The Blind Leading the Blind

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Jesus and the disciples came to Jericho, the city that another man named Yeshua had made famous in ancient times. It had gained more recent prominence as the site of Herod the Great’s summer palace, and various priests and Levites made their home there because it was so close to Yerushalayim. Herod had, in fact, died painfully in Jericho.

It was also a border town, so various toll and tax collectors resided there as well. One of these men, Zacchaeus, had bid successfully for the job of overseeing Roman tax collections in Jericho, and as a result he was very wealthy. He had long been curious about Jesus, and as word spread that the teacher was passing through town, he hurried to the main street. But the crowd pushed him away because, as a tax collector, he was held in low regard by his neighbors. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycomore (fig tree) for a better view. When Jesus reached the tree, he looked up and saw Zacchaeus.

“Zacchaeus,” he said, “come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”
Zacchaeus hurried down the tree and welcomed Jesus gladly. All of the people saw this and, taken aback by it, they began to mutter about Jesus: “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

Once Jesus and his disciples entered Zacchaeus’ house, they reclined on couches for a time, eating and drinking and listening to Jesus’ teaching. Then Zacchaeus stood up and said to Jesus, “Look, Master! 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.” Jesus smiled and said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”
Of all the disciples, Matthew was most pleased with this encounter and its remarkable outcome. He continued to comment on it as Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city.

As they approached the westernmost gate of the city, they came upon a blind man named Bartimaeus—that is, the son of Timaeus—who was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Netzerit who approached, he began to shout out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” He shouted these words because it was believed that Solomon, the Son of David, had the wisdom to cure; and since Jesus seemed to have such wisdom, Bartimaeus addressed him as one like—but perhaps greater than—Solomon.

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Jesus stopped and said, “Call him over.” So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling for you.” Throwing his cloak aside, Bartimaeus jumped to his feet and groped his way toward Jesus. It was heartrending to see the man slowly making his way forward by listening to the sound and direction of the voices, with hands outstretched to make sure he didn’t bump into anyone by accident. Nathan’el pushed through the crowd and, gently taking his arm, led him to Jesus.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him in a soft voice, as though they were having a private conversation.

“Master, I desperately want to see.”

“Go,” said Jesus. “Your faith has healed you.” Immediately Bartimaeus received his sight, but instead of heading back into town, he followed Jesus and the disciples along the road.

They continued their walk to Yerushalayim, coming into the city from the southeast over the Mount of Olives and down toward the Kidron and the Pool of Siloam. As Jesus went along, he saw another blind man, a well-known beggar who had been blind from birth. His disciples followed Jesus’ gaze, and asked him, “Master, who sinned—this man or his parents—that he was born blind?”

Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents. This happened so that G-d might have the opportunity to do a mighty work in him. While it’s daytime, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

After he said this, Jesus spat on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and smeared the mud on the man’s eyes. This was not unusual, for it was believed that a holy man’s saliva had healing properties. But Jesus was also concerned that the blind man participate in his own healing. Jesus said to him, “Go, wash in the Pool of Siloam”—a word that means “sent.”

So the man went away and washed. When he returned, he could see. The man’s neighbors and those who had seen him when he was a beggar said, “Isn’t this the man who used to sit and beg?” Some said, “It is,” while others said, “No, it’s someone who looks like him.”

But the man said, “Yes, it’s me!”

So they asked him, “How are you now able to see?”

“The man they call Jesus made mud, smeared it on my eyes, and said, ‘Go, wash in the Pool of Siloam.’ So I went and washed, and then I could see.”

“Where is this man?”

“I don’t know.”

Then they led the man who had been born blind to the Pharisees, who also asked how he was able to see.

He told them, “A man put mud on my eyes, I washed, and now I see.”

Jesus had performed this miracle on Shabbat. Some Pharisees said, “This man isn’t from G-d, because he breaks Shabbat law.” Others said, “How can a sinner do miraculous signs like these?” So they were divided. Some of the Pharisees again questioned the man who had been born blind. “What do you have to say about him, since he healed your eyes?”

“He’s a prophet.”

No one believed that the man had been blind and received his sight until they called for his parents. The Jewish officials asked them, “Is this your son? Can you confirm that he was born blind? How is it that he can now see?”

His parents answered, “We know he is our son. We know he was born blind. But we don’t know how he now sees, and we don’t know who healed his eyes. Ask him. He’s old enough to speak for himself.” They said this because they feared the Jewish authorities, who had already decided that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be expelled from the synagogue.

