A MIRACLE BY THE WAYSIDE
They went to Jericho. As Jesus was passing through Jericho, on his way out of the city–his disciples and a great crowd were with him–Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that Jesus of Nazareth was there he began to shout. “Son of David!” he cried, “Jesus! Have pity on me!” Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet. But he shouted all the more, “Son of David! Have pity on me!” Jesus came to a stop. “Call him here!” he said. They called the blind man. “Courage!” they said to him. “Get up! He is calling you!” He threw off his cloak and leapt up and came to Jesus. Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “Master teacher! My prayer is that I might see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go! Your faith has cured you.” Immediately he saw again, and he followed him upon the road.
For Jesus the end of the road was not far away. Jericho was only about 15 miles from Jerusalem. We must try to visualize the scene. The main road ran right through Jericho. Jesus was on his way to the Passover. When a distinguished Rabbi or teacher was on such a journey it was the custom that he was surrounded by a crowd of people, disciples and learners, who listened to him as he discoursed while he walked. That was one of the commonest ways of teaching.
It was the law that every male Jew over twelve years of age who lived within 15 miles of Jerusalem must attend the Passover. It was clearly impossible that such a law should be fulfilled and that everyone should go. Those who were unable to go were in the habit of lining the streets of towns and villages through which groups of Passover pilgrims must pass to bid them godspeed on their way. So then the streets of Jericho would be lined with people, and there would be even more than usual, for there would be many eager and curious to catch a glimpse of this audacious young Galilaean who had pitted himself against the assembled might of orthodoxy.
Jericho had one special characteristic. There were attached to the Temple over 20,000 priests and as many levites. Obviously they could not all serve at the one time. They were therefore divided into twenty-six courses which served in rotation. Very many of these priests and levites resided in Jericho when they were not on actual temple duty. There must have been many of them in the crowd that day. At the Passover all were on duty for all were needed. It was one of the rare occasions when all did serve. But many would not have started yet. They would be doubly eager to see this rebel who was about to invade Jerusalem. There would be many cold and bleak and hostile eyes in the crowd that day, because it was clear that if Jesus was right, the whole Temple worship was one vast irrelevancy.
At the northern gate sat a beggar, Bartimaeus by name. He heard the tramp of feet. He asked what was happening and who was passing. He was told that it was Jesus. There and then he set up an uproar to attract Jesus’ attention to him. To those listening to Jesus’ teaching as he walked the uproar was an offence. They tried to silence Bartimaeus, but no one was going to take from him his chance to escape from his world of darkness, and he cried with such violence and importunity that the procession stopped, and he was brought to Jesus.
This is a most illuminating story. In it we can see many of the things which we might call the conditions of miracle.
(i) There is the sheer persistence of Bartimaeus. Nothing would stop his clamour to come face to face with Jesus. He was utterly determined to meet the one person whom he longed to confront with his trouble. In the mind of Bartimaeus there was not just a nebulous, wistful, sentimental wish to see Jesus. It was a desperate desire, and it is that desperate desire that gets things done.
(ii) His response to the call of Jesus was immediate and eager, so eager that he cast off his hindering cloak to run to Jesus the more quickly. Many a man hears the call of Jesus, but says in effect, “Wait until I have done this,” or “Wait until I have finished that.” Bartimaeus came like a shot when Jesus called. Certain chances happen only once. Bartimaeus instinctively knew that. Sometimes we have a wave of longing to abandon some habit, to purify life of some wrong thing, to give ourselves more completely to Jesus. So very often we do not act on it on the moment–and the chance is gone, perhaps never to come back.
(iii) He knew precisely what he wanted–his sight. Too often our admiration for Jesus is a vague attraction. When we go to the doctor we want him to deal with some definite situation. When we go to the dentist we do not ask him to extract any tooth, but the one that is diseased. It should be so with us and Jesus. And that involves the one thing that so few people wish to face–self-examination. When we go to Jesus, if we are as desperately definite as Bartimaeus, things will happen.
(iv) Bartimaeus had a quite inadequate conception of Jesus. Son of David he insisted on calling him. Now that was a Messianic title, but it has in it all the thought of a conquering Messiah, a king of David’s line who would lead Israel to national greatness. That was a very inadequate idea of Jesus. But, in spite of that, Bartimaeus had faith, and faith made up a hundredfold for the inadequacy of his theology. The demand is not that we should fully understand Jesus. That, in any event, we can never do. The demand is for faith. A wise writer has said, “We must ask people to think, but we should not expect them to become theologians before they are Christians.” Christianity begins with a personal reaction to Jesus, a reaction of love, feeling that here is the one person who can meet our need. Even if we are never able to think things out theologically, that response of the human heart is enough.
(v) In the end there is a precious touch. Bartimaeus may have been a beggar by the wayside but he was a man of gratitude. Having received his sight, he followed Jesus. He did not selfishly go on his way when his need was met. He began with need, went on to gratitude, and finished with loyalty–and that is a perfect summary of the stages of discipleship.
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