The story opens as Jesus and His disciples are approaching Jericho. As is customary, to honor a famous rabbi such as Jesus, a crowd has come out from the city to welcome Jesus, escorting Him into Jericho, indicating that a banquet has been prepared for Him. A blind man, Bartimaeus, sitting and begging outside the city gate, questions the crowd as to the reason for commotion. They tell him, “Jesus is coming!”
Bart thinks to himself: “Jesus? The One who makes the lame walk, the deaf hear, the mute speak, and the blind see? The One who befriends the outcast, the poor, the sinner, the untouchable? I need Jesus! Jesus is for people like me, for me!” So, Bart stops begging for alms and starts crying out for Jesus. But rather than lead Bart to Jesus, those who are leading Jesus into Jericho – the leaders of the throng who welcome Jesus, having prepared a place for Jesus, seeking to honor Jesus and be in His presence – sternly tell Blind Bart to be quiet.
Why did the crowd (the leaders of the crowd, no less) shush Bart? In their minds was Bart unworthy? Would Bart’s needs bother Jesus? Would Bart’s presence – blind and therefore a sinner and an outcast – disrupt the holiness or cleanliness of Jesus, of their gathering? Was the crowd simply too self-absorbed, too selfish, lacking compassion? Did the crowd presume God’s economy was like the world’s economy, i.e. the world’s closed system where there is never enough rather than God’s limitless, boundless bank of love, mercy, and room enough for all who will come?
Whatever the crowd’s “reasons,” they demonstrated that they did NOT know Jesus – His character, His mission or His heart – because Jesus stopped. Called Bart over. Asked Bart what he wanted…what he needed. Then Jesus healed Bart.
How often do Christians do that very thing – seek Jesus (desiring His presence, making efforts to honor Him) while shushing the Blind Barts crying out? Who are we in this story? Who is the American Church? Who are you? Who am I? I want to be like Jesus, or even Bartimaeus, who stubbornly shouted all the more even when the crowd sternly shushed. I don’t want to be the crowd.
Unless we know Jesus, really know Him – His character, His mission, His heart – it is unlikely we will ever hear the Blind Barts crying over the noise of the crowd. Unless we know Jesus, really know Him – His character, His mission, His heart – it is unlikely we will ever stop for the Blind Barts shushed by the crowd. And if we don’t stop, we’ll miss the chance to be present at the real banquet, the real gathering of joy…the one where Blind Bart sees and turns to follow Jesus, and everyone shouts praise to God!