Bible readingThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 20:29-34

Jesus Heals Two Blind Men

29 And as they went out of Jericho, a great crowd followed him. 30 And behold, there were two blind men sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was passing by, they cried out, “Lord,[a] have mercy on us, Son of David!” 31 The crowd rebuked them, telling them to be silent, but they cried out all the more, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” 32 And stopping, Jesus called them and said, “What do you want me to do for you?” 33 They said to him, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.” 34 And Jesus in pity touched their eyes, and immediately they recovered their sight and followed him.

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The New Testament has two other versions of this healing miracle.

I wrote about Luke’s account — Luke 18:35-43 — in 2014. Luke wrote about one blind man. Mark’s version — Mark 10:46-52 — also features one blind man and names him as Bartimaeus (‘bar’, son, of Timaeus). Mark’s version is in the three-year Lectionary, possibly because it is the most descriptive account. I have highlighted the differences between his and Matthew’s account below:

Jesus Heals Blind Bartimaeus

46 And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. 47 And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” 50 And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” 52 And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.

Should we be concerned that Matthew mentions two blind men and the other accounts only two? John MacArthur explains that people of the time would have known Bartimaeus (emphases mine):

Luke only discusses one of the two, the more prominent one. But never says there was only one. And Mark goes a step further, he only discusses one of the two and he gives us his name. His name is Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus. Now I suppose we could wonder why he bothers to name him. Matthew just wants us to see the majesty of Christ. Luke emphasizes the same, but Mark touches the real human cord by naming this man. And I think it perhaps is because he was well-known. Oh, not then but later. So that when Mark pens the gospel and the letters are written to the church to read about the account of the life of our Lord, when they can sit down and read this, they’ll have there the story of the conversion of one who by now they greatly love. It’s as if Mark is saying, “And you know who one of those guys was? It was none other than your friend, Bartimaeus.” And so he picks up a little of history…of the history of one of the beloved brothers in the church by the time the gospel would be read by some.

It’s not unusual, by the way, for one gospel writer to mention two and the others to focus on one. You’ll find the same thing in the maniac across the Sea of Galilee at Gerasa [Gadarene Swine] where some writers note two and some concentrate on the healing of one.

Something else we need to keep in mind is that two things happened — one before and one after — this miracle took place.

Beforehand, Jesus made a brief trip to Bethany to resurrect Mary and Martha’s brother Lazarus from the dead. John’s Gospel is the only one with that account: John 11:38-44. That took place shortly before His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which we remember on Palm Sunday. The Greek Orthodox celebrate it as a feast, Lazarus Saturday.

After raising Lazarus from the dead, the Jewish leaders were so incensed that they decided that Jesus must die (John 11:45-53). Meanwhile, people ran hither and yon from Bethany, Lazarus’s town, to spread the word far and wide about his resurrection.

Jesus left Lazarus and his sisters to put time and space between Him and the Jewish leaders. He came to the place where the blind beggars were. MacArthur surmises that word of Lazarus had already reached the people there:

Bethany was the town between Jericho and Jerusalem, just up the hill … They would have known who they were. And, of course, the whole city was in an uproar when He raised him from the dead. And His enemies pursued Him that He had to go back on the other side of the Jordan for a while for safety’s sake. At least He had to retreat away. And so they knew. He had practically banished disease from Palestine and so everybody knew who He was. They were all there.

The second event followed the healing of the blind men. Afterwards, Jesus continued on His way with another stop in Jericho. MacArthur explains the different Jerichos:

… in Jesus’ time, there was the Old Testament Jericho which was ruins. And then a little south of that, right against it really, was the New Testament Jericho that flourished at this time. And it was a beautiful place, still is. It has its own unique beauty.

It was in the New Testament Jericho that the much despised and physically short Zacchaeus encountered Jesus. He could not see Him, so, in order to do so, clambered up a tree. Luke 19:1-9 has the only mention of this man. What a moving account Luke gives us:

19 He entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

I have always loved that story — since I was six years old, in fact. It just shows Jesus’s generous love and merciful way of looking at people. He did not judge, as our fellow men and women do — as those who knew Zacchaeus did. Jesus came to save, not to condemn, if He could help it.

Now onto today’s reading from Matthew. In verse 29, Jesus was passing from old Jericho — remember the walls of Jericho falling down with Rahab‘s help? Matthew 1 lists Rahab — the woman of ill repute — as one of Jesus’s ancestors. Self-righteous churchgoers should recall Matthew 1:5:

and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse,

For this reason, MacArthur says that Jericho:

was also a place that must have literally exploded on the minds of Jesus…on the mind of Jesus with memory because He would no doubt remember a very special woman from that city by the name of Rahab who was a prostitute but who hid the spies, you remember, who came to spy out the land. And as a result in the grace of God she was given a place in Messianic genealogy and you find her listed as an ancestor of the Messiah Himself in Matthew chapter 1.