The Pharisees then called a second time for the man who had been born blind, and said to him, “Give glory to G-d. We know this man is a sinner.”

“I don’t know whether he’s a sinner. Here’s what I do know: I was blind and now I see.”

They questioned him further. “What did he do to you? How did he heal your eyes?”

He replied with some exasperation, “I have already told you, and you didn’t listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?”

They began to hurl insults at him. “You are his disciple, but we are Moses’ disciples. We know that G-d spoke to Moses, but we don’t know where this man is from.”

The man answered, a hint of sarcasm in his voice, “This is incredible! You don’t know where he is from, yet he healed my eyes! We know that G-d doesn’t listen to sinners. G-d listens to anyone who is devout and does G-d’s will. No one has ever heard of a healing of the eyes of someone born blind. If this man wasn’t from G-d, he could do nothing.”

The Pharisees were enraged. “You were born completely in sin! How is it that you dare to teach us?” Then they expelled him.

Jesus heard they had expelled the man born blind. Finding him, Jesus said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

“Who is he, sir? I want to believe in him.”

“You have seen him. In fact, he is the One speaking with you.”

“Master, I believe.” And he prostrated himself before Jesus.

Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see, and those who see will become blind.” Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked incredulously, “What? Are you saying we are blind too?”

Jesus turned to them. “If you were actually blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.” Jesus left them and went to Bet Anya to spend the night.

It was winter and the time for Hanukkah, the Feast of Lights. Jesus went to the temple in Yerushalayim, walking in the covered porch named for Solomon. The Jewish officials circled around him and asked, “How long will you test our patience? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”

“I have told you, but you don’t believe me. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, but you don’t believe because you don’t belong to my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice. I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life. They will never die, and no one will snatch them from my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them from my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

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As had happened before, the Jewish officials picked up stones in order to stone him. Jesus responded, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of those works do you stone me?”

“We don’t stone you for a good work, but for insulting G-d. You are merely a man, yet you make yourself out to be G-d!”

Jesus replied, “Isn’t it written in your Law, ‘I have said, you are gods’? Scripture calls those to whom G-d’s word came, ‘gods,’ and Scripture can’t be abolished. So how can you say that the One whom the Father has made holy and sent into the world insults G-d, because he said, ‘I am G-d’s Son’? If I don’t do the works of my Father, don’t believe me. But if I do them, and you don’t believe me, at least believe the works so that you can know and recognize that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”

Then Jesus began the doxology, lifting up his hands and saying, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you’ve hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. Indeed, Father, this brings you happiness.”

Turning again to the Pharisees, Jesus said, “My Father has handed all things over to me. No one knows the Son except the Father. And nobody knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wants to reveal him.”

And then, lifting his eyes beyond the Pharisees to the crowds behind them, Jesus spoke. “Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves. My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light.”

The Pharisees tried to seize him for this latest outrage, as it seemed he was claiming to be divine and daring to speak of his own authority concerning the Law. After all, the Law was “G-d’s yoke” or “Moses’ yoke.” It was not Jesus’ yoke. But once again, Jesus eluded their grasp, slipped out of the temple, and left Yerushalayim.

He went back across the Jordan to the place where John the Baptizer had ministered in the early days. For a while, he and his disciples remained there in safety, and many people came to him. They said, “Though John never performed a miraculous sign, all that John said about this man was true.” They believed in Jesus, in part because he had healed the blind—a miracle never recorded in the Scriptures, but only foretold in Isaiah.

Did you enjoy this entry? It is an excerpt from Ben Witherington’s The Gospel of Jesus: A True Story. In this imaginative harmonization of the four Gospels, Witherington opens up the world of Jesus and helps us hear his story as one seamless narrative.

With his customary eye for cultural and historical details, and engaging commentary on what are sometimes overly-familiar stories, this New Testament scholar invites us to join those first century followers of Jesus around their fires and at their dinner tables, and hear the Gospel of Jesus for the first time all over again.

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Dr. Witherington joined the Asbury Seminary faculty in 1995. A prolific author, Dr. Witherington has written more than 40 books and six commentaries. He is a John Wesley Fellow for Life, a research fellow at Cambridge University and a member of numerous professional organizations, including the Society of Biblical Literature, Society for the Study of the New Testament and the Institute for Biblical Research. In his leisure time, Dr. Witherington appreciates both music and sports. It is hard to say which sound he prefers: the sophisticated sonance of jazz sensation Pat Metheny or the incessant tomahawk chant of the Atlanta Braves faithful. A graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, he is a dedicated Tar Heels basketball and football fan. He and his wife, Ann, have two children.

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