He was known as the ‘blind beggar who sat by the city gate.’ That was his calling card. His resume. The best he could do. We don’t know if he was married or had children — I rather doubt it. The only definitives we have for certain are that his father was Timaeus and his name was Bartimaeus and that he lived in Jericho and sat daily by the gate. His story comprises about a paragraph in both Mark’s and Luke’s gospel and if you blink or yawn you’ll miss it.
Jericho is one of the oldest cities in the world. Something like 26 cities have been built there — one on top of another — over a period of some five thousand years. It sits in the cradle, or intersection, of ancient trade routes so it’s long since been a hub of commerce and, as a result, news or information. During the time that Bartimaeus sat begging, Jericho was electric with the spread of the spoken word and THE hotbed — no, the epicenter — for all that news and information was the city gate.
We don’t know how long he’d been there but evidently he was known by both his and his father’s name so chances are good he’d been around long enough for people to get sick and tired of the sound of his tin cup. I doubt he smelled all that pleasant. What professional beggar does? His hair was probably matted. Food caught in a greasy beard. Clothes tattered. Fingernails need clipping. Feet filthy.
We also know one more thing thing about him: we know for certain that he knew the prophecies about the Messiah and, even more, he believed Jesus to be the fulfillment of them. He proved it. Listen to what he says. He’s sitting by the gate and hears a crowd approaching. Bartimaeus has heard the stories. Been listening to them for three years. About the lepers now clean. The lame dancing. The demons cast out. The five thousand fed. The paralyzed man lowered through the roof who walked out the front door. The lame man at the pool of Bethesda who picked up his mat. And he’s heard about Lazarus and how he walked out of a stone tomb.
To say he’s been waiting for this day is a bit of an understatement.
As Jesus approaches, Bartimaeus stands and starts jumping up and down, waving his arms. “Jesus! Son of David! Have mercy on me!” He does this so much and to such an irritating extent that the crowd tells him to “Shhhh!” Couple of good, decent church-goers, tell him to ‘Shut up! Can’t you see He’s busy.’
But that’s the point. He can’t see.
Kind of slips by you if you’re not paying attention, but the term ‘Son of David’ was a messianic claim. Still is. By saying it out loud, the speaker was stating for all who would listen that he or she believed the prophecy spoken by Ezekiel (some 600 years before Christ) about the Messiah coming from the line of David: David, My servant, shall be King over them, and they shall have one shepherd. (And when Ezekiel spoke this, King David had been dead for 385 years.) This bold proclamation could have gotten him killed in this day and age because the Romans had their kings and didn’t like the competition. They would prove this in about a week.
Place yourself in the crowd. Close on the tails of Jesus. Peter, James and John milling about. And then off to the side this nut-job starts screaming at the top of his lungs. And, in order to bring some decency and dignity back to the whole procession, some old prune turns around and sticks her finger to her lips. “Shh!”
Bartimaeus is incredulous. “Don’t ‘shoosh’ me. Don’t you know who this is?!” If he hadn’t been blind, Bartimaeus would have looked at her like she was crazy. Instead, he jumps higher. Screams louder. Waves his arms faster. Scripture says, ‘He cried out all the more.” “Jesus! Son of David…”
Undeterred. Unashamed. Bartimaeus, shed his precious dignity for one chance at freedom. One chance to see clearly.
Jesus hears this man screaming at the top of his lungs, stops walking — or ‘stood still,’ — and commands that he be brought to him. Now, look at that same old lady with the finger to her lips. She’s dusting him off. Licking her thumb and straightening his eye brow. Smearing the mud off his cheek. “Come on. Hurry. He’s calling you.”
Luke and Mark record this interaction but only Mark states that Bartimaeus ‘threw aside his garment.’ Pause the tape right there. He’s going before the Messiah. The King of Glory. The God of Angel Armies. The Very Son of God. The One who called out Lazarus when he was four days dead and stinking. “Lazarus!” And yet Bartimaeus goes forward with no pretension. Nothing to cover his filth. Nothing to ‘dress him up.’ If anything, he undresses.
This tells me a lot about the desperation in his heart.
He elbows his way — blindly — through the crowd. People are ushering him forward. “Hurry, He’s calling you. He’s very busy.” Bartimaeus bounces forward like a pinball. Note the context: Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. The Cross. He knows this. He is walking straight toward his own execution, and yet for some illogical and inexplicable reason he stops to talk with the blind, smelly beggar.
Does that shake anything loose in you? It cracks me down the middle.
Bartimaeus makes it to Jesus feet and, again my conjecture, but the only way he can know if he’s reached a man that meets the description of Jesus is to ‘look’ with his hands. To ‘read’ him with his fingers. In my mind, Bartimaeus is taller than Jesus and no, I can’t say why but I think when he reached Jesus, he extended his hands like Helen Keller at the Alabama pump house and felt Jesus’ arms and face, eyes and nose, and then stood back, jaw open, realizing he’d just touched the Bright Morning Star.
It’s about this point that Bartimaeus crumbles like a sack of potatoes. Trust me, if he really believed Jesus was the Son of David, he’d hit his knees. We all would.
Jesus, surrounded by a growing crowd, looks down, sort of leaning over, a smirk on His face, “What do you want me to do for you?” Of course Jesus knows Bartimaeus is blind but Jesus is not asking for His benefit. And He’s not really asking for Bartimaeus’ benefit. He’s asking for the benefit of all those people milling around. The folks with their fingers pressed to their lips and their hands in their pockets. Jesus wants to encourage them. Challenge them. Wake them up. Why? Because His time is growing short and this slumbering crowd is waiting for Him to show up while the blind idiot dancing along the wall is declaring before the world that He has arrived.
Big, big difference.
Bartimaeus — forehead on Jesus’ feet and lips pressed to the dirt — says, “Rabbi, I want to see.”
Can you see the smile on Jesus’ face? He knows what’s about to happen. He loves this stuff. He’s living for this right here. It’s one of the reasons He’s here. And bear in mind that Zaccheus is milling about here somewhere for the next thing we read in scripture is Jesus enters Jericho, passes through and then he looks up in the tree. You’ve heard the story. “Zaccheus come down. Salvation has come to your house…” So, don’t miss this. Small man—Zaccheus — is watching this transaction in the street. Jesus wastes nothing.
Back to the two men in the street. Blind, smelly, begging, cloak-less, Bartimaeus — who’s eyes are fogged over, clouded white, thick with cataracts — is piled up before the promised Messiah. Hands trembling. Maybe Jesus puts His hands on Bartimaeus’ shoulders. Maybe He holds his hands in His own. I don’t know but I do know that Jesus fashioned Bartimaeus together before the foundation of the world. He made his very eyes. His lens. His optical nerve. He’s been looking forward to this moment. To set it aright. He’s missed him.
Jesus kneels, places His finger tips on Bartimaeus’ chin and lifts his face. Then, speaking softly, he says: “Receive your sight. Your faith has made you well.”
When I read that, I feel aftershocks rippling out through eternity.
For the second time in his life, the breath of God falls on the clay that is Bartimaeus. Those words enter his ears, swim around his mind for a millisecond and then the curtain is lifted. Tecnhicolor and 3D pour in. His mind is flooded with light, and shape and color and depth and people and smiles and sky and clouds and perception and Bam! IMAX! The face of Jesus.
Think about it! Bartimaeus knows the color of Jesus’ eyes. You thought he was screaming at the top of his lungs before? Listen to him now.
And, watch where this occurs. In the city gates of Jericho. In that day and age, if you were going to put out a breaking news alert, prime time, the kind that stopped all shows in progress, where all the world would see it, you’d do it from the city gates of Jericho. Jesus is sending a message. Why?
