Mark 10:51

“What do you want me to do for you?” said Jesus, addressing him. “Rabboni,” the blind man answered, “I want to recover my sight.”

I want to see
my life ’till now
as blessing plenty
my life in this moment
as blessing overflowing
my life from here forward
as blessing continuous

I want to see
your life ’til now
as worthy of acceptance
your life in this moment
as worthy of love
your life from here forward
as worthy of following

I want to see
my life and
your life and
our life and
more life and
playing together and
growing into and

As with James and John, when there is a face-to-face meeting, Jesus asks what is really being requested.

This is important when the generic ask at first was simply for “mercy”. Mercy comes in a great variety of ways, large and small. When asking for mercy, for our own life or the life of someone else, the range of what that means is unpredictable in the same way that our bargaining in grief can be for something small or large.

The response to the question of meaning begins with a title, “Teacher”. This is a place to reflect on the way this blind beggar was first presented with another title on his tongue, “Son of G*D”. Dispensing with the male content, we hear about one who cohabits with G*D. To be in the presence of one is to be in the presence of the other.

If these are parallel titles, might we not all begin to see ourselves and others as teachers. We support and correct one another along our respective paths that we better partner with G*D and Neighb*r.

Seemingly without hesitation, the beggar makes known his understanding of what “mercy” means in his life. To receive sight, to see. No, no interpreter can go any further into what this means. Rather readers are encouraged to ask of themselves what it would be for them to “see”.

Experience and language will play a big part of what that might mean for an individual. If you spoke “Zoque, the equivalent expression is ‘permit my eyes to shine’.” [Bratcher340] What would bring such a sparkle to your eyes and life that you would hie your beloved self into a wilderness to find your own next becoming?

Mark 10:50

The man threw off his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.

let every hindrance be gone
our emblem of identity left behind
the weight of nothingness lifted

we jump and dance everything loose
no matter how many prior dry chances
we won’t deny this opportunity

a decision to give
mercy space to grow
activates our own mercy

With encouragement the one who appeared blind jumped from his begging position, threw off his outer garment, and walked/ran to Jesus.

We were caught by surprise when we heard that one looking for eternal life was rich to the point of being unable to give their riches away and thereby barred from his desire. Here, being a blind beggar leads us into expectations that are disconcerting when we hear about his coming to Jesus, seemingly on his own, after being whipsawed with communal rebuke and community encouragement.

Presumably, his cloak is his primary possession. This he tosses to the side.

Presumably, the blind beggar needs to come from the edge of the crowd to its center. Along the way there may have been many little nudges by people as he moved inward. His sight, perhaps not good enough for work but good enough to make his way through what seemed to be trees or being a proficient echo-locator, may have brought him near. At any rate, he moves with unexpected alacrity.

Remembering this is a summary action, the last before arriving in Jerusalem, we are able to use this as a green screen against which we can catch glimpses of all the previous healings that happened along the way. Each word in the story can connect us to a previous healing. For instance, “Get up” is the same as “rise up” said to a daughter.

We can see and hear that someone has a problem that has reduced them in their own eyes or in the eyes of the community. There is suffering of some sort that has been going on.

There is an urgency about bringing someone to Jesus or Jesus to someone. Along with this is a heightened expectation of potential awe that will take breath away.

There is purposeful action. No detail or self-contradiction will get in the way of the story, the life at stake, the partnering with.

Mark 10:49

Then Jesus stopped. “Call him,” he said. So they called the blind man. “Have courage!” they exclaimed. “Get up; he is calling you.”

how quickly we change our tune
when suddenly herr leader says jump

war becomes peace enemy turns friend
our hearts jerked our brain scrambled

the hand we have held out against
crooks a finger to beckon a hug

all the calf-building we’ve been doing
turns to mass production of bronze snakes

who will be our benefactor
in this strange new economy

without any certainty
we just follow a next rule

Literally, “Stopped” is, “Standing”. Have you ever stopped mid-stride because you heard or saw something that stopped you in-your-tracks or played Statues. This is a moment of heightened attention. What is going to happen next?

