”All throughout the book of Mark, the disciples just don’t get it. They approach Jesus from a posture of hubris and show us that they don’t see straight. The literary counterpoint is the blind beggar, Bartimaeus, who sees rightly. Bartimaeus is blind. The disciples try to mute him. But his sense of hearing is strong.”
I may be a bit late to what’s been happening in pop music culture worldwide because of my recent transition to Duke but I am catching up on it now and I’ve been hearing a lot about “Gangnam style,” which is the title of a musical single by South Korean rapper Psy. Gangnam style is a Korean neologism that refers to the hip and trendy lifestyle of the Gangnam district of Seoul, Korea, which is supposedly the Beverly Hills of Seoul. This song was released on July 15, 2012, as the lead single of this rapper’s sixth album. Just to give you some sense of the buzz it has created—“Gangnam Style” debuted at number one on the national record chart of South Korea and as of October 23, 2012, the music video has been viewed over 530 million times on YouTube and is the site’s third most watched video and most watched Korean pop video. Guinness World Records has indicated that is the most ‘liked’ video in YouTube history.
There’ve been numerous parodies and reaction videos to Psy’s initial music video. Psy has demonstrated Gangnam style on Saturday Night Live, at Dodger Stadium, on the Ellen Degeneres show, and I’m contemplating whether to invite him here to Duke Chapel for a demonstration with the Chapel choir (I’m just kidding!) What’s drawn some of the most attention is the song’s dance moves which have been performed by different kinds of people all over the world. This musical phenomenon has been drawing and calling people to try out its dance moves. Just last weekend I saw a young man at the Duke football game against UNC doing the “Gangnam style.” I did not realize what I’ve been missing these last few months! Even Google’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt, and the British Prime Minister David Cameron, and the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon have been seen dancing “gangnam style”! Who would have thought?! What we expect is not always what we get.
We expect the disciples to have their religious act together with every i dotted and every t crossed, to have every hair in place and to know the exact time to do the sign of the cross. We expect them to do what is right and what is holy and what is just and what is Christ-like. But in last week’s passage in Mark, we find something else out about the disciples. They just don’t get it. When Jesus asks James and John the same question that rolls off his lips today, “what do you want me to do for you?” we might expect them, disciples of Jesus the Christ, to ask for something admirable and deeply pietistic. Instead, they try to control the boundaries of God’s answer by telling Jesus to give them whatever they ask for and what they ask for is to sit at his right and left hand in glory. They want the Trinity to take in two more members and become a Holy Pentagon. They seemed to have been mentored by Joel Osteen’s book, Your Best Life Now. They want glitz and glamor and prestige and power. Didn’t Jesus just predict for a third time his death and resurrection? And the only thing that James and John can worry about is their own glory? Little do they know what they are asking for because as Jesus implies, the irony is that God’s glory is gory and his imminent future entails a baptism in blood. The disciples, those who are supposed to be in the know, a part of the gnostic insider clan of Jesus, are actually spiritually blind, blinded by their own ambition. All throughout the book of Mark, the disciples just don’t get it. They approach Jesus from a posture of hubris and show us that they don’t see straight.
The literary counterpoint this week is the blind beggar, Bartimaeus, who sees rightly. He approaches Jesus with a posture of humility. He asks for mercy as we do in many Sunday services in our communal prayer of confession (Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy). His approach to Jesus is a correction to the distorted discipleship of James and John. Bartimaeus desires to be freed from an affliction; he’s not seeking authority or affluence. This man, an outsider in society, usually overlooked in the community of humanity, and whom people order to be quiet, like the disciples said to him, is the one who models Christian discipleship. The unlikely outsider understands over against the insider-information disciples. Two blind characters in Mark, the man on whose eyes Jesus puts saliva in Mark chapter 8 and Bartimaeus, frame the conversation about discipleship and the blindness of the disciples. These two blind men see with eyes of faith. This is the paradox of the gospel and it should always surprise us because what we expect is not always what we get.
Bartimaeus is blind. The disciples try to mute him. But his sense of hearing is strong. “When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out…” so that Jesus could hear him. I don’t know what he heard. I don’t know if someone said something to Bartimaeus. I don’t know if he heard the shuffle of Jesus’s feet or the tone of Jesus’s voice. I don’t know if there was news coverage about Jesus. As far as I know Jesus was not one of the topics at the presidential debates. But Bartimaeus hears that it is Jesus without any mention of a sound in the biblical text. And because he knows who Jesus is, he cries out loudly for mercy on his misery.