So what is it Bartimaeus asks for? He changes his monniker for Jesus – from “Son of David” to “Teacher” – and says, “Let me see again.” So this is not a man blind from birth. Bartimaeus came to Jesus and regained his sight. Jesus, however, does not understand Himself to be the granter of this sight. He says that it is Bartimaeus’ faith that has healed him. Now, here’s where all sorts of sticky wickets are waiting for us.
We need to be careful to ascribe too much power to human faith lest we slide into Prosperty-Gospel heresy. This “name-it-claim-it” concept of faith is not a Christian one; it presents God as a cosmic slot machine poised to bestow blessings commensurate with the level of faith of those vying for such blessings. This schema insinuates that God is also then withholding goodness from those who fail to conjure up enough faith and leads to the hurtful and inaccurate idea that those who do not receive healing are to be blamed, that if they only had just a bit more faith, they would be made well.
Ultimately, this view of God puts God at the behest of humanity. For the Prosperity Doctrine, human beings can get whatever they want from God using faith as a tool. This surely is not what Jesus means when he tells Bartimaeus that his faith has made him well. We need to ask a few questions of the text here. Is “faith” passive, just a pie-in-the-sky belief? Or, as I would argue, is it movement – say, the action Bartimeaus took in calling out to Jesus? Even so, I don’t think Jesus is saying that Bartimaues earned his healing by his own actions. The shifts from “Son of David” to “Teacher” and “have mercy on me” to a specific request are, I think, significant.
Calling Jesus the “Son of David” might reveal Bartimaeus’ respect for, or fear of, power. David was, after all, a monarch and monarchs were understood to exercise total control over their subjects. They were able to get whatever they wanted and affect whatever they wanted. Jesus, Bartimaeus might be thinking, has the ability to do anything at all. Hence, perhaps, his vague exclamation for this all-powerful One’s attention. He knows he needs help; it’s almost as “have mercy on me!” means “do something!” While it may or may not have been a conscious reason on Bartimaeus’ part, sometimes I, too, am reluctant to name what I need. I admit, sometimes, I just want people to know what to do. When I’m hurt, I want my husband or a friend to read my mind and fix it. I don’t want to have to ask for what I need because, so I think, it somehow feels forced or less real and meaningful if I have to ask for it.
But Jesus asks Bartimaeus to do that very thing. “What can I do for you?” Bartimaeus, now face to face with Jesus though he cannot yet see Him, calls him Teacher and then makes his request: let me see again. Might Bartimaeus be understanding Jesus as Teacher in that Jesus is teaching him to see again? No longer is Jesus this detached, omnipotent entity that can move the things of earth like pieces on a chess board. Jesus is the man standing in front of him, the One who has responded to his wandering plea for help. With breath, with voice, Jesus asks what he can do for Bartimaeus and in so doing, lets Bartimaeus see.
You see, this is not just about Bartimaues getting his sight back. His eyes are opened again, and he gets to see Jesus. But I might argue, given Jesus’ statement “your faith has made you well,” that Bartimaeus’ got his sight back before his eyes were opened. Bartimaeus starts out making a nonspecific cry for help, which can in some cases be an outsourcing of responsibility to identify one’s needs. Jesus prompts Bartimaeus to do so – “what can I do to help?” – for it could be anything. Bartimaeus could want his poverty alleviated. He could want friendship. He could want a meal. He could want his sight back. In the way that identifying our needs is a way of naming ourselves, Jesus’ question prompts Bartimaeus to see himself, and thus teaches Bartimaeus to see again even before He grants Bartimaeus his sight.
The story closes in a fascinating way. Note the order here: Jesus says to Bartimaeus, “Go! Your faith has made you well.” After the proclamation, Bartimaeus immediately receives his sight. Jesus’ declaration comes before verifiable proof of healing. While professing that a person will be healed has done enormous damage for those who ultimately are not healed, Jesus is not making a prediction of healing. Jesus is declaring Bartimaeus’ wellness in the past tense – “your faith has made you well.” Here is Jesus doing what Jesus does best: revealing the end of a story in the middle of it.
And it is Bartimaeus’ faith that made him well. Why? Because it is faith in Jesus that compelled Bartimaues to action that brought him into the presence of Jesus. Once in His presence, Jesus does not make assumptions about what Bartimaeus may want. Jesus does not immediately take action. He gives Bartimaeus a mirror, asking him ti translate an unclear plea to a specific naming of a request. If the God of the universe pauses and asks a man whose suffering seems obvious enough to us what this man wants, it behooves us to take heed. If our goal – as ministers of the gospel of good news, as friends, as people caring for others and one another – is to love, it seems to me like a good place to start is, “What can I do to you help you?”