We have the movement of a movement moving toward its conclusion. A not-still voice cries out and shouts again and again. Amid all the excitement of the beginning of the last leg of their journey, that voice was heard and the crowd stopped. Instead of Jesus going forward to Jerusalem there is time for Bartimaeus to be called forward.

While there may have been a hope of being heard, beggars are accustomed to being ignored and hope against hope may have been more the case than any expectation of being heard. Bartimaeus may well have faltered when his moment came. “Me? Really, me?” and led to those around him saying, “Courage. Steady on, old man.” And the community, acquainted with a recent scene where the disciples were rebuked for keeping children away, anticipated yet another reversal of the disciples tendency to rebuke by turning it to mercy.

As you read the verse, did you also feel Bartimaeus freeze when called upon? Did you hold your breath, and then breathe courage into him? Perhaps there was a more recent time you did that in an otherwise ordinary day? Even as a paralyzed person was carried by their friends who also broke through a ceiling for him, a miracle was already beginning with the simple act of encouragement. It is time to practice encouragement: “Courage! Get up! Move forward!”

Mark 10:48

Many of the people kept telling him to be quiet; but the man continued to call out all the louder, “Son of David, take pity on me.”

leaders should never
have to put up with
a discouraging word

their divine right
puts thumbs where they want
of their own accord

petitions from the gallery
need one hundred fifty seven
signatures to be heard

with every one a chief-of-staff
privilege is well protected
from practicing mercy

such rabble
can shout
until hoarse

while institutional white noise
claims its supremacy
and walks blissfully away

Scolding can work for awhile but eventually loses potency. Often this leads to harsher measures to control another.

Sometimes, when a need is great enough, neither scolding nor harsher methods will keep the groaning of the universe quiet.

John Dominic Crossan and Sarah Sexton Crossan have a new book out, Resurrecting Easter: How the West Lost and the East Kept the Original Easter Vision in which they note a difference between the Western Church emphasizing individual resurrection and justice and an Eastern emphasis upon universal resurrection and mercy.

To this point I’ve used the word “mercy” almost five times more than “justice” (78 to 17). This might be a place for readers here to check their own language pattern. Do you use justice or mercy more? If you find you are more on the justice end of things, you might try a 40–day experiment (a Lenten timeframe leading to Easter) of intentionally using “mercy” to see what it does to your interactions.

We can also remember back to 5:19 when the Geresene is sent back to his hometown to tell about the “mercy” that he experienced. Other healings brought an involuntary telling (even when instructed, as here, to stop talking). Justice may be silenced with a non-disclosure agreement, but mercy can’t and won’t shut-up.

Mann’s saying verse 45 is a crucial interpretive point in the gospels is joined by Elizabeth Struthers Malbon in Anderson41, who says, “The goal of [Jesus’] journey is for all—disciples and implied readers— to ‘see’ as Bartimaeus does and to follow ‘on the way.’”

Mark 10:47

Hearing that it was Jesus the Nazarene, he began to call out, “Jesus, Son of David, take pity on me.”

good old Eliza Doolittle
comes to recognize little doing
does not does not love make

her complaint about words
substituting for love
rivets our attention

similar accusations rise up
to confront such virtues as
forgiveness mercy joy justice

we stamp our foot aggrieved
at each hypocritical
form over function

words ungrounded
float away
these stick


Here the story changes from destruction to renewal, from separation to renewal. If service is the key to unlock external or internal oppression, not ransom, we see behind this beggar one of the meanings of service, that of being merciful. Mercy stops harm and starts healing. Mercy turns violence to compassion, wilderness to retreat.

