Pp Mark 10:46-52, Luke 18:35-43
Jesus now comes to the vicinity of Jericho (which I will comment on in a moment), possibly having travelled south and west from the region of Perea beyond the Jordan to arrive in the city (Mtw 19:1) on His way to the city of Jerusalem in time for Passover - indeed, in time for Him to enter the city on the same day as the lambs would have been selected for each household which was celebrating the festival (Ex 12:3) thus pointing towards the symbolism of Himself being His people’s lamb of sacrifice (John 1:29).
The parallel passages here need a little work on them seeing as there are normally held to be two discrepancies in the accounts which, depending on your perspective, are either evidence of a Biblical error or explained as being the author’s own selective record of the event.
Firstly, we must note that the three parallel passages are so similar that there seems no good reason for us to assume that any one of the authors has recorded a totally independent event which occurred at this time around Jericho and, by the similarity of the events, have accidentally deceived subsequent readers into thinking that there was only one incident.
That has to be the first statement before we go on to consider the two problems with the text simply because it seems unfair, if we should come to a conclusion that the passages can’t be harmonised, that we suddenly opt for a solution which is a backtrack to avoid embarrassment. Therefore, before we begin, we should be assured that each of the three authors is recording a different selection of what took place in a specific event on the way to the city of Jerusalem.
Having said that, the reader will probably be immediately struck by the difference in the personnel of who are/is healed, for Mtw 20:30 records that there were
‘...two blind men sitting by the roadside...’
while Luke 18:35 speaks of
‘...a [that is, one] blind man...sitting by the roadside ...’
and Mark 10:46 mentions the man by name, mentioning that he was sitting by the roadside and going on to call him
‘...Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus...’
There’s no intrinsic problem with Mark’s account in which he names the blindman and it may be the case that such a person was well known by the writer or congregation for whom the Gospel was being written (either as a person that had been met or as a person of whom it was known). Therefore, Luke is unconcerned to record the name (presuming he knew it) simply because it would mean very little to the man Theophilus who he was writing for (Luke 1:1-4).
The reason for Matthew’s expansion of the story to include two blindmen instead of one is more problematical and Mathag’s assertion that
‘Matthew continues to depend on Mark...’
which he maintains throughout His commentary, seeing the second Gospel as being the first written and from which Matthew was generally compiled, is somewhat perplexing for it needs to be shown why Matthew would have ever decided to firstly omit the name of the blindman and, second, to decide that the one had to be recorded as two.
In Mtw 9:27-31, we saw how Matthew had recorded a unique passage to His Gospel in the healing, similarly, of two blind men (the first record of such a miracle in Matthew’s Gospel) and Mathag comments that that earlier passage
‘...may be a doublet of the present story...’
However, it would be wrong to see the account as a bleed over and that Matthew has altered the incident which occurred near Jericho simply because he assumed that there must have been two blindmen present as there was on the previous occasion. It also doesn’t help if we think of Matthew as accidentally being influenced by the previous passage and of expanding the single man into two because he had in the back of his mind that there had been an occasion when two blind men had been healed and he thought that this one must be it - all that does is to affirm that Matthew wasn’t entirely sure what he was putting down on papyrus and it would be difficult to sincerely accept a lot of what he’s recorded in the Gospel for the very same reason.
The best way to understand the three parallel passages at this point is simply that Mark chose to dwell on the individual which was known to him while Matthew chose to record that there were two blindmen and to ignore choosing one man’s story in place of the other. To the latter, their corporate effort to receive their healing was what he wanted to convey while Mark singled out the one he knew or was aware of.
Luke, on the other hand - who seems to follow manuscripts at some points which are wholly different from the ones which either Matthew or Mark must have used - seems to have followed the record of the single healing but removed the name of the blindman from the story.
The major problem with the texts, however, is with the location at which the incident took place. Mtw 20:29 records that it took place
‘...as they went out of Jericho...’
and Mark 10:46
‘...as He was leaving Jericho...’
but Luke 18:35 that it was
‘As He drew near to Jericho...’
and, following the incident, we read (Luke 19:1) that Jesus
‘...entered Jericho and was passing through...’
which then broadens into the story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:2-10) which takes place inside the city walls. The problem for the commentator is to try and adequately explain why both Matthew and Mark should speak of the incident taking place as they were leaving the city while Luke notes that it was while they were approaching it.
The problem is not an easy one to solve and one that most commentators tend to ignore or overlook - but then that seems
to be the norm when it comes to difficult passages! Of the eleven commentators I referred to, four seem to have ignored totally the problem, four mention it in passing with a solution which is couched in terms such as ‘some believe’ and which makes one think that they don’t believe a word of it, while just two deal specifically with the problem (Mathen and Lukgel) - bless ‘em!