Think back — remember the message he sent to John the Baptist some months prior, ‘The blind see. The lame walk.’ Among other things, giving sight to the blind, is the signature of the Messiah. And where does He sign his name? In the dirt on the road to Jerusalem. Jesus is headed to the cross. He knows this. He is putting not only the physical world, but the spiritual world, on notice. If one act served to stir the crowds into a frenzy, greater than the crowds at the World Cup, it was Jesus healing blind Bartimaeus. He stood at the gates of Jericho and drove a stake in the ground — “I”m coming. And I’m bringing the Kingdom of God with me.”
From there, Jesus walks through Jericho, through dinner with Zaccheus, and into Jerusalem, into the City of the Great King, where countless throngs throw their cloaks on the ground before the colt He is riding — where ‘even the rocks cry out.’ People are exuberant and everyone is screaming at the top of their lungs. And, while scripture doesnt’ say this, I believe Bartimaeus was in the crowd because unlike most everyone else that Jesus healed, scripture records that he ‘followed Jesus.’
Oh, how I love that man.
This is conjecture on my part but I think Bartimaeus followed Jesus through that next week. I think he was in the crowd when the sun went down on Calvary. I think Bartimaeus saw Jesus crucified.
How could he not?
Scripture records one final interesting occurrence on that street in Jericho. Without being told, without being prompted, when Bartimaeus lifted his head and declared for all the nay-sayers, “I can see,” everyone spontaneously, “Glorified God.” When they saw what happened, “they gave praise to God.”
Think about it, collectively, all those doubters in the crowd, all those people with their fingers pressed to their lips, the same people who were ‘shooshing’ Bartimaeus and telling him to shut-up, were jumping up and down, screaming at the top of their lungs. “Son of David! Son of David!” That’s what happens when the blind see.
Belief was the decision. Faith the action. Praise the effect. Add those three together and you get Glory.
Several years ago, when I really read this story for the first time, it pierced me and the thing that did it was that while Lasic surgery had freed me of glasses, I was and am still blind to myself. To my own stuff. My selfishness. Pride. Criticism. Judgment of others. Unforgiveness. The stuff about me that is not like Jesus and continues to break His heart.
It was in that instant that the Lord allowed me to see me. Albeit briefly.
My takeaway then and now is that I’m not habitually self-aware. I’ve even less aware of my effect on others. More often than not, I’m not. Can’t see the forest. You can ask Christy. Ask my kids. My friends. Knowing this about myself I wanted to rattle my own chain and create something to remind myself. A marker. So, I had a bracelet made. It’s like an ID bracelet except it doesn’t have my name on it because I know my name. On one side, it reads: “Jesus, Son of David, Have mercy on me.” And, on the back, the part that touches my skin, it reads: “Rabbi, I want to see.”
It’s become a lifelong prayer. Sometimes daily.
When I get to heaven, I plan to hug several necks and one of them will be Bartimaeus. I want to thank him for his life. For his public proclamation. For voicing it out loud. For shedding his precious dignity. For driving a stake in the ground and ‘holding fast the confession of his faith.’
I pray I have the stuff inside to do the same.
If I did, I’d take my place along the city wall, joining my voice with the town crier — my friend, Bartimaeus — and scream at the top of my lungs that this Matchless and Magnificent Jesus, this Awesome God of Battle Axe and Spear, this God of Angel Armies who commands his angels concerning me and mine, this Messiah, this Emmanuel, this Prophecy fulfilled, this Faithful One, this Holy and True God Who upholds all things by the Word of His power, this Lover of My Soul, this Alpha and Omega, this Beginning and the End, this Brightness of the Father’s Glory, this Firstborn from Among the Dead, this King of All Kings, this King of Glory, this Great I Am, this Son of David. Well…that He is all of those. Always has been. Always will be. Period. Oh, and one more, that He’s not above getting down in the dirt with a blind, smelly beggar like me, and lifting my chin.
His eyes are beautiful.
Join us. There’s room along the wall. We’re the chorus of the unashamed.