by Ray Tetz—
“Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means ‘son of Timaeus’), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Jesus stopped and said, ‘Call him.’ So they called to the blind man, ‘Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.’ Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Jesus asked him. The blind man said, ‘Rabbi, I want to see.’ ‘Go,’ said Jesus, ‘your faith has healed you.’ Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road” (Mark 10:46-52, NIV).
The story of the blind man who yelled so loud that Christ stopped and healed him is one of those stories that I’ve known for so long that I don’t actually recall when I first learned it.
There are some built-in risks with stories like this. First, because are things we could learn from them that we didn’t notice when we were children—like the felt figures on the flannel board, our appreciation is rather flat and two-dimensional. We need to “put away childish things” and learn from the story again. And second, when we stop listening—like the crowd in the story itself—we become desensitized to important things that the story is meant to teach us because we aren’t paying attention.
Let me give you an example of what I mean. This story is told in both Mark and Luke. Why does Mark say that this happened when Christ was leaving Jericho and Luke say it happened when they were coming in? It may not be important to the story itself, but it does seem like we might be concerned with this discrepancy as it relates to whether or not we can trust the Gospel writer; if he gets something so basic wrong, how do we know he gets the more important stuff correctly?
Frankly, I don’t think it’s much of a reflection on the story or the storytellers—but it does show that sometimes things happen at unexpected moments. Moments that were of no importance become the most significant moments in our lives. And when that happens, it is important to be paying attention.
In Mark’s account of the story, the disciples were distracted by a lot of political maneuvering going on within their ranks. They were all preoccupied with the rapid developments they had witnessed that made them think that Jesus was going to go to Jerusalem and overthrow the Romans; in fact, they were headed in that direction. Then they discovered that James and John, the sons of Zebedee, had formally requested to be seated at the right and left hand of Jesus in His new kingdom. Jesus had swept aside this selfish and foolish request and shocked them all by saying that “even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45, NIV).
This was not what they wanted to hear. So preoccupied were they with their own confused thoughts that they never heard the cry of need from Bartimaeus. They only heard noise. They thought only of the crush of the crowds—of how things might get out of hand. They were thinking only of themselves.
Not Jesus. Jesus was tuned in to the voices of need in that crowd, and in particular to the one voice who was unabashedly calling him “the Son of David,” which no one had yet done. The disciples, intent on personal and political gain, heard nothing that interested them; in fact, the noise was a nuisance and the noisemaker a bother—a threat to their settled lives.
Jesus heard the faith of someone who, although blind, had already discerned what others were still to learn. Even before we get to the story itself—of how Bartimaeus received his sight, there is this lesson to be learned: pay attention to the right stuff. Keep your ears open for when Jesus is in the street. Every moment is a moment to be transformed by grace.
As I am writing this, our streets are filled with people demonstrating their anger and outrage at racial injustice. This is a moment for us to be listening—and learning things that we’ve not fully understood before. This is a moment to put aside the petty discussions that distract us from hearing the voices of need—and voices (like those of Bartimaeus) that may be unabashedly speaking the truth in ways that we’ve never heard before. This is a moment to remember that Jesus is in the crowd, on the street, and that His purposes are greater than anything we could ever imagine.
And it’s a moment to remember that, while it is always good to be where Jesus is, sometimes He may surprise us. Stay tuned.
(Next week: Say His Name: Bartimaeus)
Ray Tetz is the Director for Communication & Community Engagement for the Pacific Union Conference.