Healing the blind -a question of timing and location

Jesus is travelling through Jericho and as he is coming out of the city, two blind men cry out to him and ask him to heal them.

One of the things that Bible scholars have wrestled with over the years is why Matthew and Mark appear to have Jesus leaving the city whilst Luke has him coming to the city. One suggestion has been that Jesus is moving between the two sites of the city, old Jericho and New Jericho. Others think that Luke simply changes the location and timing of his event because he wants to say more about what happens there -specifically to talk about Zacchaeus. Well, the first suggestion has never really caught on and the second one sounds rather clumsy, doesn’t it? It’s not just that this goes against our evangelical senses because it looks like Luke is sitting quite loose to the facts (and I don’t buy the whole “oh they weren’t really too worried about factual accuracy in their historical accounts” argument) but it seems quite sloppy if that is what Luke has done. And why would he want to do that? 

Except that I don’t think it is what Luke has done.  Have a look at the different accounts

46 And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. (Mark 10:46)

29 And as they went out of Jericho, a great crowd followed him. 30 And behold, there were two blind men sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was passing by, they cried out, “Lord,[e] have mercy on us, Son of David!” (Matthew 20:29-30)

35 As he drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. 36 And hearing a crowd going by, he enquired what this meant. (Luke 18:35)

Notice that each of the accounts words things slightly differently. Mark tells us both about Jesus coming into Jericho and leaving Jericho.  He doesn’t tell us about what happens in Jericho. Matthew drops the arrival bit and focuses on leaving.

So, it’s not that Luke changes where and when things happens. He simply drops the additional information about leaving. He also changes the wording from “coming into” to “drawing near.”

Why does he do this? Well, this side of glory we cannot say for certain but I want to make a suggestion here.

1.       Luke wants to tell us a bit more about what happens in Jericho. He wants us to find out about Zacchaeus as well as Bartimaeus (there’s some bonus material).

2.       Luke chooses to order things with the already known information about the healing of the blind coming first. So this is not a chronological account but is still an ordered account. Our attention should be drawn to this and we will want to spend time thinking through why Luke does this.

3.       By changing “coming into” to “drawing near to” I think Luke is signalling the change. He is less interested in exactly where we are in terms of geography and time but still wants to locate us in the vicinity of Jericho as part of Jesus’ journey into Jerusalem.

The important thing is this. It doesn’t look like a clumsy changing of order, rather the subtle change of language draws our attention to what Luke is doing.

Now all of this could be just intellectual gymnastics except, as I said, I think it is worth it exegetically because it causes us to pause and look at what Luke is drawing our attention to. Why does Luke want to look at Bartimaeus before Zacchaeus.

I want to suggest three reasons.

1.       The story builds up from Jesus’ ability to restore those with physical afflictions to his ability to restore those who are moral outcasts.

2.       The healing of the blind man links back to v31-34 and the inability of the disciples to grasp what Jesus is saying about his forthcoming death. The disciples are blind to God’s plan and purpose so they need their eyes opened too.

3.       We build up to a marvellous conclusion to the events in Jericho so that the events there finish with Jesus’ remark that:

“Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:9).