The Disciples Did Not Understand But The Blind Fellow Did

Luke 18:35-43.

And that was when, as he [continued on his way and] came near to Jericho, he came upon a certain blind man sitting begging by the side of the road. Hearing that a crowd was passing that way he asked what was going on. They told him:
“This is Jesus of Nazareth on his way.”
At this he cried out,
“Jesus, son of David, for pity’s sake attend to me!”
And those at the front of the procession told him to hold his peace and be quiet. But with that he cried out all the more:
“Son of David, pity me!”
And Jesus stopped, stood his ground directing that he be assisted to come to him.
And when they came together he questioned him:
“What do you want me to do for you?”
And he said, “Lord! Can I see again?”
And Jesus said to him: “Your faith has healed you.”
And from that moment [of that encounter] he did [indeed] see again and [was among those who] followed him, giving praise to God. And those who witnessed this gave praise to God as well.

Here is an account of a healing in Jericho that is also told in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark. Now, when these three accounts are put side by side, we notice the strong similarity with the account of Mark (10:46-52) even though there is some variation in how the confrontation proceeded.

Did it take place while they were leaving (as in Mark’s account) or are we to understand that the healing occurred when the initial contact was made on arrival (as seems to be the case with this account)?

Mark identifies the man as Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, but Luke, meanwhile, seems more concerned to note that this man cured of his blind condition became a part of the procession praising God as they made their way to Jerusalem having passed through the town.

Luke, even though we know him as “the physician”, gives us no information in his account of what Jesus did to cure the man, to restore his sight. Matthew, by way of contrast, tells us that he touched his eyes. But in Matthew’s account the touch of the eyes is not for one man but for two (Matthew 20:29-34). They were healed after Jesus responded to their call for mercy and they both followed him.

None of the three accounts really go into the healing – Matthew’s “he touched their eyes” is all we get. We do not hear how the crowd reacted after their healing, although all three accounts tell us that the cry for mercy – “Son of David have mercy!” – was met with the crowd’s effort to silence them.

Mark might be suggesting that Bartimaeus left his cloak and walking cane on the path where he had been sitting. Having received his sight, he then joined the procession. Luke tells us that Jesus ordered the man be brought to him, Mark tells us that when he heard this, Bartimaeus jumped up and came quickly.

Indeed, considering Luke’s account we can ask: how is one, in retrospect, to report upon the restoration of a person’s sight, when one is limited to what people say happened and cannot examine the medical records? And after all, Luke (the physician) is recording an event that he has been told took place, a well attested event, one of the many events that lead up to the trial and execution of Israel’s Messiah.

It seems that Luke is not so much concerned with the details of Jesus’ touch of the blind man’s (men’s) eyes – did he apply oil or mud? Would he have been concerned that there were actually two people who joined the procession? Maybe he would have to correct his record.

But his point is that a blind fellow was attentive to the fact that the “Son of David” was passing by. He was insistent that Jesus pay him due respect. He was not going to keep quiet according to the insistence of Jesus’ self-appointed minders.

The disciples, Luke has told us, had no idea what Jesus’ procession up to Jerusalem was all about, even after he had repeatedly told them of his trial, suffering, death and resurrection. And, we might add, even though some of their number were pointed to Jesus by John the Baptist. This blind fellow, with his call recognising Jesus’ Royal lineage, had greater insight than they did.

And so there was the Samaritan leper who acknowledged Jesus’ role in his healing. Jesus welcomed the children despite his disciples efforts to keep them away. Jesus showed sympathy for the rich man who could not take up his offer. His disciples were still in a fog about his work and Jesus ignored the crowd to meet and heal this blind fellow who acknowledged his Kingly vocation.

19th January 2017

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