The safety of Jericho was a draw for the beggars of the region. To be able to stay inside a locked fortress every night was second only to having an actual home of their own. The beggars joined together in groups, helping each other out, trading earnings, and swapping stories every night.
The hustle of Jericho during the day was cacophonous. One door, one road, thousands of travelers, man and beast. Beggars waited at the gate every morning to be the first out the door to take their places, not wanting to miss even a moment of gaining an extra shekel from a generous hand.
Bartimaeus, being blind, was far more dependent on his fellow beggars. He was led each morning to his post and brought back through the gates every night. Bartimaeus had his spot, familiar and safe. He would spread his only coat – the one that kept him warm at night and gave him comfort during the day – and sit on the side of the road. The coat allowed him to catch items tossed to him without having to scramble for them or wonder if he was picking up a stone or a piece of bread. At night, he would gather his coat together and throw it over his back like a bag to carry home for his friends to help decipher what was inside.
Being a beggar had its advantages, specifically when it came to news and gossip. Passersby did not quiet their conversation near invisible beggars on the side of the road. Every night, the beggars of Jericho would gather around warm fires, sharing stale bread and rotten fruit, and swap stories of what they heard that day.
The one name that was passed around more than any other was the name “Jesus of Nazareth.” A man from a nothing town from a nobody family who was busy traveling around the countryside with a group of uneducated fishermen, a tax collector, and a zealot. But it wasn’t their atypical composition that prompted the stories. It was what Jesus was doing. Stories of a man who healed. Sometimes he healed one person. But, he was also known to have entire villages brought to him and he healed every single person with an infirmity. He had healed without even being in the same town! He healed with his voice; he healed with his hand. Rumors were that he had actually touched the untouchables – lepers – and cleansed them completely! The stories always ended with the storyteller whispering, “I wonder if he’ll ever come here?”
Bartimaeus would tuck each story into the back of his mind. Silently, he echoed the same question, “What if he came to Jericho?”
Then one day, word on the street was that he wasn’t just passing by; he was there. The city with one door, yet somehow he had entered without Bartimeaus knowing! But, that night, the news around the campfire was retold with excitement: “He’s here! He’s in town! The one we’ve been talking about has arrived!”
But just as quickly as he arrived, he left. That morning, Bartimaeus had been brought to his post and left sitting on his coat. The noise of the day rose with the sun. Feet pounding on the hard ground. Wheels creaking and groaning as they were pushed and pulled up the road. Horses clopping by, hauling loads. Donkeys braying, protesting their work load. Soldiers riding by on horses with crisp hoof beats, distinct from the work horses who simply clunked along. Mothers yelling at their lagging children. Kids laughing and little sandals pattering by in a hurry to catch up. Men greeting each other and yelling at their animals. The switch of a shepherd distinct as he ushered his sheep out to pasture. A chicken running by, followed by one little girl yelling at her lost fowl to come back. Conversations, laughter, dogs… it all melded together and drowned out the one, lone man asking if they could spare a piece of a bread.
And then, Bartimaeus’ trained ears heard it. The name!
“Jesus is coming!”
“Look – it’s Jesus!”
“Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!”
He rose to his feet, leaning on his walking stick and straining to hear more, but the crowd jostled him and rushed past. People were laughing and talking and he could feel the press of the crowd as more and more people walked by. The name “Jesus” was scattered here, then there, but he had no way of knowing where the owner of the name actually was. The crowd was too big – they were going by too fast!
So, he began to yell the only thing he could think of: “Jesus! Son of David! Have mercy on me!”
His initial yell was not loud enough and elicited no response from the moving crowd. He tried again, louder: “Jesus! Son of David! Have mercy on me!” Then again. And again. And again. Each time rising in volume, in urgency, straining forward, leaning on his walking stick, free hand outstretched to the passing crowd, hoping to get someone’s attention, yet fearful of getting lost in the shuffle and never finding his way home again.
The screaming did finally garner attention, but from irritated passers-by who insisted that he “be quiet!” Jesus didn’t have time for a beggar. Undeterred, he screamed louder!
“Jesus! Son of David! Have mercy on me!”
To his utter amazement, the footsteps began to still. The ruckus of the crowd quieted. One voice, further up the hill, spoke, but not loud enough for him to know what was being said. Then, someone tugged at his elbow, “Cheer up! He wants to see you!” In his rush, the coat was kicked aside and left behind. All of his day’s earnings lost to the trampling feet and blowing dust of the roadside. He didn’t care; the Master was calling him.
The person guiding him stopped. He knew someone was in front of him and out of habit, he sank his head to his chest and stooped his shoulders. The crowd was silent. A gentle voice asked, for Bartimaeus’ ears alone, “What do you want me to do for you?”
Not, “What do you want?” Not, “Who do you think you are to call to me?” But, “What do you want me to do for you?”
Head down, voice trembling, the beggar, Blind Bartimaeus – known by his infirmity, not by his character – voiced his sole desire: “Teacher, I want to see.”
Not just the improbable. The impossible.
“Go. Your faith has healed you.”
Bartimaeus raised his head. “Blind” was his defining characteristic no longer for when he lifted his eyes, he looked full-on at the face of his Savior with perfect, brand-new eyes. Eyes that saw the Light of the World.
And Bartimaeus was never the same.