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Life of Christ (2007-2009)

On The Verge

Luke 18:35 - 19:28 and parallel passages

Lesson audio

This is our last stop before the Triumphal Entry and the last week of Christ’s ministry. Jesus has set his face toward Jerusalem – but even such determination gives way to compassion.

Blind Bartimaeus

Mat 20:29-34

Mar 10:46-52

Luk 18:35-43

29 As Jesus and his disciples were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him.
30 Two blind men were sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was going by, they shouted, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!"
31 The crowd rebuked them and told them to be quiet, but they shouted all the louder, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!"
32 Jesus stopped and called them. "What do you want me to do for you?" he asked.
33 "Lord," they answered, "we want our sight."
34 Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him.

46 Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (that is, the Son of Timaeus), was sitting by the roadside begging.
47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"
48 Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!"
49 Jesus stopped and said, "Call him." So they called to the blind man, "Cheer up! On your feet! He's calling you."
50 Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.
51 "What do you want me to do for you?" Jesus asked him.

The blind man said, "Rabbi, I want to see."
52 "Go," said Jesus, "your faith has healed you." Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

35 As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging.
36 When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening.
37 They told him, "Jesus of Nazareth is passing by."
38 He called out, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"
39 Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!"
40 Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him,
41 "What do you want me to do for you?"

"Lord, I want to see," he replied.
42 Jesus said to him, "Receive your sight; your faith has healed you."
43 Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.

The players in this little drama will provide us with food for thought.

The crowd

The crowd, emblematic of the world at large, shows the reaction of fickle man to the power of grace:

  • They are not expecting Jesus to do anything – just talk. Talk seems so much less threatening.
  • Their first reaction is to put the beggar in his place – and keep him there. The blind are beggars, and thus are as annoying in that day as telemarketers are in ours.
  • But when Christ speaks, the crowd receives its direction. They encourage the man to get up and come towards him.

There is a lesson in persistence here. As Chrysostom put it, “Christ suffered them to be forbidden, that their desire might be the more evidenced. Hence we learn that though we be repulsed, yet if we come to God with earnestness, of ourselves, we shall obtain that we ask.”

Bartimaeus

(The reader will note the various discrepancies in the three accounts; one of these is the number and name of blind man/men.) The man is rather straightforward; we may learn from this.

  • He doesn’t ask forgiveness of his sins, whatever those might be. He asks pity; he asks mercy. Jesus does not correct his theology, but obliges.
  • Even the crowd encourages him – once the Master calls for him.
  • Note, please, that he throws off his cloak – the only thing he has to keep himself warm (Jericho has a climate much like our desert, which gets very cold at night). It’s a risky thing to do – but he takes the risk. It’s a sign of boldness.

Perseverance towards the Lord yields bountiful results. Bountiful results should produce gratitude. So this man is an example to us.

Jesus

In this short drama Jesus reveals his character to us.

  • We are told that Jesus stopped. Why? It is an act of courtesy to a lowly member of society. The area near Jericho is much like the fire trails of Southern California – a blind man who leaves the path even slightly risks falling into a deep crevasse. Jesus stands still so that the man might find him safely.
  • Jesus heals him – and then credits his faith. This is as it should be; for God is eternal. It is our faith that changes, and with it our results. Indeed as faith changes, so does our spiritual sight as well.

Luke ends this section sweetly. He tells us that these men

  • Received their sight;
  • Followed Jesus;
  • And did so praising God.

Interestingly, the crowd follows their example by praising God as well.

Zaccheus

Luk 19:1-10 NIV

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. (2) A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. (3) He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. (4) So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. (5) When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today." (6) So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. (7) All the people saw this and began to mutter, "He has gone to be the guest of a 'sinner.' " (8) But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, "Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount." (9) Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. (10) For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."

We might do well to look at the character of Zaccheus:

  • We see him first as the outcast. Because of his profession no decent Jew would have anything to do with him. Those who have been the outcast know the resentment and loneliness this brings. We also know how the church doesn’t exactly forbid us to join – but there’s no invitation either.
  • But we see him also as the seeker. He has money; he has power but he doesn’t have the sweetness of life he wants. Perhaps he has chased being respectable, but never caught it. Perhaps God kept him from that so that he might find the real thing in Christ.
  • Finally, he is the repentant sinner. At bottom, he is like the rest of us, sinners all. Perhaps being the outcast gave him the courage to act against propriety – in concert with God. This man put his money where his mouth was.

The crowd, however, much resembles the modern church in middle class circles.

  • We mistake propriety for righteousness. Propriety tells us to wear a tie to church (or, at Eastside, to wear anything but a tie to church.) Like it or not, those who dress differently are treated differently. We accept those who are like us, and reject those who are not.[1]
  • We are swift to pass judgment on those who are outside. We forget that we are not to judge those outside the church.[2]
  • Somehow we know that what we are doing is not quite right – so we mutter it under our breath. Perhaps we hope Christ won’t hear, and the rest of us will.

Jesus, it seems, has a different set of priorities. He begins by inviting himself to dinner. Remember that in those days it was an honor to have your home chosen as an ad-hoc hotel by visiting dignitaries. More to the point – he tells Zaccheus that he must come down immediately – the sign that Christ thinks the matter not only important but urgent. Evidently it was, for Zacchaeus comes to repentance – and restitution. His promise to return exceeds the Old Testament Law. No wonder that Christ announces salvation; a sinner has come home.

I cannot help but make the contrast between Zacchaeus and the rich young ruler. Being a sinner in need of repentance tends to motivate change a lot more quickly than being a righteous man in need of taking up the cross.

Ten Minas

Luk 19:11-27 NIV While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once. (12) He said: "A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. (13) So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas.[1]'Put this money to work,' he said, 'until I come back.' (14) "But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, 'We don't want this man to be our king.' (15) "He was made king, however, and returned home. Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it. (16) "The first one came and said, 'Sir, your mina has earned ten more.' (17) " 'Well done, my good servant!' his master replied. 'Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.' (18) "The second came and said, 'Sir, your mina has earned five more.' (19) "His master answered, 'You take charge of five cities.' (20) "Then another servant came and said, 'Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. (21) I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.' (22) "His master replied, 'I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? (23) Why then didn't you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?' (24) "Then he said to those standing by, 'Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.' (25) " 'Sir,' they said, 'he already has ten!' (26) "He replied, 'I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what he has will be taken away. (27) But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them--bring them here and kill them in front of me."

We need a bit of background here. All the Jews of this time would recognize the man who went away to be named a king. It’s Herod the Great (the Herod at the time of the birth of Christ, who slaughtered the innocents.) The story sounds a little strange until you understand the Roman system. They liked to put some puppet royalty in charge – with the clear understanding that Rome wanted tranquility and tax revenues. Herod was just such a man, who went to Rome to be crowned King of the Jews.

The Jews were not that fond of Herod (or his dynasty). Besides the fact that Herod and his descendants were paranoid rulers, always suspecting someone else of doing just what they would do. Herod was not even a Jew! He was an Idumean, an Edomite, a descendant of Esau. Christ’s audience would have known just what this was about.

Servants of the kingdom

It is no secret that the servants of God are not at all equal in their abilities. And, just as you would expect, God does not impose equal responsibility on them, but rather gives out authority (from responsibility) in proportion to their abilities. We see three such here:

  • There are the highly capable. Of them, God expects much.
  • There are those of us who are modestly capable – God expects us to have the same attitude as the stars of the church, but also to recognize that his burden on us is in proportion to what we can do.
  • There are those of us who are of little capability – to whom he entrusts but little. But distinguish little capability from poor attitude, please. Sometimes, our attitude determines our capability.
Rewards

As Christ makes clear, at his return he will reward all in accordance with their works:

  • To those who are good and faithful he will give rewards completely out of proportion to our deserving them – but in proportion to what we did.
  • To those who aren’t, they just manage to make it into the kingdom.[3]
  • But for those who oppose the kingdom of God, pain and eternal death.

It’s not easy to make it any clearer than this. He understands the way we work; he knows we need to be rewarded. So reward us he will.

Why did Jesus tell this parable, right before the Triumphal Entry? These people thought his kingdom was to come immediately, a kingdom founded on military might that would overthrow Roman rule and reestablish David’s throne. Looking back, it now seems foolishness.

But consider: we have any number of Bible interpreters who “know” that Christ must return in or before the year 2018. Perhaps he will; I do not know. But so many are so convinced that we might want to take warning from this passage. He never does tell us when; he just tells us it’s worth waiting for.


[1] Think not? How would you greet a hard core biker; a prostitute who just finished her night’s work; someone in a sari; a Goth (modern version)?

[2] 1st Corinthians 5:12

[3] 1st Corinthians 3:11-15

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