Skriflesing: Markus 10:46-52
46 Daarna kom hulle in Jerigo aan. Toe Jesus en sy dissipels en ’n aansienlike menigte weer daarvandaan verder gaan, sit daar ’n blinde bedelaar, Bartimeus, seun van Timeus, langs die pad. 47 Toe hy hoor dat dit Jesus van Nasaret is, het hy begin uitroep: “Jesus, Seun van Dawid, ontferm U tog oor my!” 48 Baie mense het met hom geraas en gesê hy moet stilbly. Maar hy het al hoe harder uitgeroep: “Seun van Dawid, ontferm U tog oor my!” 49 Jesus het gaan staan en gesê: “Roep hom nader.” Hulle roep toe die blinde man en sê vir hom: “Hou moed! Staan op! Hy roep jou.” 50 Hy het sy bokleed net daar gelos en opgespring en na Jesus toe gegaan. 51 Jesus vra vir hom: “Wat wil jy hê moet Ek vir jou doen?” “Rabboeni,” sê die blinde man vir Hom, “dat ek kan sien.” 52 Jesus sê daarop vir hom: “Jy kan maar gaan. Jou geloof het jou gered.” Dadelik kon hy sien en het hy op die pad agter Jesus aan gegaan.
- Mark 10:50 And he, casting away his garment, sprang up, and came to Jesus.
- Mark 14:51 And a certain young man followed him, having a linen cloth cast about him, over his naked body: and they lay hold on him; but he left the linen cloth, and fled naked.
- Mark 16:5 And entering into the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, arrayed in a white robe.
Brothers and Sisters in our Lord, Jesus Christ!
At first glance, you may be puzzled about the reading of these three passages together. What are the links between the blind Bartimaeus, the young man who runs away naked as Jesus is arrested, and the person with the white robe on that Sunday morning of the resurrection?
I doubt whether they all were historical figures. Most probably Mark is only appropriating literary figures. My hypothesis however, is that Mark wants to bring these three characters in connection with one another, and over and above that, suggests that they are one and the same person.
Mark here probably speaks about himself, or, am I perhaps the one he is speaking about?
In the three narratives, some interfaces become apparent. All three passages deal with a young male person, but perhaps more significant, are the other features that these three narratives share, i.e. (a) the role of clothing (b) the aspect of time and space, and lastly (c) to see or not to see.
Let us pause for a while at each of these.
First, look at the role of clothes. The young man becomes more and more naked as the narrative unfolds, but is eventually cladded in a long white robe. It is as though Mark uses the clothing of the young man to tell us how his status changes the moment when he is confronted by Jesus!
A second important aspect is the overarching frame of time and space in which the different events occur. The first happens in Galilee where the young man casts off his garment and follows Jesus, and the last two episodes, take place in Jerusalem. Yet the young man at the empty tomb sends Peter and the rest, back to Galilee.
The change is not only in terms of locality, but of tempo as well. In Galilee he follows Jesus, in Jerusalem he flees when Jesus is arrested, and at Jesus’ empty tomb, he sits. The pace becomes more intense towards the cross when the young man runs away, and then, after the event of resurrection, he sits at rest.
But I also wish to draw your attention to a third aspect in the narrative. Bartimaeus was blind, literally as well as figuratively. Jesus heals him, he can see and becomes one of Jesus’ followers. In the third and last fragment, the disciples see that the stone has been rolled away and they are alarmed. The man dressed in the white robe says to them: See, here is the place where they laid Him. He is not here.
The one who was initially blind, sees; those who are supposed to see, are blind; the one who fled when Jesus was arrested, now sits peacefully whilst his followers run away fearfully; the naked man is the one now fully clad, and the clad ones are in fact naked!
What an ironic turning of the tables! A confrontation with Jesus strips one from outward show, provides rest to the fugitive, and lets one really see for the first time!
