The story of the healing of the blind man in or near Jericho occurs in all of the synoptic gospels (Matthew 20:31-34; Mark 10:47-52; and Luke 18:35-19:10). In each one, the story functions to deal with a separate aspect of discipleship.
I) We begin with a comparison of the passages to note similarities and differences.
First, the similarities: All gospels mention the presence of the crowd. All three mention the blind as “sitting by the road.” The blind know who Jesus is – the Son of David. All three have Jesus called the “Son of David.” All three mention that the people around Jesus warn the blind man “sternly” to “be quiet”. All three tells us that the more the crowd told blind to be quiet, the more they cried out. All three mention that Jesus “stood still.” All three have Jesus asking “what do you want me to do for you?” All three gospels have the request to “see.” All three say the blind “followed” Jesus. Finally, and I think this is crucial, all three have the story appear at precisely the same place in Jesus’ ministry, just before his entry into Jerusalem.
Next, the differences. Matthew says the miracle happened as they were leaving Jericho, Mark says it was at Jericho, and Luke says it was as they approached Jericho. Matthew recounts two blind men. Mark and Luke only mention one. Mark and Luke say he was a beggar. Matthew does not mention his status. Matthew and Luke have the blind call Jesus “Lord.” Mark has the man call him “my teacher” but Matthew has the blind refer to Jesus as Lord three times. Luke tells us that the man asked what all the commotion was about and that was the impetus for learning Jesus was passing by, the other gospels leave out this point. Matthew mentions the call for mercy before the naming of Jesus as the Son of David. Mark and Luke have Jesus call the man into his presence. Matthew simply has Jesus to call to the man. Only Mark notes the encouragement of the crowd. Only Mark mentions the throwing off of the man’s cloak and him “springing” up to come to Jesus. The men in Matthew request their eyes to be opened. Mark and Luke have them requesting to see “again.” Matthew has Jesus touching the men. Mark and Luke have Jesus speaking, telling him that his faith has made him well (saved him – σῴζω). Only Matthew gives Jesus’ motivation for healing the man: compassion. Only Luke ends his story with the blind man and the crowds glorifying and praising God.
II) We turn now to see how the story is used in each of the gospels.
A) As noted earlier however, each of the gospels have this miracle at the end of Jesus’ ministry, just before his “triumphal” entry into Jerusalem for his final week. Though Matthew may be divided into eleven sections, beginning with a narrative, moving to teaching, and then alternating back and forth to the end, it becomes, toward the end, difficult to keep the narrative and teachings sections separate. Were it not for the formulas for the teaching sections (gathering the disciples for teaching, then the concluding “when Jesus finished saying all these things”) we might be at pains to tell them apart. But the point is that the life of Jesus and the teaching of Jesus are not separate, but intertwined. For a group about to be sent out to make disciples (and the readers who are also called to be and make disciples), the message is plain: you can’t live one way and teach another. The two must come together.
In the Matthew narrative, chapters 19-20 emphasize a very stringent way of life for those who would follow Jesus. Our story functions to bring that section to an end with a comforting account of a compassionate (mentioned only by Matthew) Christ who, despite their difficulties, will touch them and provide healing to those willing to follow him despite the difficulty of the road ahead.
B) The first eight chapters of Mark are dominated by stories of Jesus’ miracles and the failure of his disciples to understand who he is. That section comes to an end with Jesus’ most severe rebuke of his disciples, a story about a blind man who is made to see, and the confession of the disciples. We are hopeful there that the disciples “get” it. The next section contains three passion predictions and the continued notion that the disciples still, though they know who Jesus is, don’t quite get what he is about. It too ends with a blind man being healed – Bartimaeus.
In Mark’s account we learn Jesus is about to leave the city. He will not return. Therefore, if Bartimaeus is to be healed, he must take advantage of this opportunity. When the opportunity presents itself, at Jesus’ invitation, Bartimaeus leaves everything behind (throws off his cloak) and follows Jesus. Later, Jesus will tell his followers that, when time is critical, don’t waste it bothering with a cloak (13:16). Though the word is different, later still, contrast Bartimaeus’ divesture of his clothing to “follow” Jesus with the young man who divests himself of his own to run away from Jesus (14:52). The point here marks the urgency of embracing and following Jesus for blessing.
C) Luke has five sections: a prologue (1:1-4), a small section where Jesus is identified (chapters 1 – 4), a larger section given to Jesus’ miracles that prove Jesus’ identity (chapters 4 – 9), and an even larger section devoted to why Jesus’ identity is important – his teaching (chapters 9 – 19). The last section is devoted to Jesus’ final days (chapters 19-24). Our text occurs near the end of the major teaching section.
At the end of the identity section, Jesus twice tells his disciples that he is going to die. In the last telling, Luke tells us the disciples did not understand. The truth was “hidden” from them. In the teaching section, Jesus once again tells the disciples twice that he is going to be delivered and killed (13:32-33; 18:31-34). The last time, the disciples are again said to not understand what he was saying. This is followed by the healing of Bartimaeus, a blind man who none-the-less saw Jesus for who he was, exhibited faith, and whose life resulted in worship to God, his own, and that of those who knew him.
All three gospel writers use the story of Bartimaeus to emphasize discipleship faith, a faith that will not be stifled by the crowd, a faith that results in memorable and life changing blessing. Matthew adds that this faith is seen in a life yielded to the Lordship of Christ, whose resultant burdens are lifted through faith by a compassionate Jesus. Mark describes this faith as one that recognizes the importance of responding immediately and without reservation. Luke describes it as a faith that results in worship. All acknowledge that the blessings come through only one Lord, the son of David.