NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
Verse 29-30: As Jesus and His followers were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed Him. There were two blind men sitting by the road. They heard that Jesus was passing by. So they shouted, “O Lord, Son of David, please help us!”
It is significant that Jesus had just been talking about how true leadership not only involves being in command of one’s followers but also being there to serve when called on. So Matthew tells us that as Jesus and His followers were leaving Jericho, our Lord was in the crowd, giving directions to where He wanted them to go. And where He wanted to go was on a road where two blind men were sitting on the side where they could beg for alms from passersby.
When we combine what the synoptic Gospels say about this incident, verse 30 would read this way: “Behold, two blind men, Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, and his companion, were sitting by the road begging.” We are not told what Jesus did in Jericho, but since a large crowd was following Him as He left, I’m sure it was more than just passing through. Mark agrees that Jesus was leaving Jericho,1 while Luke mentions that they were in the vicinity.2 Since these men were blind, it is a curiosity as to how they found out that in the crowd passing by there strode a man who was being hailed as the Messiah. But somehow they found out, perhaps from conversations by those walking ahead of Jesus and His entourage, and so in their cry for help we see that they had either already believed Him to be so, or they felt this was the only way to get His attention.
When preaching on this, Chrysostom told his listeners: “Let us stick with the things set before us. Let us listen to these blind men, who see better than many. They were not able to see the Lord when He came near to them. They had no one to guide them. Yet they tried to make contact with Him.… Such is the nature of a determined soul. It is motivated up by the very things that hinder it.”3 Also, early church theologian Augustine includes the following in his sermon to engage his audience into thinking about what it would mean to them for Jesus to pass by: “What does it mean that Jesus was passing by? He is coming to us in time. Only for a short time is Jesus passing by us.4 What does it mean that Jesus is passing by? He is acting in a moment that comes to pass. Note how many things He has now done which have already passed by. He was born of the Virgin Mary in time. Is He being born always?5 As an infant, He was nursed. Is He still being nursed? No, He matured through the successive ages of life until He came to adulthood. Is He always growing physically? After infancy came boyhood, after boyhood came youth; after youth, He came to full human stature in several developing stages of growth. Even the very miracles that He did have ‘passed by.’6”7 Augustine obviously wanted his congregation to think of Jesus as still being present in their everyday lives, not some historical figure back in time.
So Augustine continues: “Now we read about these things and believe. They were written about so that they might be read later. But when these things were occurring they were passing by like all temporal events. Finally, not to dwell on this too long, He was crucified. Is He still hanging on the cross? In a similar temporal flow, He was buried, He rose again, He ascended into heaven. Now ‘He cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over Him.’8 Now His divinity abides forever; yes, even by the immortality of His body shall He never pass away. But nevertheless all those things that were done by Him in time have passed by, and having passed by they were written down in order to be read and preached to be believed. In all these things then ‘Jesus is passing by’.”9 Not only did Augustine see Jesus as a living being, but wanted the record about Him and His miracles to remain a living document.
There is a song we used to sing from our classic church hymnal that composer Martin P. Dalton wrote based on this text. The lyrics go as follows: “There is a story of long ago, men roamed in darkness, nowhere to go; One day the scene changed, they ceased to cry, there was a reason, Jesus passed by.” Then the chorus says: “Glory and honor be to the King, Shout Hallelujah, make praises ring; Look to the future home in the sky, There is a reason Jesus passed by.”10 So, as in Augustine’s day, we should have the same outlook today. Jesus is not some figure of the past but is ever-present with us each day.
Verse 31: The people there scolded the blind men and told them to be quiet. But they shouted even louder, “O Lord, Son of David, please help us!”
It is obvious that these blind men got attention, but it wasn’t the kind they wanted. The crowd around Jesus began to reprimand these men, telling them they were being a nuisance. Perhaps they thought such pathetic figures as these two blind men were not worthy of attention by the Messiah. However, if there were Pharisees in the crowd, no doubt they were offended because these blind men were acknowledging that Jesus was a royal descendant of King David. But trying to hush these two was like trying to tell two roosters in the early morning to stop crowing. They had the stubbornness of Jacob when he contended with the angel.11 In any case, it got Jesus’ attention and He stopped. He looked over at them sitting along the road and called out to them, asking what they wanted Him to do. They were not hesitant in letting Him know exactly what their desire was.
Early church preacher Chrysostom had this appeal in his sermon on this text: “Learn this, beloved. Though we may be very unworthy and outcast, yet when we approach God with utter earnestness, we come closer to what we ask for. Just look at these men. They do not ask any of the apostles to plead for them. Instead, here is the crowd trying to shut them up, telling them to be silent. Yet they were able to overcome all these obstacles and come to Jesus himself. Yet the Evangelist does not attest to any faith in them but only to their urgency. Their earnestness sufficed above all other factors.”12 Makes one wonder what Chrysostom would say to those today who pray more to the saints than to God?