MacArthur also tells us that Jericho was a warm, fertile place when the surrounding area was wintry. Herod had a home there, where he retreated in cold weather:

It was known as the city of palms. And if you want to understand the geography of the land of Palestine, you’ll be interested to note that it is almost an absolute identical copy of southern California, both in terms of geography and climate. For it has a seacoast, a beautiful gorgeous beach on the Mediterranean. And then there is a lovely valley known as the Sharon Valley. And then the mountains rise up, we know them as the Carmel Mountain Range. And at the southern end is this massive plateau of Jerusalem. And from there descends straight down to the desert. It’s almost a parallel. The only difference would be that where as Los Angeles is in a basin, Jerusalem is on a plateau. But it’s much like our area. From the seacoast it rises to the mountains and then descends to the desert.

And Jericho was a lovely place in the winter, even in the spring. Because the crops all came in early in Jericho. Mark tells us it was not yet fig picking time in Jerusalem, but it would have been in Jericho because of the warmth. There were citrus trees everywhere because, you see, Jericho is endlessly fed by some beautiful springs, one of which I have myself had a drink out of, lovely water, pure and clear and that water was channeled by irrigation all through that area around Jericho so that it flourished. And there were palm trees everywhere and citrus trees and then this balsam bush which had some multiple uses that was growing there. And so it would have been a very lovely place.

Because of Lazarus’s resurrection, a great crowd was following Jesus to Jericho. However, they were not disciples or about to become believers. Matthew Henry reminds us that very few loved our Lord:

This multitude that followed him for loaves, and some for love, some for curiosity, and some in expectation of his temporal reign …

The two blind men could discern that Jesus was about to pass by (verse 30). They sat by the roadside, away from the city gates, which was — and remains — the traditional place for beggars and the infirm to place themselves during the day.

They cried out to him, addressing him as ‘Lord’ and ‘Son of David’. MacArthur tells us:

The word “cry” here is krazo, it means to scream. It’s used in the New Testament of the screechings and screamings of demon possessed people, Mark 5 … And the idea of the form of the text here is there was a constant screaming. I mean, they were yelling at the top of their voice, “Have mercy on us,” a cry of anguish and a cry of desperation, cry of pain. I mean, they know that if Jesus gets out of the hearing of their voices, that they’re doomed to blindness the rest of their life. They know this is the only one who can do this. And the desperation is powerful, the drama. You can imagine the shrieking and screaming of two men who know they’ve got one moment in time or the rest of their life they are to be blind stones. And they scream in almost a frenzy. And they say, “Have mercy on us.”

Of course, the crowd — much like supercilious and self-righteous people today — told them to be quiet (verse 31). The unspoken subtext here is that the Master could not be bothered with the likes of lowly, infirm nothings like them.

Fortunately, the men continued crying out, once again calling ‘Lord’ and ‘Son of David’. Henry explains that the Holy Spirit was working through them:

Surely it was by the Holy Ghost that they called Christ Lord, 1 Corinthians 12:3.

Jesus stopped and called to them, asking what they wanted (verse 32). He knew what they wanted, but Henry gives us this analysis:

Note, It is the will of God that we should in every thing make our requests known to him by prayer and supplication not to inform or move him, but to qualify ourselves for the mercy. The waterman in the boat, who with his hook takes hold of the shore, does not thereby pull the shore to the boat, but the boat to the shore. So in prayer we do not draw the mercy to ourselves, but ourselves to the mercy.

They asked Him to open their eyes (verse 33). It is an interesting use of words which implies not only physical sight but, whether they realised it or not, spiritual sight.

In ‘pity’, in mercy, Jesus touched their eyes (verse 34). They were able to see ‘immediately’. Just as important, and moreso for the sake of their souls, they ‘followed him’ and became disciples.

Therefore, Jesus gave them not only their physical sight but their spiritual sight.

MacArthur says that Jericho attracted many blind people from other regions because the balsam bush that grew so abundantly there was said to have balm beneficial to eyesight. Some people’s eyesight improved when applying it.

There were many blind people in that era. Sand blinded some, resulting in scratched corneas. Others were unable to eat a healthy diet because of poverty. Others were born blind, sometimes because their mothers had gonorrhoea, which was prevalent.

In this case, MacArthur tells us:

Interesting that the Greek verb here is anablepo, blepo, to see, ana, to see again which is to say that perhaps their blindness had occurred in life, not in birth. And so they were made to see again. And I’ve always felt that those who have lost their sight have a greater pain to bear than those who were born blind and do not know what they’ve missed. And so He restores to them their sight again out of compassion, touching and speaking.

Of their becoming disciples, Henry explains:

Note, None follow Christ blindfold. He first by his grace opens men’s eyes, and so draws their hearts after him. They followed Christ, as his disciples, to learn of him, and as his witnesses, eye-witnesses, to bear their testimony to him and to his power and goodness. The best evidence of spiritual illumination is a constant inseparable adherence to Jesus Christ as our Lord and Leader.

We can better understand now why Mark referred to ‘blind Bartimaeus’, who, by then was well known. His must have been a powerful testimony for those alive at the time. It should be equally so for us today.

Jesus went on to Jerusalem immediately afterwards for His triumphal entry, which is where Matthew 21 begins.

Next time: Matthew 21:12-13

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