Bartimaeus means, “son of the unclean”. It is time to engage our memory of frequent encounters Jesus has had with the “unclean”—from the propertied man, competitive disciples, seizing boy, another blind person, another who is deaf, a Syrophoenician’s sick daughter, Jairus’ daughter, a hemorrhaging woman, Gerasene demoniac, sea storm, withered hand, paralytic, leper, feverish mother-in-law, and all the way back to a man with an unclean spirit in a synagogue. There seems to always be one more uncleanliness that needs a healing mercy.

Swanson95 notices that “Jesus of Nazareth” does not flow easily in the Greek and uses “Jesus Netzer” that carries with it a picture of a shoot of a plant that brings to mind Jesse and David. Isaiah uses the imagery of a shoot from the stump of Jesse to look for someone to replace David’s failed descendants. The search of prophets is to find a new beginning, a new David.

Here Swanson comments, “If the unclean spirit can see deep enough into Jesus and into Scripture to see Jesus as this new David, he has good eyes indeed. This is a revelation.”

And our question echoes still, “Who do you say that I am?”

Mark 10:46

They came to Jericho. When Jesus was going out of the town with his disciples and a large crowd, Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside.

we arrive footloose and fancy free
free to not claim a right of place
to claim a partner’s place
alongside additional liberators

having arrived ragtag and unnoticed
is not the same as inconsequential
is open to receiving new parts of life
decorating seeming nothingness

we leave slowed by new partners
each looking for a long-goodbye
before settling back to work
with renewed focus and energy

each long-goodbye opening new avenues
to saunter down in exploratory mode
finding here an unnoticed connection
a thanksgiving for ordinary moments

each goodbye opens eyes
we never knew we had it so good
and even better we hear new calls
in unexpected quarters

Jericho is a marker between wilderness wandering and claiming a new space. Here along the Jordan of baptismal fame we can remember back to 12 memorial stones set in the Jordan. Here is the ending parenthesis to the crossing of the Sea of Reeds that began an Exodus journey. Here was Rahab, a prostitute, and a crimson cord as a sign of protection—not unlike crimson blood upon the Hebrew doors in Egypt.

Long ago Jericho was conquered via a 7–day siege. On the seventh day there was no rest, but shouting and destruction, putting men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys to death by swords.

Here is a blind beggar. Where Mark usually leaves off names, he now names this one person twice—Bar-Timaeus (Son of Timaeus). This double name may be behind Matthew’s telling of this tale about 2 beggars.

Prostitute and beggar are more than their surface disjuncture from society. Jericho as an ending of an Exodus or the entrance into a final rising to Jerusalem shifts the story as much as a reversal of Babel can be seen in a Pentacostal moment. Jericho is a geographic hinge between then and now, a fearful wilderness and hopeful retreat.

Mark 10:45

for even the Son of Man came, not be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

looking for a great release
from testing’s pressure
finds us jumping
from flotsam to jetsam
in a slow wide whirlpool
patterning and limiting
stepping off the wheel
even as it increases speed
narrowing life to only death

our dusty place
of ashes to ashes
has yet to fall down
naively suggesting
all is well
while broken is all about
yearning for liberation
stuck in grand illusions
avoiding thanks serving

Placing this in our own life, there comes an affirmation: I am not present to be served but, partnered with others, through suffering and death, to release one another from our particular addiction to a privileged jump to exceptionalism.

To serve as a model of having been released through belovedness and wilderness retreat by revisioning the past and changing behavior is a sure-fire recipe for the suffering and death that comes from meaningful engagement with the principalities and powers of a privileged resurrection.

Tat-Siong Benny Liew, in his chapter on “Postcolonial Criticism” in Anderson230, connects personal and social release through the word “many”, meaning “all”.

The missing ingredient that will help turn or transform his life into a ransom or a form of currency turns out to be, of course, his blood. As part of the menu of his Passover meal with his disciples, Jesus will take the cup and say to them [Mark14:24]—“This is my blood of the covenant, which is being poured out for many.” To oppose this imperial phenomenon of “globalatinization”—a form of Trinitarian transmutation involving religious, economic, and colonial violence, if you will—it will take not only more than the postcolonial “Holy Trinity” of Said, Bhabha, and Spivak [post-colonial scholars], but also many more postcolonial readings of the Bible, Mark and otherwise.

