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Blind man in Jericho told to “shut up”

October 28, 2012

Hear the Gospel (Mark 11:46-52) and the homily in my podcasts – 


In this Year of Faith, Holy Mother Church is encouraging us to not simply have blind faith in what we believe, but to have faith based on reason, faith based on looking at the evidence and being convinced. Only then will we develop the confidence to bring others to the Faith. In the scriptures today we find compelling evidence that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God, because, astonishingly, Jesus fulfills Jeremiah’s, a prophesy made nearly 600 years before he was even born. Today’s scriptures are full of meaning and history, but only if you know the background.

I’ve been to Jericho, twice. So I can picture the desert wilderness that lies between Jericho and Jerusalem. Did you know that in the on-going territorial dispute today between the Palestinian and the Israeli government, Jericho, despite being an oasis in the desert, a major communication centre and a thriving city, only 17 miles from Jerusalem, is not disputed. The Israeli government has absolutely no interest in claiming Jericho as a Jewish city. Jericho is part of the Palestinian Territories. And the reason is found in the Bible.

You see, from the time of the Exodus from Egypt through to the present day, devout Jews have avoided Jericho. Why? It was the first city in the Promised Land to be taken by the Israelite Army, then led by their general, Joshua. After the victory Joshua had proclaimed that anyone trying to rebuild the ruined city of Jericho would be cursed,[1] because it had been a pagan city; so if you were a Jewish resident of Jericho at the time of Jesus, you would most certainly have be looked down upon by the sophisticated Jerusalem elite. And by going to Jericho and preaching there, our Lord is once again identifying with the outcasts, the marginalized.

Jeremiah describes a triumphant return from Jericho to the Holy City by the small number of Jews who in 587BC had escaped the mass deportations suffered by Israel after it had lost a war with Assyria, a country we today call Iraq. The survivors, the so-called  “remnant of Israel”, is a pretty unlikely group of people, weak people – the blind, the lame, pregnant women. Jeremiah is prophesying that among the restored people of God will be the weak and the marginalized, those who are treated with contempt by the rich and powerful.

Jesus then fulfils the prophecy by setting out from Jericho on a triumphal march to Jerusalem, surrounded by a joyful crowd. The people with Him are on their annual Passover pilgrimage to Jerusalem. But this particular pilgrimage, in 33AD, is going to be very different, because within a few days of the events in Jericho, Jesus is going to be crucified.

So in terms of Jewish history and culture, the return to Jerusalem prophesied by Jeremiah would have to be a truly astonishing, miraculous event. Predicting such a triumphant procession to Jerusalem being made up of such a motley crew as the blind and the lame would be laughable. It would be something like expecting physically disabled people to become heroes during the Olympics Games. “Surely,” they’d say, “that’s inconceivable.”

And for the triumphal procession to start in Jericho, well, that really would be a turn-up for the books. It would be like someone saying Birmingham City could win the Premiership. Not this year, they’d say! But Jeremiah, like Blues supporters, lived in hope of glory in the future.

Another interesting fact about Jericho: it is the lowest city in the whole world, 850 feet below sea level. So it’s quite a climb to Jerusalem, 2,750 feet above sea level. The tremendous symbolism would not have been lost on the first readers of Mark’s bestseller gospel – Jesus leading this ascent from a low point to a high point – from a low, cursed place of exile to the Holy City of Jerusalem. Jesus, 600 years after Jeremiah’s prophecy, fulfills what God has promised.  But why would the crowds be flocking to Jesus on the road? No doubt the word on the street would be that the great preacher and healer Jesus of Nazareth, said by some to be the long-awaited Messiah, was in the neighbourhood. After all, the talk of the crowds would have been that, not long before (in the village of Bethany on the same Jerusalem road) this man Jesus had raised someone called Lazarus from the dead. The crowds are clamouring around Jesus because they want to see what would happen next. And what happened was completely unexpected, but once again, it fulfills Jeremiah’s prophecy…..

A blind beggar called Bartimaeus hears the hubbub in the crowd and asks what’s happening. Why do you think we are given the man’s name? We know from the gospel that after his sight was restored, Bartimaeus followed Jesus down the road. Perhaps he was to become one of the first Christians, a living witness to all that had happened, so he is named. Another reason may be because the name ‘Bartimaeus’ can be translated as ‘Son of filth’. A blind beggar from the cursed city of Jericho called ‘Son of Filth’. You can’t get much lower than that. You can’t get more despised than that.

And did you notice what this filthy beggar did? He decided to get Jesus’ attention. He began shouting out ‘Son of David, Jesus, have pity on me’. The original Greek gives a far better sense of the scene that our polite English translation. It’s more accurate to translate it as he started ‘Shrieking at the top of his voice’ and that they told him to “Shut up!”

And the beggar calls “Jesus, Son of David”, a term the Jews reserved for their promised Messiah. The blind beggar is annoying everyone by causing a disturbance, shouting out at the top of his voice that he believes Jesus is the Messiah.

So, despite being the lowest, most unexpected person, despite opposition from the people, Jesus comes to him. A miracle takes place and Bartimaeus, the unlikeliest of candidates, joins the triumphal procession to Jerusalem, his life changed by an encounter with Jesus. The remnant of Israel, exactly as prophesied, includes the marginalized of society, and through Jesus their lives are transformed.

The second reading, the Letter to the Hebrews, is about the selection of Israel’s High Priest in the Temple in Jerusalem. The reading says, “No one takes this honour on himself.” What’s the link?

It’s about each of us being chosen by God for a role only He has assigned to us. We may think we know better and resist what God has planned for us. Sometimes we are chosen by God for something that surprises us, something we don’t particularly want to do. But in this Year of Faith we must resolve to put our faith into action, and obey Jesus’ instruction to evangelise – to spread the good news, to bring people to Him.

Bartimaeus found out that Jesus was nearby because people told him. He had some understanding of God, but needed to be brought to Jesus. It changed his life forever. Ours is a God of surprises – all you have to do is to help people come to Jesus; once there, God will amaze us by doing things that we think are impossible.

Yesterday I briefly encountered a man I only know in passing. I told him I’d been thinking about him because I’d got the impression that he was interested in learning more about the faith. To my surprise – oh how we lack faith – he said, quietly but firmly, “I will be in touch with you.”

You see. Miracles can still happen, and we are the people who can help make them happen. Please don’t let yourself be blind to people who show an interest in following Jesus. No matter how resistant you might imagine they’ll be. You’ll be surprised. There’s an item in this week’s bulletin asking you to be on the look out for people who are willing to respond to God’s call. Please take it to heart. Don’t let yourself be the one telling Bartimaeus to shut up.

[1] Joshua 6:26

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