There is a great deal of “action” these days on human rights, particularly on systemic injustice regarding certain ethnicities, which is good in principle. But there is also a great deal of “clamouring” about “my” rights, as in self-entitlement, which is not so good. We do have God-given rights, there’s truth to that, which means we should stand up to those who try to remove basic human rights for whatever reason.
However, whatever our focus is in human rights and social justice, it’s so easy for us to morph into obsession and villainization of others, which is where it seems to have largely gone in our NA context. Feeding into this sad reality are differing views on human rights. What counts as a human right and how are those rights applied? The Bible says if someone doesn’t want to work than they don’t get to eat! But trudging through the diverse and conflicting views is a can of worms we won’t open in this meditation on the cross. I want to address the negative, dark, self-serving side of the human rights movement. It’s nothing new. This is what we see happening among Jesus’ 12 disciples as he is literally on route to the cross. Two of them thought they deserved a status over the rest in Jesus’ coming kingdom, as if they were more important and deserving than the others.
Mark 10:32-52 is a powerful gospel remedy that turns the matter upside-down, or shall I say, right side-up. Now let’s ponder this passage together:
(1) Jesus makes a key, strategic gospel statement while he is on route to Jerusalem to face his opposition, those who want him dead and gone (10:32-34).
Thus, his disciples are shocked! As in, they are fearful! It’s quite possible they were thinking: “What is Jesus doing? This can’t be in his best interest or mine! Should I be following him? I don’t like where he’s going, I don’t like where he’s taking me!”
What we are seeing, though, is something very important. This is a procession. Jesus is leading his disciples forward in battle and his aim is victory, though they see it not. The disciples hear the parts about condemnation and death at the hands of the Jewish and Roman authorities but they do not hear the part of Jesus’ victorious resurrection. Just put yourself in their shoes, how many of us would be encouraged to endure brutality and even death even if guaranteed resurrection on the other end? It’s more than worth thinking it through and counting the cost. Notwithstanding, Jesus’ action is the greater and final fulfillment of the promise way back in Exodus 23:30:
Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared.
”The messenger” way back “in Exodus 23 is tasked with waging war against the pagan nations who occupy the land of Canaan (who’s unrepentant wickedness had reached the heavens!) and escorting the Israelites” into this land that has been prepared for them, which is the promised land—“depicted as a giant sanctuary” in Exodus 15:17:
You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain, the place, O Lord, which you have made for your abode, the sanctuary, O Lord, which your hands have established.
In the final and eternal fulfilment of that, Jesus is portrayed “as a warrior headed for the eschatological battle where he will vanquish his enemies through his death and resurrection.” He shows himself by these means to be a very humble warrior, and thus the mightiest of warriors.
(2) However, Jesus’ disciples are not yet at a place of connecting his prophetic gospel statement to themselves in their context. This shortcoming is seen in how two them are grabbing for the highest position in Jesus’ kingdom while the rest become indignant toward the two of them. They’ve all missed the blatant fact that Jesus has done nothing but humbly serve them, and everyone else, and that he is now going to ultimately serve them all through the cross (10:35-45).
Jesus takes the wind out of their sails by making it clear that his kingdom is utterly unlike the kingdom of the nations, for in Jesus’ kingdom servants and slaves are honoured over those in positions of status, wealth and power. Jesus, as the Son of Man, is a very different brand of king, he is a one of a kind, which is seen in how he becomes the ultimate servant to all of us through the humility of the cross (10:45).
The point is that we are to become humble like he is humble. Furthermore, in principle, we are to become like him in that what he has done for us we are to do for one another and others.
(3) Thus, to wrap the scene up, Mark provides a powerful illustration of what Jesus meant by becoming a servant and slave of all—the King of the Universe, the Lord of glory, willingly abases himself and gladly serves the least of his subjects (10:46-52).
This miracle of healing a blind man is illustrative of what he has just taught his disciples for three reasons that I can see:
(a) Bartimaeus’ interaction with Jesus (10:49-52) essentially parallels Jesus’ prior interaction with his disciples (10:35-38). In both cases there is (i) a request, (ii) there is Jesus’ initial response, “What do you want me to do for you?”, and (iii) there is Jesus’ final response to the request. These three elements are present in each interaction.
