimaeus' cry to Jesus unambiguous. The contrast between"When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth" and "he began to shout out and say, 'Jesus,Son of David, have mercy on me!'" should be dramatic. The first part of the sentence is soft; then it explodes. The phrase to "have mercy" was a phrase that was used by supplicants, often by people who had been captured by an enemy general who were about to be executed. They would fall on their faces before the general and pray for mercy, that is, that their lives would not be taken, that they wouldn't be killed. In this instance, it is a prayer for mercy by one who is blind and who thinks that Jesus of Nazareth may be able to help him.
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