Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem to face the ordeal of the cross and to secure salvation for everyone, ever, through His death and resurrection. He went via Jericho and on His way in to the town there was a blind guy, Bartimaeus. (Mark 10:46-52, Luke 18:35-43) Bartimaeus was at the bottom of every social scale that existed, even his name, Son of Timaeus means ‘son of filth’. If ever anyone was to qualify for inclusion in a group of those who were socially marginalised and oppressed, Bartimaeus was one. This was not shaping up to be an encounter of significance. The crowd around Jesus did not want to give Bart a hearing and they certainly did not want Jesus, the one they believed would free them from Roman oppression and re-establish the glorious kingdom of Israel, interrupted by this filthy, blind beggar. Bart, on the other hand, had different ideas. He knew what he wanted and what he wanted was a life-changing encounter with Jesus. So he used what he had, his voice, loudly.
Suddenly, and I mean without a moment’s hesitation, Jesus changed everything for Bart and called him over. The crowd realised that if they were to get any favour with the man they believed to be the Messiah they needed to get Bart involved and quick. Jesus then did the most bizarre thing, He asked this blind, penniless, filthy, friendless beggar what he wanted. Far from being thrown by this, Bart knew exactly what he wanted – his sight.
Up until now, Bartimaeus had probably not had a great life but his disability in that society provided an opportunity for the devout and pious to show how fervently they kept the religious law by giving the odd coin to someone who was poor and destitute. Jesus wanted to know if Bartimaeus was prepared to leave behind everything he had known, even the precarious existence that he had in order to take a huge leap into the unknown. Bart said yes, even though he could not see Jesus. Bart took it all by faith in what was unseen. (Heb 11:1) Blind Bartimaeus had sight into things that could not be seen. His trust in the One who could free from all oppression freed him from his. What did He choose to do with his new-found sight? He followed Jesus, who knows, he might even have seen the crucifixion. He might have seen the resurrected Jesus.
As Jesus went on Hs way he encountered another individual, Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10 – his name means pure – interesting eh?). This man was not at the bottom of life in Jericho but near the top. He was a tax collector and at that time most tax collectors were corrupt, Zac certainly was. He was despised by most but he was rich, comfortable and what he didn’t have he could buy. In some ways Zacchaeus was one of the oppressors rather than being one of the oppressed. Perhaps he was one of those who had salved his conscience by giving the odd coin to Bartimaeus?
Zac could also not see Jesus but this was only because he was short and no one would let him through to where the action was. He found a way though, so it must have been important to him. He ran ahead, he climbed a tree and he waited. What you might not know is that 1) respected Jewish men did not run, 2) they most certainly did not climb trees and 3) sycamore fig trees were not permitted to be planted in the town, they had to be at least 30 yards away from the walls. The point of this is that Jesus was on His way out of Jericho, thus turning down the inevitable offers of hospitality from the great and the good of the town. (Note that despite the differences in their stations in life both Bartimaeus and Zacchaeus were marginalised, they were not at the centre of town, Jesus met one on the way in and one on the way out.)
Zacchaeus had an interest in who Jesus was and what He was like but could not have known how interested Jesus would be in him. Jesus honoured him by wanting to be with him, sharing Zac’s life, his home, his family, his dreams, his future. He is the same today. He is interested in each of us, our lives, our homes, our families, our dreams, our futures.
Nobody is disqualified from attracting the interest of Jesus, Bart wasn’t, Zach wasn’t and you’re not. This is great news for us and it is great news for everyone else.