Mann414 identifies this verse as “a crux interpretum in the gospels”. This leads to adding an extra page of comment for this verse.

A significant part of the historic importance of this verse relates to a variety of theories of atonement, particularly those that have a substitutionary component. Those interested in escaping the restrictive and violent nature of substitutionary atonement might start with The Nonviolent God by J. Denny Weaver.

The key word for substitutionists is not “many”, but “ransom”. How does redemption or deliverance-by-purchase work?

This takes us back to the person who turned out to be rich and was not willing to share his resources by giving them away. That might be thought of as a ransom for his entrance to “eternal life”. References to a down-payment are also in order. In both cases this is quid pro quo, a bartering not unlike Abraham bargaining for the lives of the residents of Sodom, and Gomorrah, too.

Whether it is a monetary indulgence or 10 “righteous” people in Sodom, this parallel image of “ransom” will ascend over its important primary meaning of “service” and end up in substituting Jesus’ life for needed actions of discipleship. This will turn G*D into a cruel judge violently demanding many pounds of flesh and separation of our life from that of the community. Atonement will come to mean never having to say I’m sorry. Jesus will say it for us. It also means we don’t have to give our accumulated resources away.

Key here is not the word λύτρον (lutron, ransom or release, from bondage—ref. Exodus) but the next word, ἀντί (anti, instead of or on behalf of). It may be a subtle distinction to make but it does make a difference whether this is an action that comes out of what one can do because it reflects a generous nature or whether there is an expectation of pay back through obligation to at least feel guilty that you weren’t able to hike yourself up by your own bootstraps.

Two points remain. First, Luke 22:27 is a parallel with this verse: “Among you I function as one who serves” [5G95]. Luke removes the whole second half of this verse, which has caused so much trouble over the generations. The Five Gospels puts it this way: “Luke…makes it clear that Mark has turned an aphorism about serving into a theological statement about redemption.” This is warrant to elide the ransom parallel when reading this in public.

Second, Paul. Mann417f. reflects on “many” to find it translatable as “community” as in the Covenant People/Israel or those who follow Jesus. He goes on to note:

…the word ransom in the Pauline corpus is never used in the restrictive sense of “the community” but “for all” (1 Tim 2:6) and “for us” (Titus 2:14). If Paul is responsible—as he is—for the theological shift from a “ministry within Judaism” to a “ministry of universal significance,” he must have had a starting point within the tradition of Jesus’ work and words: we suggest that 10:45 was one such starting point in the tradition.

Mark 10:44

and whoever wants to take the first place among you must be the servant of all;

rise through the ranks
and find your limits
by the unranked authority
needed to ride a rise

whoever would rise
had best attend
to a coup in the making
by those passed over

risen leavened bread
has a short shelf-life
compared to hearty fare
foundationally laid

sow your seed
in trust of increase
and all will be well
right now and again

It is one thing to take a servant role within speaking distance of those you are actively supporting and correcting. There is a mutuality implied in that such a servant can also have those who assist in supporting and correcting you.

It is quite another to have a huge gap between a slave and a master. Here there is no relationship other than, “Do the job to my expectations or ‘Off with your head!’”

Servants are present; slaves are non-persona.

In addition to distinctions between servants and slaves there is also a parallelism that heightens the direction in which Jesus points the Twelve.

To be a servant is to be in practice to go beyond being a servant who knows they are a servant and has expectations of the others in the group to be their servant. To go beyond this quid pro quo brings us in the direction of being a slave or to be so conditioned by being informed by our suffering and death that there is no longer a conscious choice going on, but we know how to care for another and simply do it without calculation.