The suggestion most favoured by modern commentators is that there were two cities in existence in first century Israel - the OT mound and the NT Herodian city - and that this can account for both Matthew and Mark stating that it was while Jesus was coming out of the city (the OT city) that the event took place while Luke asserts it was while he was entering it (the NT city).
The event would have, therefore, taken place on the main roadway between the two ‘cities’. This sounds by far the best solution but it isn’t without its difficulties for, when the commentators talk of the ‘OT city’ they’re actually referring to a pile of rubble, a mound upon which it isn’t very likely that there was ever a city founded and in existence in the time of the NT.
It’s quite possible that the two thousand years of rain and weathering conditions (even though Jericho lies in a rain shadow area) have eroded all trace of such a temporary village and that, when archaeologists excavated, they were unable to find such a settlement. To be honest, I’m more inclined to think of there being just the one city being used and that it was this that all three writers must have been referring to. Although this solution is by no means impossible, I feel that it’s more unlikely that probable.
Mathen also notes the scenario in which
‘One blind man was healed as Jesus entered Jericho, another as He left’
and that, presumably, the two accounts were run together by Matthew as being one and the same incident. This would mean that both Mark and Luke would be original accounts of two separate incidents and that Matthew would be more like a summation of both. However, as I noted at the outset, the three passages are so similar in the record of the events which took place that I’m forced into accepting that they’re three selective versions of one and the same incident.
Lukgeld, on the other hand, suggests that the incident took place in two stages and that all three writers have brought the events together into one recollection. Therefore, the blindmen would have cried out to Jesus as He approached the city but, at that time, would not have been healed. That Jesus would have spent a considerable time within the city is evident from the short story concerning Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) where Jesus speaks of Him having to
‘...stay at your house, today’
and which probably must have meant not less than He was intending eating a meal with Him. This would have provided ample time for the beggars to have taken up their position on the road out of Jericho which they knew Jesus had to use and so continued their crying out when the crowds passed them by. The text makes it logical to presume that the road by which Jesus was entering the city was a different one by which He was leaving or else there would be little point in speaking of Jesus ‘passing through’ (Luke 19:1) when He could rather have ‘passed by’.
This may sound fanciful but it would appear to be the more logical explanation of the three suggested. Mathen also notes that it’s possible that Jesus’ exit out of the city was the time at which the crowds lined the streets and Zacchaeus was spoken to. Then the band would have re-entered the city to eat with the tax collector after the healing of the two blind men - the event thus takes place both as Jesus is departing from the city and entering it.
There is most definitely a solution to the problem even though the precise explanation is impossible to state with any certainty. Mathen is correct when he comments that
‘...we do not have that solution!’
even though he’s made a number of suggestions. Whatever the precise explanation for the difference of location, the point of the story is that two blind men were restored with their sight somewhere in the immediate vicinity of the NT city of Jericho as Jesus was journeying from a place ‘beyond the Jordan’ to arrive in the city of Jerusalem for the Passover festival.
The first thing which needs to be said about a description of NT Jericho is that the OT city was totally separate both in location and grandeur and, if the visitor takes a careful look at the mound of dust and sand which has been excavated by successive archaeologists, he may wonder why OT Jericho was so important to Joshua and the invading Israelites that they needed to conquer it rather than to sweep round it and just ignore the place!
It’s outside the scope of this commentary to go into the archaeological discoveries from OT Jericho but, from the time of the seventh century BC, there’s very little evidence that there was anything significant here until much later, the Babylonians being the ones generally held responsible for the last city’s overthrow, even though its destruction at their hands isn’t specifically mentioned in the Bible (II Kings 25:5, Jer 39:5, 52:8).
Upon the return from Babylonian captivity, however, Ezra 2:34 records the presence of 345 ‘sons of Jericho’ as does Neh 7:36 and, if these are accepted as being the town’s inhabitants rather than the offspring of a tribal chief some generations distant from the time of recording, we’re looking at no more than a small settlement of Israelites here but, even so, a sufficient number to be mentioned as being given a specific section of the wall of Jerusalem to rebuild (Neh 3:2).
NT Jericho, however, lay to the south of the OT site and Herod the Great took steps to build a grand and extensive palace and buildings here as a winter residence. There have been numerous archaeological discoveries here including the uncovering of an aqueduct which brought water into the city, but there appears still much to be excavated from this historical time period.
Even before Herod’s work after 4BC, it’s generally thought that the Hasmonean kings from c.134BC onwards extensively enlarged the settlement both north and south of the local stream, the Wadi Qelt, but that it was Herod alone who succeeded in giving the city an unparalleled grandeur compared with any previous or future occupation.