(b) Also of great importance is that Jesus’ identity and purpose is stated twice. First it is stated by Jesus to his disciples (10:32-34) and second it is stated by Bartimaeus to Jesus (10:46-48). This means that attention is being drawn to Jesus’ identity—he is the Son of Man, the divine-human being prophesied in the OT who is to rule the earth, and he is the Son of David, the eternal king promised to take David’s throne over Israel and over the entire world. This is who Jesus is, and now we are meant to see how this King exercises his power, rule, and authority, which shows us what he is like, and how we are to thus walk in his steps.
(c) Lastly, there is a comparison between the request of the two disciples (10:36-37) and the request of the blind man (10:51). The blind man rightly links Jesus’ identity to what the rightful King of Heaven would do and asks for that which is in keeping with what this rightful King would do; while the two disciples fail to make that link and ask for something that is out of step with what this rightful King would do. We’re meant to see and learn from this distinction.
The identity and mission of Jesus, along with his nature and character, is being demonstrated in a way in Mark 10:32-52 that brings it to the forefront. Jesus is the long-awaited Christ whom the blind man, Bartimaeus, readily identifies when he calls Jesus of Nazareth the Son of David.
It’s interesting that a blind man is able to do this when Jesus’ disciples, who have seen with their own eyes what he has done for three years, can not do! This literal, historical healing also has a deep theological and symbolic meaning about our spiritual blindness and lack of humility.
I would also add that Bartimaeus is in acute need, and so his heart is very tender and open. Perhaps we could also speculate that his sense of hearing and perception are fine-tuned to compensate for his blindness, and this has helped in allowing him to really listen to the circulating accounts of Jesus so that when the time comes he has no problem declaring who Jesus is (Isaiah 35:5-6, 61:1-2, Matthew 11:2-5, Exodus 4:11, Hosea 6:1-2, Psalm 146:8) and to decisively act on this gospel truth (10:47-48, 51b).
We are seeing what kind of a king Jesus is. He is one who loves and cares for his subjects, even the least of them, bringing healing and liberation from the blinding work of Satan and the fall of man, awakening them to the wonder of God among them, the one who walked with us in the Garden of Eden before the fall.
Jesus’ kingship has also been brought to the forefront, into plain day, in preparation for what comes next, which is Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem (11:1 to 13:2).
This is when Jesus walks through the Temple, evaluating what’s going on, and then rebuking the leadership for hindering the ministry and mission of God to his people and to the nations (Isaiah 35:5; and Isaiah 35:2 cf. 61:1-2, Matthew 11:2-5).
This passage rightly ends with Bartimaeus throwing off his garments and following after Jesus, just like the disciples left their nets to follow him (Mark 1:18, 20). This symbolizes an abandonment of whatever it was one previously clung to in this life. Therefore, imitate Bartimaeus, humble yourself thoroughly, no strings attached, let no one stop you (10:48a), and cry out to Jesus who he will hear you.
It’s all too easy for pride to rise in our hearts so as to think too highly of ourselves and to selfishly focus on our own rights. Or to be worried about what others will think or how they will react to us. It’s too easy for us, in trying to save ourselves and grasp for our rights, to step on others (10:35, 41) and push them aside (10:46-48b).
We do have rights, and our good Father in heaven does care for us. He looks after us, he provides for us, he vindicates us, he is our Good Shepherd and the Overseer of our souls. But the focus he has for us in Christ, by his Spirit, is the wellbeing of the other—the one another’s of the Bible—caring for the other, and looking after one another.
Consider Philippians 2:1-11 sometime.
Just think about how our churches would be, how our homes would be, how our cities would be, how our countries would be, how our world would be, if we humbly walked in Jesus’ humble steps, and if we let our Father lift us up in Christ at his set time as he raised Christ from the dead. What an amazing world it would be! And there is no reason stopping us, especially in this season of Lent, from such a demonstration and foretaste of Jesus’ coming kingdom.
Many years ago, when I was reading Matthew’s version (Matthew 20:32), I was struck by the Spirit with imitating Jesus’ humility, beginning with my wife and my kids. My immediate, automated response was: “What about me?!” That’s what came out of my heart. I could rephrase that to be: “What about my rights?!” The Spirit made no further response but left me with Jesus’ humble example. So I repented and began asking my wife when I walked in the door after work: “What I can I do to help?” When I get home it is my aim to be useful and helpful, humble, and serving my wife and kids. I’m not perfect at this, I do stumble and become un-useful at times. But I seek to be humble as my Lord and Savior is perfectly humble—and who has served me to the nth degree.
Go and do likewise.