LEADER TIMES WEEKEND RELIGION ARTICLE FOR
February 25, 2012 by William H. Scarle, Jr.
The distance between the fords of the Jordan and Jericho is about six miles. For the Passover pilgrims who were beginning to crowd the rout from the Galilee to Jerusalem on this week preceding what Christians would come to know as Palm Sunday Jericho was a rest stop for weary travelers. The citizens of Jericho would have been alerted to the approach of Jesus. The culture would require the population of the city to go out to meet this celebrated rabbi and welcome him to their city. Meanwhile, in the city a household would be selected to host this popular teacher and miracle worker for a dinner and overnight accommodations.
Luke tells us that as Jesus drew near to the city a blind man was sitting by the road begging. Mark tells us his name was Bartimaeus. Beggars had a well-defined position in the social order of the Middle East. Jews were required by their Torah to do works of charity. The beggar saw himself as called to give them the opportunity to do so. His badge of entitlement to this office was his disability. Without this obvious handicap he would have to work for a living like everyone else.
When Bartimaeus heard the commotion he was curious as to what was taking place. He was told that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. On hearing this he calls out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy upon me.” He understood that Nazareth was a form of the Hebrew word “netzer” which means “branch” or “shoot.” It was taken from the prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Zechariah as indicating that a king shall rise from the family of David to deliver Israel. The city of Nazareth was founded after the return from Babylon by the decedents of David. Therefore, if Jesus was from Nazareth he was likely a “Son of David.” If this was not a declaration by Bartimaeus that Jesus was the longed for Messiah, it was certainly a hope.
The town’s people were incensed by Bartimaeus’s outcries. Our translation of their rebuke is polite. In effect they told him , “shut your mouth.” “Bartimaeus” can be translated “son of filth,” and although he had his place in society, it was not his place to call for an audience with a visiting celebrity.
However, Jesus heard him and asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” For us it may appear an innocuous question, but Jesus understood that if he gave him his sight, his badge of entitlement would be lost. Bartimaeus however wanted to see.
Jesus gives Bartimaeus his sight with the declaration that his faith had made him well. The blind man seems to have put the pieces together. This man was from Nazareth. He was a great teacher and miracle worker. He was a righteous man going to Jerusalem for Passover. He might be; he could be; the Messiah. Bartimaeus wanted to see him. If he was the Messiah, he could do that for him and he was bold enough to ask. Both “the son of filth” and the town’s people responded by giving glory to God.
Bartimaeus was on the lowest rung of the social ladder. Jesus encounters him on entering Jericho. On leaving the city he encounters another, much higher on the social scale, but not much more respected. We will look at his story next week.
(Bill Scarle can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org ).