Easter without Hindsight: The Ordinary People: Bartimaeus
After spending the night with Zacchaeus (Luke 19) Jeshua left Jericho accompanied by a large crowd. On the way he passed a blind beggar called Bartimaeus. In his gospel, Mark names him and his family, which suggests that he was probably well-known in Jericho. Or was that widely avoided?
There was a prevalent attitude in those days that if you lived a good life God would bless you and if you were a sinner God would curse you. Many who were healthy and wealthy believed those blessings were God’s reward for their lifestyle. It didn’t take them long to conclude that disabled people, like Bartimaeus, were sinners hence their disability. That was a double blow for the disabled: you had to live with the disability and you were also shunned by the self-righteous because of your supposed sins. Imagine trying to get a job if you’re disabled and everybody assumes you must be a bad person too. Beggars were likely to stay beggars. Poor Bartimaeus would have been used to being abused fairly often and despised and distrusted by almost everyone.
He probably heard that Jeshua was in town the previous night. As the crowd approaches he calls out ‘Son of David! Have mercy on me.’ Calling Jeshua the son of the legendary King David of Jerusalem was declaring him to be messiah. Was Bartimaeus trying to appeal to Jeshua’s vanity? He would certainly have knows that many hoped that Jeshua was messiah come to lead a war to expel the Romans.
The politically astute in the crowd knew that declaring Jeshua as Son of David was dangerous. Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee, thought he was King of the Jews and was ruthless about opponents. The Romans weren’t keen on alternative rulers either: they crucified rebels. Since the crowd were mainly Jeshua’s followers they tried to shut him up. But Barti kept on shouting.
When Jeshua got near he summoned Barti. The crowd changed tune: ‘Take heart!’ they said. ‘Get up, he’s calling you.’ Barti came to Jeshua. “What do you want me to do for you?’ Jesus asked. Barti may have just hoped for a good days begging. Some victims of circumstance sadly can’t conceive being anything other than a victim. Jeshua, though, offers options. Maybe Barti had asked for money Jeshua would probably have asked Judas Iscariot, his treasurer, to give Barti a handout. But Barti thinks differently. He doesn’t want to be a victim. He asks to see again. Seeing again means he can’t beg any more. Will finding work be any easier? There could be a risk here. Barti takes that risk and Jeshua restores his sight.
Perhaps that gives us a clue about why ‘sinners’ (as Barti will have been regarded by the self-righteous) are comfortable in Jeshua’s presence. He doesn’t barge into their lives and demand they obey half a hundred rules that supposedly will make God love them again. Many people, often meaning well, will tell you to give up this and that or do the other.
Jeshua’s starting point is very different and engages with people where their life is now. There’s no pre-condition. He simple asks: “What do you want me to do for you?’