Eyes Wide Open

35 As he drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. 36 And hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what this meant. 37 They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” 38 And he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 39 And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 40 And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to him. And when he came near, he asked him, 41 “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” 42 And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” 43 And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.  Luke 18:35-43 ESV

At this point in Luke’s chronology, Jesus is headed back toward Jerusalem. Jesus had already informed His disciples, “we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished” (Luke 18:33 ESV). And now, Luke reveals that Jesus and His followers have reached the town of Jericho, located about 18 miles from Jerusalem in the southern region of Judea.

As usual, Jesus has a crowd of curious bystanders accompanying Him as he nears the city of Jericho. It seems likely that this group is made up of those who desire to be healed by Jesus, as well as those who are curious to see this famous miracle worker for themselves. News of His exploits in Galilee and the rumors concerning His identity as the Messiah have spread all throughout Galilee. So, once again, Jesus finds Himself in the unsolicited role of a celebrity.

As He nears the city of Jericho, the noise of the crowd garners the attention of a blind man who is begging by the side of the road. Before we look at what happens next, we have to deal with what appears to be the contradiction between Luke’s account of this story and those of Matthew and Mark. All three men include this encounter between Jesus and the blind man in their gospel accounts, but the details of the story are significantly different. For instance, Matthew indicates that there were two blind men, while Luke and Mark refer to only one. For some reason, Mark provides the name of the blind man while Luke does not. And while Luke seems to indicate that this story took place while Jesus was entering Jericho, Mark and Matthew describe it as taking place on His way out of the city.

This last issue seems simple enough to resolve. Luke states that Jesus’ encounter with the blind man took place “as he drew near to Jericho.” The Greek word carries the idea of proximity. In The New Living Translation, this verse reads, “As Jesus approached Jericho….”  Luke is not necessarily providing a timeline concerning Jesus’ arrival in Jericho. He is simply stating that Jesus was on a road that passed nearby the city. While in the region, Jesus could have been staying somewhere other than Jericho proper, and as He prepared to continue His journey to Jerusalem, He traveled on the road that passed by Jericho. He “drew near” in the sense that He had to pass by the city on His way to His final destination.

As to the number of blind men involved in the story, Matthew is the only gospel author who describes there being two. But this doesn’t have to be a problem. The accounts of Mark and Luke do not necessarily contradict Matthew’s telling of the story. Mark does not refute that there were two blind men, he simply focuses his attention on one, in particular, even providing us with his name. And Luke seems to follow Mark’s lead. The question is, how did Mark discover the name of this man? And the answer is revealed at the end of his account: “Instantly the man could see, and he followed Jesus down the road” (Mark 10:52 NLT). Matthew indicates that, upon receiving their sight, both men followed Jesus. But perhaps Bartimaeus was the only one of the two whose gratitude and determination to become a disciple of Jesus caught the attention of the disciples. This man, Bartimaeus, received healing from Jesus and was so moved by the gesture that he chose to commit himself to follow Jesus. Evidently, the other man whom Jesus healed eventually walked away, his sight restored but still blind to the identity of his benefactor.

But if we’re not careful, we can allow these so-called contradictions to distract us from the real point of the story. As Jesus and the clamoring crowd passed by the city, the noise they made attracted the attention of the two blind men. Unable to see what was happening around them, they were forced to ask someone to explain the source of all the commotion. They were told, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by” (Luke 18:37 ESV). According to Matthew, upon hearing that the Rabbi from Nazareth was nearby, both men cried out for mercy.

“Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” – Matthew 20:30 ESV

The crowd, irritated by the shouts of the two men, told them to shut up. This should not be surprising because the Jews would have viewed the blindness of these men as a sign that they had committed a serious sin against God and were suffering His judgment. They would have viewed these men as undeserving of mercy and unworthy of any attention from Jesus. But Bartimaeus and his companion would not be stifled or denied. They continued to shout and beg that Jesus would extend them mercy. They had heard of His miraculous ability to restore sight to the blind and they desperately longed for His healing touch. When their cries reached the ears of Jesus, He stopped and addressed them:

“What do you want me to do for you?” – Matthew 20:32 NLT

This seems like a rather silly question for Jesus to ask. After all, it was obvious to everyone in the crowd that these men were blind. And Jesus was fully aware of their condition and what it was they were desiring Him to do. But it is important to remember that these two men had spent their entire lives begging for handouts. They had probably spent years sitting at the very same spot asking passersby for spare change or a morsel of food. They had been forced to live off of the generosity of others. But now, they had a chance to receive something far more significant that would radically change their lives forever. So, Jesus wanted them to state their request out loud so that everyone in the crowd could hear them. And Matthew indicates that they had no problem expressing their desire.

“Lord, let our eyes be opened.” – Matthew 20:33 ESV

Bartimaeus and his fellow beggar had no problem declaring their heartfelt hope for healing. They were not interested in money or a free meal. They desperately desired to have their sight restored because they knew it would change their lives forever. But this was the first time they had the opportunity to beg for healing rather than a handout. And Jesus did not disappoint.

Jesus in pity touched their eyes, and immediately they recovered their sight and followed him. – Matthew 20:34 ESV

Of course, Luke and Mark focus their attention on one of the men. Luke states that this one man, upon receiving his sight, “followed him, glorifying God” (Luke 18:43 ESV). Mark adds that Jesus told this man, “Go, for your faith has healed you” (Mark 10:52 NLT). These details seem to provide important clues as to Mark and Luke singling out Bartimaeus for special attention. As a result of his healing, He glorified God and Jesus indicates that it was his faith that resulted in his healing. This is similar to the account of Jesus’ healing of the ten lepers. While all ten men had their leprosy miraculously removed from their bodies, only one of them gave praise to God. And Jesus pointed out the difference between his healing and that of the other nine.

Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” – Luke 17:18-19 ESV

It’s also important to note that Luke adds another interesting detail concerning  Bartimaeus’ healing. He seems to indicate that Bartimaeus recovered his sight as a result of his faith. Jesus sensed something different in the tone of his request and pointed it out.

“Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God. – Luke 18:42-43 ESV

While both men evidently followed Jesus, only Bartimaeus did so based on a belief in who Jesus was. He somehow knew that Jesus was more than just a healer. It appears that Bartimaeus believed Jesus to be the Messiah and the Son of God, and his praise of God was not just an expression of gratitude for restored sight, but a declaration of joy over the arrival of the anointed one of Israel.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson