This passage is part of the second of a series of four poems celebrating the return from the Babylonian Exile. These poems are obviously akin to Deutero-Isaiah, though their exact literary relationship to that work is uncertain.
Perhaps the four hymns are products of the Deutero-Isaianic school and somehow got attached to the prophecies of Jeremiah in an attempt to relieve that prophet’s preoccupation with the decline and fall of the southern kingdom and the adjustment to life in exile.
However, Jeremiah was certainly hopeful of the eventual restoration of his people, as is indicated in his prophecy of the new covenant that comes later in chapter 31.
Like a similar hymn of the return in Isaiah 35, this hymn stresses the presence of the weak, the blind and the lame, nursing and pregnant mothers among those returning from exile. In pictorial language this underlines the sola gratia aspect of the return.
It is the mention of the blind here that doubtless influenced the choice of this passage to match the healing of the blind Bartimaeus in the Gospel.
It would be hard to find a more appropriate psalm to go with Jeremiah 31:7-9, for like that hymn it celebrates the return from Babylon, and indeed the contrast between sorrow and joy is the theme of both passages. It is a pity that the Psalm does not say anything about the blind, though, for that would tie in with the Gospel too.
Slowly the author of Hebrews is preparing for the exposition of his great theological theme—the high priesthood of Christ. Except for the reading on the twenty-eighth Sunday, all our passages through today’s are concerned to establish Jesus’ qualifications for high priesthood. Here the following qualifications are spelled out:
1) Due appointment by God.
2) The selection of Christ from among human beings to act as their representative before God in offering sacrifices for sins.
3) Sympathy for the ignorant and the wayward (a repetition from our earlier readings).
The later part of our reading takes up the first point—appointment by God. Jesus was appointed as Son and high priest at his resurrection (Ps 2:7; 110:4).
Some may be surprised to see Ps 2:7 applied to the resurrection. It suggests an Adoptionist Christology (the heresy defined by a former colleague of mine as the view that Christ was a man who graduated in divinity with honors). But we are still moving within the orbit of Hebraic Christology, which is functional rather than metaphysical.
Psalm 2 originally celebrated the king’s coronation. From that point Christ embarked upon the functions of kingship, that is, the functions of the Son of God. So it is at his exaltation that Christ embarks upon his messianic functions, which include that of high priest. Incidentally, this shows that Christ’s high priestly work is performed in heaven and that Calvary is only the preliminary to it
Normally the tendency of the synoptic tradition is for unnamed figures to acquire names, a process that continues in Church tradition (for example, the naming of the three wise men). Here, however, the process is reversed. The earlier evangelist, Mark, names the blind man, while Matthew and Luke drop the name.
Bartimaeus must have been known later in the Christian community (at Jericho?) that first remembered and shaped the story. Probably he would have addressed Jesus simply as “Rabbi” (or “Rabbouni,” Mk 10:51; the RSV has “Master”).
The post-Easter community would have used this story as a vehicle for its Davidic Christology by inserting the address “Son of David” (and is “have mercy on” liturgical?). Mark in turn received the story from the tradition, placed it here because of its geographical location (Jericho), and used it as a coda to his central section (Mk 8:22-10:45). That section thus ends as it had begun‚—with the healing of a blind man.
This blind man follows Jesus in the “Way,” a technical term for Christian discipleship. All this is part of Mark’s answer to the “heresy that necessitated his Gospel” (the title of an important article by T. Weeden).
The true disciple is cured of Christological blindness—that is, of seeing in Jesus only the miracle-worker and not the suffering servant—and follows him in the Way of the cross.