Hi, friends. Today, I am getting back to what I love–the intersection of literary analysis and Christian scripture. This post explores the significance of a couple stark contrasts in the Book of Mark and retells one of the stories mentioned. [These juxtapositions exist in other gospels; I just happened to be reading Mark when I noticed them.]
Three Instances of Juxtaposition
- Mark 10:13-31: Children approach Jesus, and the disciples shoo them away. Jesus becomes indignant and says, “Let the little children come to me; it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.” Immediately following this exchange comes the story of the rich, young ruler. He asks Jesus what else he needs to do to inherit eternal life, since he has diligently kept the ten commandments, and Jesus tells him to sell his possessions and follow Him; the man walks away dejected.
- Mark 10:35-52: James and John ask Jesus if one of them can sit on His right and the other on His left in “His glory” (the eternal future/heaven). Long story short, Jesus says that the last will be first. Immediately following this exchange comes the healing of a blind beggar. When Bartimaeus hears that Jesus is travelling through, he cries out, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!” After healing Bartimaeus, Jesus says,”Go; your faith has made you well.”
- Mark 12:38-44: Jesus denounces scribes who exalt themselves, say long prayers for attention, and basically “serve” God for selfish purposes rather than sincere ones. Immediately following this exchange comes the story of the widow’s offering. When a widow puts two coins in the offering plate, Jesus declares that her offering is greater than what others had contributed; others gave out of their abundance, but she gave out of her poverty.
The Lesson in the Juxtapositions & a Retelling of Mark 10:46-52
In each instance, a story about the pursuit of glory is directly preceded or followed by a story of sincerity (or, in the case of the little children, innocence contrasted with greed). Jesus uplifts the poor and the humble while scorning love of wealth and glory. This theme is present throughout the Bible and the gospels especially, but the idea comes into sharper focus when we examine these back-to-back stories.
Reading the words on a page is one thing, but I wonder how noticeable these contrasts would seem if we actually experienced them. Imagine the second example acted out on a stage…
Jesus and His disciples are migrating towards Jerusalem so Jesus can be crucified; though He has warned the disciples of His impending doom, they do not quite understand. James and John, two of Jesus’s closest followers and companions, pull Him aside to ask if they can be elevated to equals with Jesus, and by extension, God. Such audacity–from his own disciples! How do they not understand servanthood by this point? Is their love insincere or are they just flawed (like everybody else in the world)? Jesus must explain what His ministry should have already made clear–the first will be last, and the last will be first.
Later in their journey, they walk through Jericho, where a pitiful homeless man who can’t even see lies by the roadside.
Picture it. He is probably filthy from lack of care and skinny from malnourishment. Jesus and His disciples pass through the city, and though no one loves or ever speaks a kind word to this man, he overhears people’s chatter in the streets.
“Hey, look, that’s Jesus of Nazareth! I heard He’s been preaching and teaching throughout Israel. Some say He’s healed people. Some say He is the prophesied messiah, the son of David!”
Bartimaeus has absolutely nothing to lose, and out of pure desperation and in a leap of faith–without even being able to see what’s happening–he cries out in anguish, “Jesus of Nazareth, son of David, have MERCY on me!”
People who never noticed his existence or cared one ounce for him are quick to shush him. He still can’t see anything. His desperation swells as he cries even louder, “Son of David, HAVE MERCY ON ME!”
Jesus notices Bartimaeus. He stops walking and calls this blind beggar to come to Him.
“Take heart; Jesus is calling you; get up!”
Bartimaeus springs up in what may be the most hopeful and exhilarating moment of his entire life.Jesus asks him what he wants, and Bartimaeus requests to be able to see again. Jesus heals him, proclaiming, “Go; your faith has healed you.” Bartimaeus follows Jesus as He continues towards Jerusalem.
Wow, the story of the blind man’s healing is so powerful; imagining it so vividly makes me cry. How stirring would this be if acted out before the congregation! Yet this is the story of Jesus’s ministry–helping the helpless, condemning the high-and-mighty. I sometimes forget how raw these stories are.
How often are we the ones pursuing our own glory when sincere needs exist all around us? We are the hands and feet of Jesus in the world today! Lord, forgive our disobedience and open the eyes of our hearts!
Thanks for reading! Have you noticed these contrasts throughout the gospels? Did reading my version of the healing of the blind beggar make you think about it more deeply? Let me know in the comments.