Jericho: Where God Makes the Impossible, Possible
Jesus Heals the Blind Bartimaeus, by Nicolas Poussin, 1650
As Jesus was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a sizable crowd,
Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus,
sat by the roadside begging.
On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth,
he began to cry out and say,
“Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.”
And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent.
But he kept calling out all the more, “Son of David, have pity on me.”
Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”
So they called the blind man, saying to him,
“Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.”
He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.
Jesus said to him in reply, “What do you want me to do for you?”
The blind man replied to him, “Master, I want to see.”
Jesus told him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.”
Immediately he received his sight
and followed him on the way. (Mark 10: 46-52)
This Gospel story is one we’ve heard a million times if we’ve heard it once--Jesus curing the blind beggar Bartimaeus. I’ve preached on this gospel many times before. But a detail struck me about this Gospel that I never noticed before…Jesus’ location.
“As Jesus was leaving Jericho…”
Now what significance could that have?
Maybe none at all, but I for one believe that no detail is in Scripture by accident. Even if the human author of Scripture, in this case Saint Mark, didn’t mean anything by that detail, I believe the Divine author, the Holy Spirit, did. So what significance could Jericho have on this miracle?
OK, what was Jericho?
Jericho was an ancient, Canaanite, fortified city near the Jordan River.
OK. So this is a city that borders on the desert. This city is close to the Jordan River, significant, not only because it has an unlimited water supply, but also water is a symbol of life, and even more significantly, the JORDAN River is the place where John the Baptist is baptizing, so it is a symbol of spiritual life, repentance of sin, and healing.
So this is a city that’s bordering on the desert, a symbolic place of death, and also a symbolic place of purification, and the Jordon River, a symbolic place of life and renewal.
Also this city has an important history for Israel. Jericho was originally a pagan, Canaanite, fortified city. We hear of Jericho in the book of Joshua. After Moses dies and Joshua leads the Jews out of the desert into the promised land, the first city they come to is Jericho.
Of all the fortified cities in the land of Canaan, Jericho was the toughest. They had the most soldiers and the heaviest fortifications. And yet, the Jews conquer it with relative ease. How?
A religious procession.
Joshua orders the priests to process in a circle around the city carrying the Ark of the Covenant, while the Levites blow rams horns in front of the Ark, and the people all walk in procession behind. They process around the city seven times for seven days. On the seventh day though, they only process around once, and the Levites let out one long blast from the trumpets and the mighty walls of Jericho come crashing down, leaving the city defenseless.
The weapons that won that battle were liturgical weapons. the priests, the Levites, the Ark, the rams horn trumpets; these were all things that were used in their liturgical celebrations. In the book of Revelation, we see these things again used in the heavenly liturgy.
So Jericho was the place where God made the impossible, possible.
Jericho was the place where God proved to the peoples of Canaan that, with the faith of his people, he could overcome any human obstacles.
Just like Jesus cured Bartimeaus of his human obstacle, his blindness, because of his faith outside Jericho.
Just like Jesus was trying to knock down the walls of the hardened hearts of the crowd, who were trying to intimidate and silence this man, and keep him from asking for help.
Just like Jesus continues to try to knock down the walls of our hearts even now, by getting to see the value in everyone around us.
May we be like Bartimeaus so that Christ may be able to say to all of us “Your faith has healed you.”
And blessed be God forever.
Father Michael Anthony Sisco
Visitor, Confraternity of Penitents