To move from a servant within a group to slave “vis-à-vis the entire human community” (LaVerdiere-2119) is a journey of theosis or participation in the tradition of the Lamed-Vav Tzadikim (the 36 people in every generation who are this kind of servant/slave without knowing an claiming it).

This is the διακονέω (diakoneō, service) provided by angels in the wilderness (1:13), Simon Peter’s unnamed mother-in-law (1:31), Jesus (10:45), and his women followers (15:41). This is the serving Mark is implanting in his readers through their encounter with the Twelve who seem not to get it so readers might come to awareness of the possibility of their being deacons, servants, slaves unto resurrection.

Mark 10:43

But among you it is not so. No, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,

no matter what ideal vanities
we hold up as worth our life
to break our relationships
to measure once wrongly
the overlooked plumb line
is expansive partnership
we’re in this together

the surest way to the slough
is to have every arrow shot
to our central loneliness
stuffed with survival and surfeit
cramped by hoarding
your life in my cache

the insanity of our result
persists in every fantasy
refusing to solve a puzzle
through new perspective
from a creative commonality
stretching backward and forward
height requiring breadth

What we know is the way the world currently works, the power structures found in family, politics, military, and church.

What is being asked for here is a considered review of how that seems to work itself out for women in a patriarchal culture, for wage slaves in a capitalistic economy, or for followers of Jesus in a prosperity theology.

As we run into the pitfalls of current structural ways of interacting with one another, there is to be a present choice invoked that change must occur. This means an awareness of how people are turned into subservients and to not just ally ourselves with them or advocate on their behalf but be an accomplice with them in changing the current order.

As might be expected, this talk of being a servant is simply a variant on the suffering, death, and resurrection talk that has become the background of our new life of “repentance and changed hearts” from way back at the beginning of this story.

It is good to remember the Invitation to a Covenant Service that was adapted by John Wesley for those wrestling with what it means to live a holy life, a life of G*D (modified from The United Methodist Book of Worship291). Being a servant begins in liminal space of intention to be turned to action. Among the many services to be lived,

Some are more easy and honorable. Some are suitable to our inclinations and interests, others are contrary to both. In some we may please our partners (G*D and Neighb*r) and please ourself. In some we cannot please our partners except through suffering and death. It is necessary, therefore to consider what it means to be a servant.

Mark 10:42

But Jesus called the ten to him, and said, “Those who are regarded as ruling among the Gentiles lord it over them, as you know, and their great men oppress them.

when we look around
there are mirrors everywhere
seeing authoritarian leaders
allows our own internal despot
its claimed right
to excuse every advantage

such reflected icons
need a deep look of love
to see through their surface
behind their keep-out barrier
beyond this latest test
all the way to fertile ground

when all we see around
are rich folks getting richer
resulting in poor folk poorer
contracted robbery by fountain pen
tilting every field downhill
we are ever so tested

all the warnings in the world
fall on our test-deafened ears
speculating this time
our gracious rule
will escape its own comfort
to privilege another

It is helpful to palin our way back to the earlier scene with blocked children (10:13–16).

The issue of authority here is a parallel of the action of blessing back then.

Our tendency to boss another around is more clearly seen, more obvious, with the children. This can be called out far more easily than with adults that get into “climbing the ladder” contests where winners can be excused their behavior simply because they have the strength to get away with it in a “might makes right” sort of way.

As this is being written the children of Parkland, Florida are looking for a blessing after a mass shooting at their school. Women are speaking the words, “Me, too” in a claiming of a blessing of both belovedness and agency of their own. Minor children who were brought by or born to undocumented immigrants are dreaming of and acting toward their own blessing of safety in a place they have lived all their years. Similar blessings are looked for under other banners such as “Black Lives Matter” or “Occupy” (the 99%ers).

Under whatever sign, those following Jesus to Jerusalem and willing to join his suffering, death, and resurrection model of living with integrity in partnership with all of creation and the multitude of Neighb*rs will live together in shared authority, mutual honoring.