Both early church scholars Jerome, and Epiphanius use these blind beggars as metaphors for the nations of non-Jews. Epiphanius says: “By straying through idols, they had completely wandered from the way of truth. Degenerated in the obscurity of sins, they destroyed the eyes of the heart. But the crowd rebuked them to become silent. But they shouted all the more. For with the Jews neither believing nor willing, the blinded nations were shouting all the more through faith. And for us, dearly beloved, whether envy opposes a man or the devil holds him back in darkness, let us, therefore, shout the more through faith.”13 What a picture this can paint in our minds today. While a dying world cries out for help, those sitting in the pews tell them to be quiet because it would take Jesus’ attention away from them, His favorites.
Some say, that had this incident occurred up in Galilee there is more probability that non-Jews were living among the Jewish population. But since it was near Jericho, this would lead to these two possibly being Samaritans, not Gentiles. However, when Mark tells this story, he notes that one of the men was named Bar-Timaeus, which is a Jewish name meaning “Son of Timothy.” For that reason, it is more plausible that because they were Jewish they understood the importance of addressing Jesus as the son of David, which was another term for Messiah, something neither the Samaritans nor the Gentiles would be aware of.
Verses 32-34: Jesus stopped and said to them, “What do you want me to do for you? They answered, “Sir, we want to be able to see.” Jesus felt compassion for the blind men. He touched their eyes, and immediately they were able to see. They then became followers of Jesus.
Maybe it was the way they said it, but regardless of how they made their request known, Matthew tells us that it touched the heart of Jesus. This should be a clue to all of us, that when we pray to God the Father, and His Son is standing right beside Him, He can still be touched by our needs. So apparently, Jesus either walked over to them or they were brought to Him, but without any further ado He touched them and they were instantly healed. In my mind’s eye, as the crowd then continued out of town toward Jerusalem, I can see Bartimaeus and his friend looking around, greeting people, seeing the scenery for the first time, but most of all, keeping their eyes focused on Jesus.
Jesus often healed the sick brought to Him or those He met on the highway simply by virtue of their faith. But here Matthew points out that it was the compassion of our Lord that was the driving force that caused His healing power to flow. This is a true example of the divine features of someone who was both God and man. That’s why the writer of Hebrews was able to declare that our Messiah is One who can be touched by our weakness and suffering.14 Chrysostom says: “Note that they did not hasten away after their cure, as happened on numerous occasions, with those who were less than grateful after receiving benefits. Not so with these two blind men, whose worthiness to receive is seen both in what they cried out and that they followed. They were persevering before the gift and grateful after the gift. For it says that they followed Him.”15
What more fitting example could Jesus give His disciples of what He alluded to earlier about a leader being willing to serve? Had Jesus possessed the mind of many in His day, He would have been too busy to stop for these two blind beggars because He was trying to please his adoring crowd. The only shouts such personalities would want to hear would be those praising them for their triumphs and victories. They would have no time for such matters beneath their dignity. But the One who was equal with God is now touched by the tears of even the most pitiful among mankind, and His heart was moved by their blindness. So it is that all of us who claim to be His followers should never let our position or station in the ministry prevent us from taking time to minister to those who seem to be the most unworthy in this world.
Matthew’s statement that they followed Jesus, is in the indicative mood, active voice, and aorist tense in Greek. That simply means, that it actually took place and showed no signs of ending. In other words, they continued to follow Jesus. This makes me wonder if they followed the Lord all the way to Jerusalem and were witnesses to what happened there in the Garden of Gethsemane, the courtyard of the high priest, the Praetorium where He was tried before Pilate, and then to the foot of Mt. Calvary.
It must break our Lord’s heart to see so many today who have had their spiritual eyes opened so they could see the truth and become His adherents but then did not continue following Him. This Christian life is not based on one meeting with Jesus at the altar of confession. Rather, it is the start of a life given to continually following the One who came to redeem and to save, leading us out of the darkness of sin into the marvelous light of His mercy and grace. This raises the question, if someone asked you today if you are a follower of Christ, if you really told the truth would you be able to say, “I am,” or would you be forced to confess and say, “I was?”
1 Mark 10:46
2 Luke 18:35
3 Chrysostom: Matthew, Homily 66.1
4 Many think that Augustine here is referring to Jesus’ passing by like watching an historical event pass by.
5 Scholars feel that Augustine is pointing to the nativity as a yearly event
6 Passed by as in each time they are examined
7 Augustine: Sermon 88.9
8 Romans 6:9
9 Augustine, ibid.
10 Written by Marvin P. Dalton, Hymns of the Spirit, p. 172
11 Genesis 32:24
12 Chrysostom: Matthew, Homily 66.1
13 Epiphanius the Latin: Interpretation of the Gospel 30
14 Hebrews 4:15
15 Chrysostom: Matthew, Homily 66.1