The Bible and Culture

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Jesus and the disciples had come to Jericho, a city which another ‘Yeshua’/Jesus had made famous in ancient times. The city had become important again because Herod had built his summer palace there and various priests and Levites lived there as well, commuting up to Jerusalem. As a border town as well there were various toll and tax collectors who resided there as well.

In fact, a man by the name of Zacchaeus lived there who was a major tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up, and seeing Zacchaeus, he said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly, for he had a good sized house and enjoyed entertaining guests, in this case Jesus and some of his disciples.

All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner.’ “

Once they had entered Zacchaeus’ house and had reclined on couches for a time, eating and drinking and listening to Jesus’ teaching, Zacchaeus stood up and said to Jesus, “Look, Master! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”

Of all the disciples Matthew was most pleased with this encounter and remarkable outcome and continued to comment on it as Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city. Near the westernmost gate of the city they came upon a blind man, Bartimaeus (that is, the Son of Timaeus), who was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Netzerit, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” He shouted this way because it was believed that Solomon, the Son of David had the wisdom of cures, and since Jesus seemed to have such wisdom, he was addressed as one like unto, but perhaps greater than, Solomon.

Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and groped his way toward Jesus. It was heart-rending to see the man slowly making his way toward Jesus by listening to the sound and direction of the voices, with hands out in front of him to make sure he did not bump into anyone by accident.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him in a gentle soft-spoken way, as though he were having a private conversation with the man.
The blind man said, “Master, I desperately want to see.”

“Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and instead of heading back into town, he followed Jesus and the disciples along the road, so grateful was he for the gift of sight. Jesus and the disciples headed once more up the Jericho road to Jerusalem, coming into the city from the southeast over the Mt. of Olives and down towards the Kidron and the Pool of Siloam. As Jesus went along, he saw another blind man, only this man was blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Master, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this provides the opportunity so that the work of G-d might be displayed in his life. As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Having said this, he spat on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. Jesus did this for two reasons. Firstly, it was a familiar procedure that his disciples would recognize for it was believed that a holy man’s saliva had healing properties, but secondly Jesus wanted the blind man to participate in his own healing by going and washing off the mud.

“Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam”. So the man went and washed, and came home seeing. His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” Some claimed that he was. Others said, “No, he only looks like him” but he himself insisted, “I am the man.”

“How then were your eyes opened?” they demanded.

He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to the pool of Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.” “Where is this man now?” they asked him.

“I don’t know,” he said. But some of his neighbors were not satisfied with this answer so they took the man by both arms and brought the one who had been blind to some of the Pharisees.

Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was Shabbat. Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.”

Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from G-d, for he does not keep the Law of Shabbat.”
But others asked, “How can a sinner do such miraculous signs?” So they were divided. Finally they turned again to the blind man, “What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.”
The man replied, “He is surely a prophet.”

The Jewish authorities still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man’s parents. “Is this your son?” they asked. “Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?”

“We know he is our son,” the parents answered, “and we know he was born blind. But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of these Jewish authorities, for already they had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the messiah would be put out of the synagogue. That was why his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to G-d” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.”

He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” Then they prodded him again, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”

He replied with some impatience, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?”

Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! We know that G-d spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from!”

The man answered sarcastically, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that G-d does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of anyone opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from G-d, he could do nothing!”

To this they replied, “You were born and brought up in sin; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out.

Now Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

“Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”

Jesus said, “You are now seeing him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”

Then the man said, “Master, I believe,” and he fell before Jesus and did obeisance.

Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?”

Jesus said, “If you were actually blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.” And Jesus left them and went to Bethany to spend the night.

It was once more time for the Feast of Dedication or Hanukkah at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. Some Jewish authorities gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the messiah, then tell us plainly.”

Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them everlasting life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?”

“We are not stoning you for any of these,” replied the Jewish authorities, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be G-d.”

Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in the Torah, ‘I have said you are gods’? If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of G-d came–and the Scripture cannot be broken– what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am G-d’s Son’? Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does. But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father. Then Jesus broke into doxology, lifting up his hands and saying

“I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

And then Jesus, speaking as Wisdom of old said: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Again they tried to seize him for he seemed to be claiming to be divine and offering a new Law calling it ‘his yoke’, but he escaped their grasp. Then Jesus went back across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing in the early days. Here he stayed and many people came to him. They said, “Though John never performed a miraculous sign, all that John said about this man was true.” And in that place many believed in Jesus in part because Jesus had healed the blind, a miracle never recorded in the Scriptures, but only foretold there in Isaiah.