We often hear familiar words as we bring to mind the sacrifice provided for us; as we acknowledge once again that the salvation we hope for is made possible only by the mercy and grace of the living God. “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.” Thus we examine ourselves and having examined ourselves, having probed our motives and our state of mind, only then do we partake of the bread and the wine. It is only after we have scrutinised our innermost self that we can truly involve ourselves in this sharing of the symbols of our salvation. But first must come the self-proving—the test of our attitude.

The Way of Holiness

Our attitude is, as it were, a window through which our conduct and our way of life are made apparent. It is only when our conduct and our way of life are flooded with bright light that we can know whether we are, in fact, following in “the Way of Holiness”. This is, after all, the only passageway to the Kingdom. “Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees. Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompense; he will come and save you. And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness…” (Isa 35:3,4,8). This pathway to the Kingdom, then, is both a way—a course of life, figuratively—and also a highway to be trodden by the redeemed. Clearly, we are led on that Highway of Holiness by the one we remember in the bread and the wine. And it is as the leader in “the way” that we encounter Jesus in the tenth chapter of Mark’s gospel record: “And they were in the way going up to Jerusalem; and Jesus went before them”.

It is on the way to Jerusalem that an examinationtakes place; a test of a man’s attitude: “When [Jesus] was gone forth into the way, there came one run-ning, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” (v17).

Mark tells us that the man comes running and Matthew gives us another detail: he is a young man. Luke calls him a ruler. We can imagine him, energetic, cultured and self-assured, because we know from the end of this episode that the young man has great possessions. He had been born into wealth. He is used to the benefits wealth confers: status, privilege, respect. But there is another side to this young man’s character and it is an engaging aspect. He is keen to be righteous; he is honest and open, and eager to be known for his decency. But is this enough to counterbalance the self-sufficiency and the pride of his heritage?

The young man has no idea that he is about to face the scrutiny of none other than the Messiah, the Son of God. As he runs to the forefront of the crowd, the young man demonstrates to everybody his respect for the remarkable teacher from Nazareth, notwithstanding that he himself comes from a rich and famous family. He falls down on his knees before Jesus, in the posture of a man expressing reverence and imploring help at the same time. It is a confident, dramatic entrance onto the scene. We can be sure the young man has everybody’s attention as the people round about make room for him. We can visualise the clamour of the crowd dying down. Here is a highly regarded young man about to address a highly regarded teacher.

As he prepares to speak, this zealous young man is unaware that he is looking up, not to an equal, but to one far, far greater than he. As good manners dictate, he opens with a tribute: “Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” The young man addresses the Messiah as “Master”, Teacher. It is the word one would use to a teacher of the law, someone eminent and learned. It is the word Jesus himself uses on another occasion when he speaks to Nicodemus, a member of the Jews’ ruling council, whose eminence is irrelevant and whose learning is shown to be deficient: “Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?”

But the young man seeks to enhance his salutation to the one he assumes to be an esteemed teacher, by conferring on Jesus the word “good”. It is meant as a pleasing compliment, as an accolade from one good man recognising the good qualities of another: “Good Master”. To the crowd round about, this would have been a demonstration of an impeccable attitude. Here is a young man of fine character with admirable antecedents paying homage, as they think, to the morals of a famous teacher. Straightaway, the young man is restrained—he is gently rebuked by the Messiah: “And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God.” We might paraphrase this unexpected response: “You cannot flatter me by praising the goodness you perceive in me. Ultimate moral goodness is inherent only in one and that is God” (v18). It is not the young man’s sincerity which is being rebuked—it is his attitude. In addressing Jesus merely as “Good Master”, the young man fails to perceive the source of his integrity as the Word made flesh.

“Good Master, What Shall I do that I may Inherit Eternal Life?”

The young man is looking for his own way to righteousness. He is looking for this “good teacher” to instruct him about some good work which will gain him merit. Perhaps something spectacular, like building a synagogue or some other great charitable work to ensure that he will earn the right to eternal life. Having gently rebuked the young man’s attitude, the Messiah answers his question, “what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” The Way of Holiness is not difficult to find, therefore the Messiah refers the young man to those words in Exodus which regulate our conduct towards others. “Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother.” What a simple answer to a question bursting with serious intent! How surprising that the reply should be a reference to obvious, elementary conduct! The young man’s response is genuine in its tone of disappointment and perhaps also complacency: “Master”, (notice that he omits the word “good” this time) “all these have I observed from my youth!”

The Moment of Examination

Now comes the time for this sincere young man’s attitude to be brought out into the light and tested: “Then Jesus beholding him loved him…” (v21). Jesus looks intently at him. He gazes into the young man’s eyes with that penetrating insight which sees every thought and motive inside a person. Here is a moment of concentrated perception which lays open the young man to the light of examination. The Messiah’s heart, full of mercy and compassion, goes out to this serious, well meaning young man. Jesus loves him because he sees the young man’s potential.

One Thing Thou Lackest—One Thing in You is Wanting

Whilst the Way of Holiness is not hard to find, it can be a difficult way to follow. To draw out what this young man might become, the Messiah must now bring into the light the perilous flaw in his spiritual make-up: “One thing thou lackest”. Picture how keenly this young man is listening now. How little does he realise that his one great character defect has been discerned by the Master—the flaw that was perhaps masked from his own self-examination by the self-assurance and complacency that comes with privilege. Now his spiritual deficiency is to be brought out into the light: “go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me”. He is being told to follow in the Way of Holiness, whatever self-sacrifice that may entail. To do this, it is not enough for him to give what he is comfortable to offer, to sacrifice that which is easily expendable. No, he must be prepared to dispense immediately with all of the trappings of his privilege and esteem and power—all of the things that his inherited wealth brings. At the instant he hears these words, the young man’s eagerness fades into despair. He realises that he cannot make this sort of sacrifice. He cannot follow in the Way of Holiness at this time. His priorities are wrong: “And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions” (v22).

