Today is the famous story of blind guy Bartimaeus. The first thing you need to know is that the story is just PACKED with symbolism. It’s another one of those real-life parables (of which the Bible is full). How many spiritually blind people has Jesus met? Blind from birth, blind from refusal to see, blind from injury. We’ve talked about them before, but here the context is Jesus’ death and resurrection, the verses that immediately precede this story. He told his disciples what was going to happen to them, but they just couldn’t see it. Hm. And now, not circumstantially, he runs into a blind guy.
Jesus is approaching Jericho, which happened to be a city of priests. Hm. Remember what I said about this being a parable, and about spiritual blindness, especially among the religious? You also probably realize that the “city” in the Bible is often an archetype of corruption and godlessness. Are you catching the setup? A place of godlessness, a city of religious people, and a story about blindness.
Here comes Bart: the archetype of every disadvantage, every poverty, and every loser. He is worthless to society, infirmed, and a leech. He is without hope in the world, and one of “the least of these.” He is the stereotype of “everything wrong.” We are here introduced to a situation of hopeless and helpless need. He’s also the symbol of a world without Christ: blind, helpless, and hopeless, and for all purposes, dead. He also will end up providing a stark contrast to the ruler of the previous story, who had everything, but couldn’t “see” his way clear to following Jesus. Here, instead, we have a man who has nothing.
Verse 37: “They told him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.’ ” This is the first mention of identifying Jesus with Nazareth since Luke 4, when he stood up in the synagogue to preach sight to the blind and freedom to prisoners. Hm. The mention of Nazareth here shows Luke’s intentional connection with that reading. Isn’t this fascinating? So many puzzle pieces, and they are coming together.
He calls out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” The ruler of the previous story called him “Good teacher.” So who can see better, the blind man or the rich powerful law-abiding one? “Son of David” in the OT prophets was connected with the Messiah, and the removal of blindness was usually thought of as a sign that God was here. Again, who can see better?
“Have mercy on me.” The quintessential cry of the human heart to God. “Have mercy on me!” For all of us, life holds pains, inadequacies, suffering, injustices, and regrets. If God would just have mercy, one, or some, (and we dare not hope for all), might be made right.
“Have mercy on me.” Note how similar it is to what the tax collector said in Lk. 18.13, and the cry of the widow to the unjust judge in 18.1-8.
The people around rebuked him. “Keep quiet!” There are a couple of possibilities here. One is that the people thought that Bartimaeus wasn’t worthy of Jesus’ attention. “Stop! You’re just a beggar. You’re not good enough for him to bother with. He doesn’t care about rabble like you. He’s an important man with important things to do. There are lots of people who need his attention, and you are certainly not at the top of the list or at the front of the line.” We treat each other like we have to be worthy or deserving to get Jesus’ attention. The other possibility is that Jesus was too busy or too important to want to bother. There are lots of needs out there, and those who are able to give care have to make hard decisions about which ones to address. “Be quiet! He’s with someone else right now.”
But he keeps on calling. Just like the widow. Just like the tax collector. Here was a persistent seeker. Hope will not be silenced. “…Believes all things, and hopes all things.” Hope persists even through rebukes and resistance.
“Jesus stopped.” The goal of our prayers: to arrest the attention of God—so that he “heeds our cry” and we get His attention. It’s actually what we want a lot out of life: that people pay attention to us, that GOD pay attention to us. When we go to a store and need help, we just want someone to pay attention to us. When we have a problem with a company, we just want someone to give us their attention to resolve it. We want the government to care enough to listen to us. We want management to pay attention. Jesus stopped. He listened; he cared.
“…and ordered the man to be brought to him.” Jesus invites him to come. For once hope is not dashed. Against all hope, hope prevailed. Your cry has been heard, and you’ve been invited into the presence of the Hope of the World. Notice the language: “When he came near…” You’ve heard this before. “Draw near to God, and he’ll draw near to you.” “All who come to me I will never cast out.”
Jesus says, “What do you want me to do for you?” What an invitation! On the surface and casually, this is the genie in the lamp scenario: “You get a wish!” In reality and theologically, this is God, in compassion, opening up his world and being to a man who is hopeless and helpless. This man is not unique by any stretch. This is the offer and approach that God extends to all. He opens himself, in love and grace, to all comers.
“Lord, I want to see!!” He sees his physical need and his desire to be healed and functional again. He wants no longer to be the outcast. He wants his life back. Jesus is glad to give that to him, and in addition use the situation as a teaching tool for his disciples and the crowd, and to make a definitive point about spiritual truth.
Jesus healed him. He received his sight—immediately. This connects with Lk. 18.8: “He will see that they get justice, and quickly.” It contrasts the rich ruler, who walked away. “And he followed Jesus.” Who wouldn’t.