Bartimaeus: I Once Was Blind, but Now I See

My name is Bartimaeus. The people in my home town of Jericho call me the blind beggar, but it was not always this way.

As a boy, I attended school at the synagogue. My favorite reading was the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, who lived seven hundred years ago. Isaiah told of a Messiah who would come to save the Jewish people. My father, Timaeus, owns a shop where he sells tools for tilling the soil. While growing up, my job was to arrange the stock of spades, hoes, picks, pitchforks, scythes, and rakes. As an older boy, I traveled with my father to the port of Caesarea Maritima, which lies sixty miles northwest of Jerusalem. Here ships would dock from all parts of the Roman Empire. The traders would sell us tools to stock our shop.

Carmen had been my special friend since we both turned twelve. In our seventeenth year we were married in our local synagogue. I worked in my father's shop while Carmen stayed busy at home. Two years later, when Carmen discovered she was pregnant, no one could have been more excited than I. I felt a warm anticipation as I imagined caring for Carmen and our baby.

During the week that followed, I had to trust Carmen's care to her mother while I made a spring trip to Caesarea Maritima with my father. I had already handled some merchandise from an African ship before I noticed that several of the crew had eyes swollen shut with infection. On the journey home, my eyes began to burn, so my father and I spent the night in Jerusalem. Before leaving for Jericho, my father sought out a doctor to look at my eyes. After examining me, the doctor said, "This disease will leave you blind. Once the infection clears up, you can safely be with your family."

I was devastated. Would I not see my baby? Must I become a beggar as was the custom in my land for the blind? Jehovah, why me?

My father asked me to continue to sell tools at the shop, but I didn't want to be a burden to the business, so I decided that I should beg for a living. Carmen respected whatever decision I felt would be the best for all involved and agreed to help me to a certain street in the city where I could beg. You can't imagine how embarrassed I felt, yet I had to get money for my family somehow.

Six months passed and Carmen gave birth to a baby girl whom we named Tamara. The first time I picked her up I could feel the whisper of her breath upon my cheek. I couldn't help but squeeze her close to me. The heart in her soft little body beat gently against my chest as I kissed her tiny neck and smelled the sweet smell of a baby. As I cradled her in my arms and sang her a lullaby, I asked Jehovah, "Is it fair that I can't see my baby?" But when I finished the lullaby, there was only silence.

Both of our mothers helped with the care of the baby until Carmen was strong again. And with each day that passed I fervently begged for money so that I could provide for the increased needs of Tamara and Carmen.

The fall harvest had come and gone twice since Tamara was born, and the spring planting season would soon be underway. My begging kept food on the table for Tamara and Carmen, and for this I was grateful. A big help had come from the advice of another beggar, Caleb, who had been blind from birth. He suggested that I wear a decrepit coat to increase the sympathy of my donors, so I decided to take his advice.

Then one day Caleb told me about a man named Jesus who had spoken to the crowds in Jericho. Caleb had heard that Jesus, a descendant of David, had healed a blind man. I caught my breath as I remembered with hope the words of Isaiah about the Messiah: "To open blind eyes . . . And I will lead the blind by a way they do not know, in paths they do not know I will guide them. I will make darkness into light before them . . . ".

Before I was blind, I assumed the blindness spoken of was a figurative blindness, a spiritual one. But now I dared to hope the Scriptures could be referring to my physical ailment as well.

Then one morning when I met Caleb to beg he said, "Let's go to the road that leads to Bethany. Jesus passed this way going east this morning, and they say He is to return through Jericho on the way to His friend's house in Bethany."

So I followed Caleb to the road. As the day rolled along, I could tell by the feel of the sun on my face that the time had reached afternoon. The hubbub of the crowd began softly then quickened, so I asked of anyone who might answer, "Is Jesus coming?"

A nearby woman said in a breathless voice, "Yes, it is He."

So I began to shout, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"

A man yelled back at me, "Shut up, you blind beggar!"

But I cried out even louder as I thought about taking care of Tamara and Carmen. Then I heard a commanding voice say, "Tell him to come here."

Those around me nudged me forward saying, "Jesus is calling for you. Jesus is calling for you."

When it finally sunk in that He was calling for me, I yanked off my old coat and threw it aside then jumped up and moved in the direction of the voice I had heard. Then He spoke again with the same authority, "What do you want me to do for you?"

I answered, "Master, let me have my sight back so I can see my daughter Tamara."

Then Jesus said, "Go your way. Your faith has made you whole."

And immediately I received my sight and followed Jesus on the way.

Based on Mark 10:46-52; Matthew 20:29-34; Isaiah 42:6-7,16.

Copyright 1997 by John C. Westervelt

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