Mark chapter 10 is the end of a larger narrative that began in chapter 8:22. This central narrative of Mark begins and ends with blind men receiving their sight. The first blind man, as you may remember, gradually received his sight, first seeing men blurry as though they were trees. This first man received his sight gradually. The second man in 10:46-52 gains his sight immediately and as the bookend to this section he provides a contrast to the other stories found in chapter 10.
Chapters 8-10 are composed of three stories of Jesus proclaiming that he must suffer and die and then he turns to his disciples and tells them that they must do the same. They continually fail to understand who Jesus is and therefore continue to misunderstand what Jesus calls them to do. These three passion predictions by Jesus climax with James and John requesting that they have seats of honor when Jesus comes in his glory. The other apostles became indignant with them, not because they were any different than the Sons of Zebedee but because they too wanted the power that came with being close to Jesus. It is obvious that none of them understood who Jesus was.
Bartimaeus, the blind man at the end of the chapter, though he is blind, saw clearly who Jesus is. Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem (10:32) when he came to Jericho (about 15 miles away). When Bartimaeus heard that Jesus was near he began to call out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” The people around him rebuked him but his faith led him to call out to Jesus all the more. When Jesus called him over, he threw his cloak aside. This may not seem like a major detail but his cloak was probably laid across his legs to catch any money that people might toss his way. Is throwing his cloak aside, scattering the coins he would have to live off of, demonstrating that he has a better understanding for who Jesus is that the rich young ruler?
When Jesus called him, he went with blind abandonment; casting his belongings aside, jumping to his feet, he went to Jesus. The blind man staggering towards the voice of Christ is reminiscent of the demon-possessed boy’s father who went to Jesus and said, “Lord, help me overcome my unbelief!” (9:24). When he reached Jesus he was asked the same thing Jesus asked James and John, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man asks for something the apostles thought they already had, the ability to see. When Jesus tells him that his faith has healed him, he immediately received his sight and “followed him on the way.” Some translations (like the NIV) translate that he followed Jesus “along the road.” The New Revised Standard Version (along with the KJV) better capture the imagery that Mark is painting by translating it as “the way.” The early church was called “The Way” before they were called Christians (Acts 9:2). Bartimaeus, who was able to see Jesus for who he is and received his sight at the gates of Jericho, was the first person Jesus allowed to follow him of the people that he healed.
To follow Jesus along “The Way” you must first have sight to see who Jesus is. We often desire Jesus because of the benefits we gain from following him. We desire his salvation but we don’t want to follow him on “the Way.” He called his disciples (and us) to follow the way of service in a world that promotes claims for power. The disciples time and again were blind to who Jesus is and were left confused by Jesus’ call to become servants and slaves to one another.
When the Sons of Zebedee make their request to Jesus he responds by asking, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” One can’t help but be reminded of the cup of the Lord’s Supper and of Baptism. These are the two earliest elements tied to Christian faith. We think of the cup as a remembrance of what Jesus did on the cross for us, and our Baptism for our sins being washed away. When we only think of this we are solely focusing on what Jesus provides for us. We quickly forget what Jesus has called us to: to be self-sacrificial and servants to all. The Cup and Baptism are continual reminders for the life that Christ has called us to live.