By the Gates of Jericho
On his way to Jerusalem Jesus passed through the ancient city of Jericho with its defensive walls and city gates. The traffic from the surrounding farms into the marketplaces attracted beggars with their bowls among whom were many suffering from blindness. Victorian travellers often wrote about the large numbers of the population suffering from partial or complete blindness in one or both eyes. The dry heat from the sun, the microscopic dust floating in the air, the incessant flies and lack of hygiene meant blindness was commonplace and of various degrees. The restoring of sight to the blind is the healing miracle mentioned most in the gospels.
It is sometimes a surprise for us today to read about some of the methods Jesus used when healing the blind such as spitting in their eyes (Mark 8:23) or daubing them with mud (John 9:6). These stories give us a glimpse into the world of folk religion and magic that Jesus lived and walked in and we need to recognise that we don't always know what caused blindness or how it was healed. What the gospels and later histories make clear is that Jesus was renowned as an extraordinary healer and
attracted crowds of those who brought their sick and infirm for his blessing.
At one of the gates knelt a blind man with his begging bowl calling out for mercy and generosity from passers by. They were simply part of everyday life and the giving of alms was an expected duty. Whenever a beggar heard his bowl receiving coins he was expected to thank the giver with loud cries of gratitude exclaiming to all around that here was one whom God would bless for their gracious and noble generosity. There was quite a bit of theatre involved but it was all part of the everyday bustle of life in ancient Judah.
An artists impression of the walled city of Jericho.
As he approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard a crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” Then he shouted, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Those who were in front sternly ordered him to be quiet; but he shouted even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Luke 18 : 35 - 39
A crowd had come out to walk Jesus into Jericho as a mark of respect for a renowned teacher and healer. This was the crowd that attracted the blind man's attention. When told it was Jesus of Nazareth no more needed to be said - he cries out not for alms but for mercy and healing. Some in the crowd rebuked him and told to be quiet - an indication that his suffering was not only physical. As a beggar many will have looked down on him as unclean, unwanted and a sinner being punished for past sins. We can only imagine the sense of rejection or unworthiness and loneliness he may have felt even when sitting among the other beggars at the gate. The rebukes would have added to the oppression he suffered daily yet they compelled him to shout louder 'Son of David, have mercy on me!'.
'Son of David' was a messianic title referring to the popular hope that one day God would send a descendant of David, the shepherd boy who became king, to bring freedom to the Israelites and restore the greatness to God's kingdom. Many such hopes had ended in bloodshed - the latest had been John the Baptist executed by Herod Antipas possibly months earlier.
Ruins of the ancient Tower of Jericho
Jesus stood still and ordered the man to be brought to him; and when he came near, he asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me see again.”
Luke 18 : 40 - 41
Jesus stood still and ordered the blind man to be brought to him! Wouldn't it have been wonderful if Jesus had ordered those who had rebuked the blind man to then go over to where he lay, help him to his feet and lead him carefully to where Jesus stood? How could they have refused? The oppressors helping the oppressed!
Then Jesus asks an unusual question -
“What do you want me to do for you?”
Jesus understood that there was a cost to being healed. A price to pay. Just as there is to being forgiven. Did this blind man know what he was asking for?
As a beggar his life was pretty awful but at least he could beg a living - enough to survive day to day. But if his sight was restored his days of begging would be over; no one would drop coins into his bowl anymore; he would have to work day by day probably doing the most menial labour - fetching, carrying, washing; standing in the market places hoping to be hired along with the many others who suffered from unemployment in those days.
He said, “Lord, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has saved you.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him, glorifying God; and all the people,
when they saw it, praised God.
Luke 18 : 40 - 43
Remains of Herod the Great's
palace in Jericho
'Faith', 'saved' and 'salvation' - there is so much in these words and part of the spiritual journey that all disciples of Jesus make to this day is discovering what we mean when we talk about being 'saved' and having 'faith'. And Luke describes to us the fruits of this blind man's faith and what happened to him when he was saved - he follows Jesus into Jericho glorifying God. As a beggar at the gate it was his duty to glorify all those who dropped coins into his bowl with theatrical gestures but walking beside Jesus with everyone's attention upon him after his healing his words of gratitude would have been from the heart. And the crowds who walked into Jericho with Jesus were also excited, praising God for what they had seen - a blind man restored to sight; one of the oppressed released from oppression; and some of his oppressors being given the opportunity to be merciful.
But in Jericho there was another soul in need of salvation - a man of small stature who very much wanted to catch a glimpse of this Jesus of Nazareth.
The gospel of Mark has a different version of this same story in which we are given the blind man's name - Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus. There are good reasons for believing that Mark, who was a travelling companion of Pauls', wrote his gospel using accounts that he received from Peter while staying in Jerusalem.
Only a few of the people Jesus met are named in the gospels such as Zacchaeus, Jairus, Simon the Pharisee, Nicodemus etc. Some New Testament scholars believe they were named because they were known in the small circles of the earliest Jesus movement - that they became disciples and told their stories of how their lives were changed when they met Jesus.
The good news, the gospel, that each of us has to share is our story of the difference the Lord Jesus has brought about in our own lives - 'what the Lord has done in me'. Gratitude shines from us and when it is sincere it will come out - we cannot help it; we must look for those who might rejoice with us. How important and how rewarding it is when we find others who will sit down with us and listen as we share our good news, our gospel; and how important it is that we listen in our turn and like the crowds in Jericho rejoice at what we have seen and heard.