Bartimaeus is the paragon of faith in Mark's Gospel, which makes it more than mildly ironic that some churches will skip his story to read something else for Reformation Day.
Don't feel bad for Bartimaeus, though; he already knows how to deal with people who try to silence him. His persistence adds substance to his bold expression of "faith alone."
The Active Faith of Bartimaeus
In the final verse, Jesus names faith as what impels Bartimaeus. The rest of the story shows us what that faith is. Bartimaeus's faith is not about reciting the correct confession or subscribing to certain dogmas. It is his unrelenting conviction that Jesus can and will rescue him from his need. We see this faith in what Bartimaeus does:
Following Jesus on the Way
The spatial dimensions of this story contribute to our understanding of Bartimaeus' salvation (note that in 10:52 Jesus literally says, "Your faith has saved you"). Bartimaeus begins the story alongside (para) the road. He ends the story as a follower (compare 8:34). He follows Jesus on (en) the road. The shift of prepositions reflects Bartimaeus' move from the invisible periphery of society to the heart of the scene. The movement also suggests more when we consider that "road" (or "way") is a term Mark uses to indicate Jesus' journey to Jerusalem and his suffering, the same "way" that he calls his followers to walk (see 8:27; 10:32; 11:8; compare 1:2-3).
In Mark, Bartimaeus is not the first person seeking a miracle who approaches Jesus in faith, but he is the only one who winds up following him, presumably straight into Jerusalem and into his confrontation with the temple-based aristocracy. After ten chapters full of so much secrecy, confusion, and misapprehension, Bartimaeus shows Mark's readers that faith in Jesus remains possible and potent. Without Bartimaeus, and others in Mark like him who tenaciously cling to Jesus out of faith born from their urgent needs, this Gospel would offer little assurance that anyone could have the spiritual insight to perceive the mysterious ways of God in the person and ministry of Jesus Christ.
Healing stories, especially those that call attention to a sufferer's faith, can present difficulties for preachers. There are obvious dangers in drawing simplistic connections between faith and health. Likewise, we must reject suggestions that illness results from one's sins. Sensitive preachers will avoid chastising (even indirectly) the broken and despised for their lack of faith. Preachers cannot promise cures; they promise what Jesus promises on the "way" that leads to the cross. Nevertheless, congregations can in their community, practices, advocacy, and architecture imperfectly embody and proclaim the wholeness to which Jesus restores Bartimaeus.
Those difficulties, however, cannot allow us to shy away from the images of faith that Bartimaeus provides or to avoid considering how faith clings to Jesus no matter what. Among other things, this story invites us to consider how faith is manifested, nurtured, and stunted within communities.
Mark's narrative compels us to consider the various roles characters play in this scene, and also the various situations in and around our congregational and communal life: Bartimaeus with his needs and prophetic insights, Jesus with his compassion and grace, the crowd with its determination to keep Bartimaeus both blind and invisible, and others with the opportunity to guide him to Jesus with the hopeful words, "Take courage; get up; he's calling you!"