I Macc 9:50 records that, during the Maccabean period, one by the name of Bacchides repaired the fortress of Jericho (indicating that just the one existed at this time and probably as a strategic defence very close to the main highway to Jerusalem) while Zondervans notes also that, in 63BC, Pompey is recorded as capturing two forts here named Threx and Taurus which were probably the two Maccabean forts built on the northern and southern banks of the Wadi Qelt.
The list of archaeological building finds in AEHL is extremely impressive and the authors note significantly that
‘A large industrial zone dating to the two periods [the Hasmonean and the Herodian] was exposed close to the palace complex at the edge of the royal estate’
The city area, therefore, would have encompassed not only the rich, upper class courts of King Herod and of his royal services but the more common and ordinary people who, no doubt, rendered service to those employed by the king. It would be wrong to think, however, that such a division of the city (or the fact that the city was built on the two banks separated by the Wadi Qelt) could account for the apparent discrepancy in the location of where the healing of the blind men took place (as discussed above) and Jesus would have probably kept strictly to the poorer, Jewish section of the city on His journey towards Jerusalem. However, Zacchaeus wouldn’t exactly have been poor and the house into which the tax collector received Him would have exhibited a grandeur and wealth that Jesus had not very often experienced while in Galilee.
A fairly accurate description of the fruitfulness of the city in the time of Christ is probably accurately given by Josephus in War 4.9.2-4 and he shows that, apart from Jericho itself, the area was so barren that it was virtually a desert.
The archaeological evidence for the end of the city lies not in the destruction of the place by the overthrow of the conquering and invading Roman armies as they marched upon Jerusalem around 70AD but in the fall into disrepair and neglect of the palaces and city buildings.
For all its splendour and attraction, it appears that NT Jericho faded into insignificance and disuse.
NB - for the title ‘Son of David’ (Mtw 20:30-31) see my previous notes
It wasn’t just that Jesus was passing through the city which had caused the people in Jericho to amass and to follow after Him as He headed towards Jerusalem (Mtw 20:29, Mark 10:46) but that Jesus had already been ministering to many Israelites ‘beyond the Jordan’ and that these people were probably following after Him (Mtw 19:1-2) along with the pilgrims who were journeying by His side for the Passover festival in Jerusalem.
That year was already beginning to be filled with a great amount of anticipation that Jesus might be the One promised in the OT Scriptures and that He would throw off the oppression of the Roman occupation and establish the righteous Kingdom of David in its place, beginning to rule from Jerusalem over the nations of the earth (Luke 19:11).
A little while after this incident in Jericho, as the multitudes approach Jerusalem, we read (Luke 19:37) that they
‘...began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen’
and there may have been something of that also here where the procession upto the city of Jerusalem was beginning to take on less of the image of the ascent of pilgrims and more of the royal accession of some great King. There seems little doubt that, being so close to Jerusalem (about thirteen miles as the crow flies), the crowd’s minds would have been drawn to what must have going to await them there and their hearts must have been filled either with anticipation or fear as to what they were expecting to happen.
You see, that’s the problem with the lower class sections of society - they ever know when to speak or when to hold their peace. What a time they chose to petition Jesus to open their eyes for them, when the minds of those present are on the marching King and the glory that they’re expecting shortly to see.
No wonder, then, that the crowds rebuked the blindmen and told them to be silent (Mtw 10:31, Mark 10:48, Luke 18:39) for they weren’t adding to the general ‘feel’ of the procession, interrupting the advance of the King to take up His rightful throne.
And, besides, what would Jesus really care about them? After all, kings don’t mix with the likes of such men but have their servants to throw a few pennies to them if the desire takes them. But Jesus has just talked about the topsy-turvy Kingdom in the previous incident where the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to ask for the two best positions for her sons (Mtw 20:20-28).
There Jesus had talked about the kings of the earth lording it over the people under them but that, in the new Kingdom of Heaven which was coming, the greatest of its subjects would be its slaves and servants - those who wouldn’t use the authority given them for their own ends and profit but for the people who were beneath them that they might be ministered to.
So, although the crowds might not expect Jesus to turn round and notice the blindmen - that would have been more in keeping with the type of King they wanted, that He should ignore their cries and advance forcefully into the city of Jerusalem - He nevertheless takes the time to meet the need of the lowest sections of society.
It doesn’t matter where we place the actual healing of the blindmen in respect of Jesus’ meeting with Zacchaeus (see above) but there couldn’t have been a greater difference in the income levels between the two types of characters. The former would have been amongst the poorest sections of the Jericho society, having to beg for a living on one of the main roadways from Jericho to Jerusalem (Luke 18:35) while the latter would have been creaming off the tax of the nation to support a probably extravagant or, perhaps better, comfortable lifestyle.
