Scripture: And as they went out of Jericho, a great crowd followed him. And behold, there were two blind men sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was passing by, they cried out, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” The crowd rebuked them, telling them to be silent, but they cried out all the more, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” And stopping, Jesus called them and said, “What do you want me to do for you?” They said to him, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.” And Jesus in pity touched their eyes, and immediately they recovered their sight and followed him. Matthew 20:29-34 ESV
[Click here to read the entire chapter.]
Observation: Recapping Friday’s Daily Focus (click here to read), the mother of James and John requests that her boys receive esteemed positions next to him in his kingdom. Jesus respectfully clarifies that she and her sons are unaware of the magnitude of her request. He then asks James and John if they have the fortitude to drink from the cup (of suffering) for which he will partake. They naively respond, “We are able” (v.22 ESV). So Jesus affirms they will indeed follow his path of suffering but explains that the honored positions are for the Father to determine.
Meanwhile, upon learning what transpired, the others disciples are indignant. So their Lord organizes a “come-to-Jesus” meeting and explains that godless realms focus on hierarchal power and privilege, but his upside-down kingdom honors those who humbly serve others. And he climactically ends the teaching moment with one more slant on his mission: “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (v.28 ESV).
In today’s reading, Matthew tells us that after resolving their awkward infighting, they leave Jericho (first mention of location). As they depart, two blind men cry aloud to Jesus for mercy, addressing him as the Son of David (foreshadowing his soon-lauded triumphal entry into Jerusalem). Jesus stops and asks them what they want him to do for them. As expected, they ask him to grant them sight. Feeling pity toward them, Jesus touches their eyes, and they recover their vision and follow him.
Takeaway: This story finds its parallel in Mark 10:46-52 (click here to read) and Luke 18:35-43 (click here to read). Mark and Luke tell us that the encounter involved one blind beggar, and Mark adds that his name is Bartimaeus. Mark also mentions that the disciples call out to the blind man and tell him to take heart and get up, for Jesus is calling him. And he notes that Jesus tells Bartimaeus his faith has made him well (following a formulaic explanation that Jesus often used when healing people). Luke adds that the beggar glorified God, and the crowd also praised God.
So while the above details round out the story, two seeming contradictions need a brief explanation. First, as explained in an earlier Daily Focus regarding a demon-possessed man from the Gadarenes (click here to read it), as standard practice in the ancient Near East, writers commonly cited the lead character without mention of those of secondary importance. However, more problematic to the story, Luke states that Jesus and his disciples were entering Jericho. But there is a logical explanation. Unlike Matthew and Mark, Luke, a Gentile, has no history or bias against Herod the Great, who constructed the new city of Jericho to memorialize himself. Most Jews despised this corrupt mixed-race king who collaborated with Caesar under Roman occupation. And Matthew and Mark were no different. Hence, they refuse to mention the new city of Jericho and cite Jesus and his disciples leaving the historical old town of Jericho. Thus, all three are correct but offer different perspectives according to their personalities.
Returning to the storyline, Jesus is living in the present and discerning the Father’s will. And no doubt he sees the Father orchestrating this interaction with Bartimaeus, who calls after him with the Messianic title, Son of David. The irony is striking that an uneducated blind man recognizes that Jesus is the Messiah and decides to follow him. While the learned Jewish leaders, because of their jealousy, will remain spiritually blind and will seek to rid him from the face of the earth. Of course, they will fail, and Christ will triumph over sin and death.
Our takeaway? If we knew in a matter of days that we would face torture, mocking, and an excruciating execution, most of us would be distracted and not focused on the needs of others. But here, Jesus is still all in and will serve his people’s needs to his last breadth. So how do we manage our trials without being distracted or immobilized by fear, stress, and sorrow? One way is to keep serving as Jesus did. But how do we find the strength? Building on yesterday’s Daily Focus, we cooperate with the Holy Spirit to die to self-pity and rise to our calling as suffering servants. So, like blind Bartimaeus, let’s cry out to the Son of David. His Holy Spirit will open our (spiritual) eyes to see the needs around us and strengthen us to meet them compassionately. And surprisingly, when we remain present and focused while serving others, they provide a welcomed distraction and help us regain the perspective that we are serving our glorious Suffering Servant King.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you that your Son remained present with you to his last breath on his cross to ensure our salvation. And we thank you that he still restores the sight of the spiritually blind when they cry out to him. So would you help us regain perspective, rise above trials and afflictions, and rely on your Son’s peace and strength to keep us present and focused, serving your Son through others to this mortal life’s end? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling