They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you.’ So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ The blind man said to him, ‘My teacher, let me see again.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has made you well.’ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
It had been years, years, since he had seen the light of day, sitting by the side of that dusty, unforgiving road. Beauty, he had once seen. Color, he had once tasted. Sunsets, he had once embraced. His legs, once strong and stable, now lay surrendered beneath his feeble frame, withered by the long march of time. He used to cherish his long walks, especially this time of year. His eyes would marvel at the beauty of the fall leaves beside the silver streams. He would follow the path as his eyes guided his feet, which in turn guided his thoughts and his prayers.
But then….darkness. He didn’t know why. Some told him it was because of some terrible transgression that he must have done and others thought it due to an even greater sin by his parents. But whatever reason, to him it didn’t matter. Gone was his sight, lost was his light, empty was his life.
It’s true, what they say, about the other senses sharpening when another dies. His ears and nose began to shoulder the weight that his eyes had so long carried. They taught him, after years and years, every note of the symphony that surrounded him as he sat by the roadside. Each morning, as he shook off the chill of the night’s darkness, the song began with a solitary rooster, calling out of the emptiness, ushering the orchestra to life.
From a distance, off to his left, he could always make out the clanging of dishes as a mother prepared breakfast for her children. Soon after, the smell of spices and incense crept up his nostrils as the street vendor next to him opened shop. As the city awakened and the footsteps began to shuffle past him, the priests would walk by, muttering their prayers, heading off to the temple to be nearer to God. He pulled his cloak tighter around him for the morning had yet to shed its chill. He always eagerly awaited the splash of warmth that the sun brought as it emerged from its hiding. He did not, however, greet the dust with the same gratitude for the symphony of feet always kicked dust in his face as the intruder caked his lungs and throat. Coughing and sputtering, his wiry fingers embraced the cup that he extended daily in the hope of mercy.
Bartimaeus was his name. Bar-timaeus; literally, “son of honor.” The title just rubbed salt in the wound. He had once had honor, purpose, direction. But no more. Now the Son of Honor sat by the roadside and begged, his eyes glazed over. What he wouldn’t give to see again, to walk again, to have purpose again!
A sharp curse and a biting pain in his leg interrupted his thoughts. A man (a priest, Bartimaeus presumed from the prayers that had preceded him) had tripped over his feeble legs. No doubt having had his eyes gazing reverently upon the heavens, the priest recovered from his stumble and continued his walk and followed along his way. As the curses disappeared in the distance, the blind beggar continued listening to the surrounding symphony.
His ears had grown accustomed to the content of the conversations that journeyed past him day after day, month after month, year after year. Another shooting had happened a few days ago. Some more politicians are promising salvation. High unemployment and low job growth. It was all part of the same round sung in endless repetition. Same today as it was yesterday and most likely the same as it will be tomorrow.
But lately whispers have been creeping into the scripted symphony of his surroundings. These new conversations, barely audible to all but the most trained ear, bring forth a note of improvisation and curiosity to his life. Amidst the din of sound, he has heard whispers of a man who silences demons, who touches, actually touches, a leprous person and makes him whole. Whispers of a man who heals withered hands, and lifts seizing children, and raises dying daughters, and feeds fields of people. The other day, he even heard a whisper of this person who opened the ears of a deaf man and brought speech back to his tongue! Why, just this morning, he had overheard a woman speaking of a man who spit in the dirt and made mud and rubbed it in the eyes of a blind man just like him, who was then able to see everything clearly!
And then, it happens! The symphony changes key, the tempo quickens as the feet of the crowd surrounding him scurry off in the distance. Suddenly, he is left alone. Quietness, at this time of day, was unheard of. He straightens up as he sat on the road to better listen in the direction he had heard the people go. Two whispered words he had manages to capture before the swarm of people excitedly ran off: he saves.
In the silence, he wonders: could it be? Could he be?
Then his ears detect the silence being pushed away. The echoes of the crowd bounce off the sides of the buildings and he hears excitement, shouting, curiosity, and wonder. The tempo quickens again as the people approach his corner of the roadside. As they round the bend and the chorus erupts he sees it, something he hasn’t seen in what seems like countless years: light! A light, however small and faint, explodes into the darkness that has so long covered his eyes.
As the crowd surrounding the glimmer of brightness comes ever closer, a primal cry erupts from his breast with a voice that he did not know that he possessed. “Mercy!” he cries, “mercy on me!” An uncomfortable hush silences the crowd that is immediately replaced with harsh voices of rebuke. Hush! Shut up! Be quiet, for God’s sake!
Without hesitation he cries out with an even more passionate fervor: “Mercy! Mercy on me!!!” And before the crowd can begin its next wave of reproach the light freezes. The next three words he hears come directly from the light, not words of rebuke or rejection, but three words of a curious grace: “call him here.”
A power, not of his own, raises him from the dusty ground. He has been called; no one has ever called him! Others begin to cough and wheeze as his cloak is thrown from his body and flies into the wind, shedding its deep layers of dust. The light suddenly becomes stronger as he hears the question he never could have imagined ever being asked: “what do you want me to do for you?”
He didn’t even have to think. The reply arrives naturally and passionately from his lips: “My Teacher, let me see again!” He can’t even pay attention to the next words that come from his teacher’s mouth for his eyes are too caught up in the mystery. The light that had exploded into his darkness begins to dance playfully around the darkness, perishing its captivity. The sounds of the crowd disappear as he watches the light splash colors of deepest blue and brightest yellow and wondrous orange.
Blinking, he adjusts to the light, the warmth, and tears begin to wash the dust that has too long made its home in his eyes. Standing before him, the light welcomes him. But this light is a light that he doesn’t remember ever witnessing even before the days of his blindness. This light is not what it had been before. This light brings forth more questions than it does answers.
“Go!” the light tells him, “your faith has made you well!”
“No!” he replies, “I will not go, I cannot go.”
The light again begins to move and the man who had been blind follows. He follows with a strength and a courage that he did not know that he had.
And as his eyes begin their abundant feast, he knows that he must follow this light.
For it will take no less than his lifetime to proclaim the mystery of this sight.