46 Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. NIV
Recall that Jesus and his Twelve, plus many more disciples, had turned south for the last time. It was in verse 10:32 that Jerusalem was mentioned as the destination. Last Sunday’s lesson regarded the hubristic request by James and John to sit on either side of Jesus when he established himself on David’s throne. That exchange took place while they were walking along the road parallel to the Jordan River.
Today, we see them entering Jericho, a common stop for people headed to Jerusalem. It was a good place to rest and refresh before starting the last 15 miles to the city. That distance was not normally much of a hike for the ancients, but these 15 miles were all up hill—3,439 feet up.
We should also note that the majority of the 18,000 priests and 18,000 Levites lived in Jericho. They were divided into groups of about 700 and called to the Temple twice a year for one week of service. But Passover required all 36,000 of them, so, as Jesus walked through, most of the priest and Levites were already in Jerusalem, or soon would be. Because the road was well known for its robbers, most people waited in Jericho for just such a group as Jesus’ to tag onto for safety.
Luke 10:30-35;“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ NIV
Mark specifically adds the detail, together with a large crowd, so we should read that to mean others had joined him and his disciples. We should not consider them to be disciples; more likely they were seeking safety. Still, they would likely have heard of Jesus, and many may have decided to join the group just to learn more about the man of mystery.
Sadly, priests were mostly Sadducees. Few of them believed in life after death. They accepted only the Pentateuch as sacred, rejecting the prophets and other writings. As much as Jesus criticized the Pharisees, their beliefs were largely in agreement with what Jesus preached. At one point, Jesus said to his followers, listen to what they say, but do not do as they do. He seldom said anything about the Sadducees, good or bad.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke call Jesus’ miracles ‘miracles.’ John however, calls them ‘signs,’ and he included only seven of them. In total, there are about 40 in the four Gospels, but there are disagreements about some of them as well as with the total. Forty is a nice round number which also happens to appear frequently in the Bible.
Bartimaeus is unusual in a couple of ways. The identity of the person healed is rarely given. Even Peter’s mother-in-law is not named. Now, we have Bartimaeus and his father, Timaeus, both named. Why? We don’t know. It is wide open to speculation. I have read some of the common ideas, but we don’t know. Matthew reports this incident as two blind men, unnamed. Luke reports one unnamed.
All three report the man/men begging. All three report the man/men using much the same words. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” NIV
The title of Son of David is common in the NT, but used only twice in Mark, here and in 12:35 where Jesus uses it in connection with Psalm 110—yet another debate with the Pharisees. The title is the oldest one associated with the promised Messiah and the one held by nearly every Jew.
Once again, Jesus followers—probably including the Twelve—tried to get the man to shut up. Jesus is on his way to claim the throne of David. He doesn’t have time for a filthy beggar.
Once again, Jesus stops them. 49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” NIV
The Greek word, tharseo, translated as: cheer up, take heart ESV, have courage BET, it’s your lucky day MSG, be of good comfort KJV, you lucky fellow TLB, cheer up NLT, take heart RSV, courage CJB. All contain the same message. Is it possible that the thick-headed disciples are starting to understand their Master?
50 Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. 51 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” 52 “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.
There are many speculations on how Bartimaeus was able to find his way to Jesus, but such questions miss the point. He was focused on Jesus as Jesus was focused on him. Besides, ninety percent of all blind people have some vision.
I am more struck with Jesus’ question. What do you want me to do for you? Jesus always listens without assuming he knows what someone wants, even though he always does know. Such an important lesson that nearly all of us fail to observe most of the time. There are times when no question needs asking, as when he healed Peter’s mother-in-law.
The response should be read on two levels—I want to see. Yes, he wanted his eyes repaired, but I wanted to see the truth within the Rabbi. He received both. Jesus told him to go, but Bartimaeus followed Jesus to Jerusalem, and I like to think he was still there at Pentecost and beyond.
Be righteous and do good.