Vice-Chancellor, Senior Vice-Rector, colleagues and students, Mark offers us an alternative to the world-view of his time. In a very subtle way, by alluding to Plato’s creation narrative (sometimes in agreement, sometimes in opposition), Mark overturns the existing world order.
His first allusion to Plato already appears in the name of the blind man, Bartimaeus. Plato’s creation narrative bears exactly the same name, Timaeus!
Plato applies the sight of the human being as the hinge of the two parts of his creation story. To see or not to see, is the point. Philosophy is all about observation, says Plato. Wisdom is to observe the laws of nature, to reflect upon these laws and to live a life accordingly. Consequently, ethics is the fruit of true cosmological reflection. Woe upon someone without sight. Because that one, says Plato, will never gain true insight and will keep on doing what is wrong.
Just like the Timaeus, the Gospel of Mark also consists of two parts. Moreover, the narrative of the blind Bartimaeus lies in the Gospel exactly on the seam where these two parts join!
But now for the surprise: Mark turns Plato’s creation narrative completely upside down. When Bartimaeus is healed, he casts aside his top garment voluntary. Almost as though he wants to get rid of his past. Is that perhaps the cloak of the philosophers, one wonders quietly? Jesus is called, Rabboni, “my teacher” or “my professor”, and he pleads with Jesus that he may receive sight.
The second part of Mark is the Jerusalem part of the book, the part that recounts the passion. To follow Jesus means to be crucified with Him, to rise with Him, to be clad with Him. And the sight that He gives let us see Jesus as the heart of the cosmos. And that is what puts us on track in this world.
In this way Mark takes the Greek world-view seriously, but in a sense that reveals its opposite meaning! Thus the myths of the time are broken through and turned upside down. Delphi is no longer the navel or centre of the universe as the Greeks believed, but Golgotha. Christ is subsequently the perspective through which we look at the world.
On that Sunday morning in Jerusalem, the young man clad in a white robe, says to the disciples and to Peter in particular, that Jesus went ahead of them to Galilee. “There you will see Him” (16:7). Just look how Mark overturns the chronology as well as the geography, once again! They have to repeat their lives and with this insight, brought about by Jesus, view everything anew. But now not like the blind and the naked who supported Plato’s world view, but like believers who are clad with Christ and who see Him as the pivotal axis of the cosmos. Mark’s cosmology is thus truly all about discernment.
Colleagues and students, theology is a science. I am of the conviction that proper theology can and must contribute to an understanding of reality. Otherwise theology does not belong at a university at all. Interaction of the Faculty of Theology with the eight other faculties here at UP, is therefore, not only desirable, but an imperative. We want to do our bit at the Faculty to understand reality. The road from Galilee to Jerusalem has to be travelled all over again, but correctly clad and with the correct sight.
In the Middle Ages, people drew world maps with Jerusalem as centre of the world. Furthermore, they drew a capital “T” over these maps, signifying the cross of Christ. As Christians, this should be the way we discern reality. Christ is the centre of our world-view and we orientate ourselves towards Him. May this be also our navigation system, now and in the future.
Let me wrap up with a reading from Matthew 1529-31:
And Jesus departed from there, skirted the Sea of Galilee and went up on the mountain and sat down there. Then great multitudes came to Him, having with them those who were lame, blind, mute, maimed and many others; and they laid them down at Jesus’ feet, and He healed them. So the multitude marvelled when they saw the mute speaking, the maimed made whole, the lame walking and the blind seeing; and they glorified the God of Israel.
Colleagues and students, I would like to welcome our staff and senior students back. And I want to extend a special word of welcome to our new students who begin their studies this year with us.
Know this, we are going to teach you proper theology. At our Faculty, we endeavour to come to grips with reality.
But also know for sure, sound scholarship is neither the only word nor the last word for us Christians. The robe of academia is not our full attire; we also have to be clothed with Christ, as Paul says in Galatians 3:27.
May this be a blessed year for our University in general and for our Faculty in particular!
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ
The love of God
And the fellowship of the Holy Spirit
Be with us all.