And so on this particular day, a young man’s attitude is brought into the light and examined and he fails the test. And so he goes away, departing for now from the Way of Holiness, heavy with sorrow.

Then the Eyes of the Blind Shall be Opened

It is edifying to contrast the young man’s world of self-sufficiency and privilege with another sort of existence, or rather, of subsistence. We see deprivation and hardship as we enter the first century world of those without privilege: the society of the lepers, the maimed, the paralysed and the blind. Now we enter the world of the lowest members of society. For these, there is no social welfare, no state assistance and so they beg. They eke out an existence from whatever compassion or charity that they can encourage from passers-by. Theirs is a miserable existence, for there is very little respect, if any at all, from society for those without privilege.

“And they [that is, Jesus and the disciples] came to Jericho: and as he went out of Jericho with his disciples and a great number of people, blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, sat by the highway side begging” (v46). Bartimaeus is about to be shown the Way of Holiness by none other than the Messiah. There is no self-sufficiency in Bartimaeus, no complacency. Observe his attitude: “And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out, and say, Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me”. Notice that Bartimaeus does not address the Lord Jesus with a conventional, flattering title. He does not call him “good teacher” but—and this is extraordinary—he calls out to Jesus as the Son of David! Bartimaeus recognises the Messiah from prophecy: “I will raise unto David a righteous branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth” (Jer 23:5). Bartimaeus knows what is in prospect for him if only he can get to the Son of David—because then “the eyes of the blind shall be opened” (Isa 35:5).

He has no pride to hold him back. “Have pity on me!” Bartimaeus has only a fervent belief in the healing power of the Messiah. But his shouting out for mercy brings him a reprimand from the people. There is no respectful clearing of space by this crowd for the blind beggar. “And many charged him that he should hold his peace: but he cried the more a great deal, Thou Son of David, have mercy on me” (v48). How desperate he is to be healed of his infirmity, to be made free of his misery. Bartimaeus is not honoured by men, nor is he wealthy. He has no dependence on the benefits of status and possessions. His reliance is on the healing mercy of the Son of David, the Messiah. And so Bartimaeus persists in crying out, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

The Messiah Stops in his Tracks

“And Jesus stood still, and commanded him to be called. And they call the blind man, saying unto him, Be of good comfort, rise; he calleth thee” (v49). What a change in the crowd’s demeanour—a minute ago there were shouts for him to be silent.

Perhaps his greatest possession is his outer garment—the cloak he wears as he sits begging in all weather—but it means nothing to him now. He does not give it an instant’s thought. “And he, casting away his garment, rose, and came to Jesus” (v50). He throws his most useful asset aside in his single-mindedness to approach the Son of David. Here is an attitude of complete submission and reliance. Here is the antithesis of the young man’s desire to earn salvation by his own efforts. Bartimaeus does not enquire what he himself can do to be healed. Instead the Messiah asks what he can do for the blind man. “What do you desire for me to do for you?” asks Jesus. The answer is simple, from the heart, without a trace of self-esteem. “Lord [Rabboni], that I may recover sight!” (v51).

It is revealing how Bartimaeus addresses the Messiah this second time; he calls him Rabboni—my great Master. The only other occurrence of this title is when Mary Magdalene recognises the resurrected Messiah. “Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni” (John 20:16). This, then, is no mannered accolade—it is an expression of awe and the deepest respect.

Bartimaeus Chooses the Way of Holiness

Outside of Jericho, on this day, a blind man’s attitude sets the standard. A man without privilege becomes the instructor of those who would claim entitlement, whether by birth or circumstance or learning. Bartimaeus bears witness to the presence of the Son of David, the great Master. Here at last, the blind man’s actions demonstrate, that this is the one who would lead all people along the Way of Holiness, if only they will follow. But many in that crowd are themselves blind. Blinded by their self-sufficiency, their possessions and their self-esteem. Blinded by their complacency.

But as for Bartimaeus, he is healed of his blindness, cured of his awful affliction: “…thy faith hath made thee whole. Go on your way.” However, Bartimaeus does not go his own way, and he does not go away grieved either, owned by his possessions as the young man was. Bartimaeus has decided that his way is to be the Messiah’s way. His way is to be the Way of Holiness, in the steps of his great Master. “And immediately he received his sight, and followed Jesus in the way” (v52).

What is our attitude when we come to examine ourselves? What are our priorities revealed to be, when our attitude is lit up by the penetrating discernment of the God of our salvation? Are we proud of our achievements? Is our dependence on reputation and image, as the wealthy young man’s was? Are we confident in our own righteousness? Are we secure in the presumption of privilege, or are we ready now to throw aside the cloak of our self-reliance, as Bartimaeus did? Are we therefore prepared to acknowledge our absolute dependence on the healing power of our saviour, the Son of David, the Son of the living God? Are we determined to make our way the Way of Holiness? “Commit thy way unto Yahweh; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass” (Psa 37:5).