Today’s podcast is a meditation on the healing of the blind men (including Bartimaeus) from Matt 20:30-34, Mark 10:46-52, and Luke 18:35-43.
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This is my retelling, though the podcast also includes the original texts that a discussion.
Jesus has known for years that his journey will end in Jerusalem. He has purposely avoided going there until now, knowing that his time had not yet come. But now, three years later, it’s time. He will reach Jerusalem in just a few days.
He has tried repeatedly to explain this to his disciples, but they refused to understand, even though he spoke to them plainly. No parables; no figures of speech. He tried to tell Peter, James, and John on the way down the mountain that he would suffer at the hands of the Jews, just as his cousin had done, and then he would rise from the dead. He tried again just days ago, before they entered the old Jericho, with all twelve of the disciples. He said, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.” He couldn’t say it any plainer than that. And what was their response? The Sons of Zebedee wanted to know if they could sit on his right and his left in his kingdom. After all this time, they still thought he would be crowned in Jerusalem, as an earthly king in the line of David. They saw and heard only what they expected to see and hear, and were blind and deaf to all else.
The route to Jerusalem winds through both the old and the new Jericho—the old, the one Joshua conquered by commanding the Israelite army to march around it seven times and blow the trumpets until the walls fell, is largely abandoned by this time. But it’s not completely abandoned, and everyone in Israel has heard of Jesus by this point. So most of the remaining inhabitants drop what they’re doing and follow him as he passes by, wending his way through the city and down south to the new Jericho built by Herod. He knows the fickleness of the crowds, though. They adore him now; but give them a week and a half, when they’ll be stirred up by the religious leaders. Their love can turn to hate on a dime.
The climate is tropical; the air is balmy, and the palm trees for which Jericho is famous blow softly in the wind. Beggars line the road between the two cities, hoping to receive alms from traveling strangers. It was for this reason that Jesus set his Parable of the Good Samaritan on this very road. Now as he passes by, the dull roar of the crowd behind him, a few voices rise above the din.
“Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!”
At first they are soft, but Jesus hears the crowd try to shush the voices, and they respond by shouting all the louder.
“Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!”
It’s their persistence that brings a smile to Jesus’ lips. That, and the title they gave him. Son of David. These beggars know their scripture. They are acknowledging him as their Messiah, and they don’t care who knows it. He stops walking.
“Call them,” he says to those nearest him, turning to face the beggars, but not approaching them himself. He wants to see how they respond to this. It’s clear they are blind by the way they move even before they are close enough for Jesus to see their eyes. Both of them rise to approach him, but one, he notices, springs up with enthusiasm, throwing off his outer garment– the one that identifies him as a beggar. Jesus’ mouth twitches, pleased. This man knows he is about to get healed. That simple act shows that he is anticipating it.
The crowd quiets down, parting for the blind beggars to make their way to Jesus. When they reach him, Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” He knows the answer, at least for the one whom he’d heard the crowds call Bartimaeus, the one who cast his garment aside. But not every blind beggar wants healing, he knew. It would mean everything in their lives would change. They would have to learn a trade, provide for themselves–create a whole new identity.
Yet both of the men answer the same way. “Rabbi, let us recover our sight.”
The request is so plaintive, carrying with it the years of struggle and heartache. Moved with compassion, Jesus reaches out to touch their eyes.
“Go your way; your faith has made you well,” he says.
Bartimaeus and his friend blink and squint in the sunlight. They look first at Jesus, who is smiling at them. Then they look at each other, at the crowd, at the road and the palm trees where they have spent so much of their lives. Bartimaeus falls to his knees before Jesus in worship, and his friend follows suit. They laugh. They embrace. The crowd even celebrates with them, amused by the way they turn this way and that, drinking in the sights as if they cannot get enough. The beggars fall in with the crowd then, following Jesus on his way.
As for Jesus, he leads the way, moving toward New Jericho. Toward Jerusalem. Toward the cross.