In both their situations, they would have been amongst the despised of the nation - Zacchaeus because of the associations he had with Rome and the ceremonial uncleanness that his life would have imparted to those who came into contact with him (see my notes on tax collectors) and the blindmen because they were carrying in their own body what was presumed to be the results of their own sin (blindness was seen to be a judgment of God upon a man’s sin).
But Jesus isn’t concerned only to mix with the Zacchaeus’s of this world but chooses to meet with the world’s blindmen as well and to grant them what they have the most need of. Jesus makes no distinction between either the rich or the poor and His rule is for caring for each man, woman or child simply because of their supreme worth in God’s eyes. In anyone’s mind, that has to be good news!
The blindmen’s initial petitioning of Jesus, then, was importunate prayer - of trying to get something from someone when the time simply wasn’t the right one and when a roadside healing of two beggars didn’t seem to go very well with the triumphant march towards the holy city (see also the parable of Luke 11:5-8). We should remember, then, that, sometimes, fellowship meetings may well become disjointed if such a need is suddenly brought to one’s attention and it needs dealing with. Paul’s statement (I Cor 14:40) that
‘...all things should be done decently and in order’
should be seen to be qualified, therefore, by passages such as these where to have continued ‘decently’ and ‘in order’ would have sided with the crowd who rebuked the blindmen from shouting out for Jesus to heal them.
After their initial rebuke, however, their petitioning of Jesus became stubborn or persistent prayer and they could, very easily, have given up when they were first told to be quiet. Of course, what was the point in stopping? What worsening of their situation would come about if they fell silent and obeyed the will of the crowd? So they continue to cry out to Jesus that He might turn and be merciful towards them (Mtw 20:31) for all they know is that Jesus was able to solve their problem.
This was also the case in the incident of the Syrophoenician woman (Mtw 15:21-28) where silence on Jesus’ part was ignored as being a categorical refusal and, even when a direct negative reply was given, the petitioning woman would still not let go until she felt there was no more hope (see also Luke 18:1-8).
In the OT, Jacob also received the desired blessing because of his persistence, even though it cost him more than he had anticipated, and the Lord had to change something in him first before he was able to receive the blessing (Gen 32:22-32).
And Elijah, although he had received the word of the Lord saying that rain was going to come upon the land (I Kings 18:1), still had to persevere in prayer until he saw the first evidence that the promise was coming to its fulfilment (I Kings 18:41-46).
Therefore, perseverance and persistence is sometimes necessary for prayer to be answered and for Jesus to step in to do what He’s being asked to do. Nevertheless, we should note by way of a contrast that Zacchaeus, the rich, asked nothing, whereas the poor blindmen asked for everything and got it - Jesus not only healed their physical problem but sorted out their social dilemma also for, having their sight restored, they would have been able to look for employment and more stable income.
This healing is the last to be recorded in the Gospel of Matthew and is dissimilar to the previous example of the healing of the blind recorded in Mtw 9:27-31 in the fact that, at that time, Jesus felt compelled to command those healed to make sure that no one came to know about the healing (Mtw 9:30). This instruction has been variously given to the recipients of healing in all three Synoptic Gospels and we’ve previously noted that Jesus was aware that, in order to reach as many as He could, it was important that He was to move freely about the area and that unnecessary popularity would only fuel the flames of Roman interest in Him which could provoke a confrontation earlier than He wanted.
Here, however, Jesus knows that the time of His death is imminent and so no such command exists. Rather, Mark 10:52 records that
‘...Jesus said to [the blindman Bartimaeus] “Go your way; your faith has made you well”. And immediately he received his sight and followed Him on the way’
Marklane adds an interesting comment at this point, stating that
‘It would undoubtedly be his intention to go up to the Temple in order to offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving for his sight’
but the word ‘undoubtedly’ is too strong. After all, the record doesn’t state with clarity that the healed man was deciding to travel to Jerusalem but that he was committed to follow after Jesus. Besides, on a purely practical level, where was the ex-blind beggar going to get the money from to buy the sacrifice to offer to God?!!
It’s better to see in Bartimaeus’ action the declaration that his way had become Jesus’ way wherever that path might lead. It wasn’t that this blindman was concerned only with giving to God his sickness but he wanted to give Him his life as well in service - unlike the leper of Mark 1:40-45 who was willing for Jesus to be Lord of his incapacity but not of his will.
Here, however, Bartimaeus (Mtw 20:34 records that both ex-blindmen followed Him) willingly chooses freely to follow the One who has just radically changed his life - a picture which the early Church, no doubt, could easily have allegorised to speak of conversion to Jesus Christ.
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