‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 19. The Uncertainty of Jericho
Mark 10:1 Jesus then left that place and went into the region of Judea and across the Jordan. Again crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them.
Mt 20:28 As Jesus and his disciples were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him.
Context : We have considered Jesus’ warning to his disciples (which they were unable to take in) and we’ve seen his two visits to Bethany as well as his retiring to the east of the Jordan. We have also noted the way Jesus followed the leading of his Father, and so his travels at time seem a little erratic, although they always bore fruit. Some put going to Jericho as before the raising of Lazarus although, as I hope to show, the indications are that he went to Jericho and then on his final trip to Jerusalem. If I am correct then he has been ministering to the east of the Jordan, keeping away from possible too-early opposition from Jerusalem, was called back to Bethany to raise Lazarus and then returned east again to give time for the word to spread while he was able to continue ministering out of sight, so to speak. Note, in passing, that John does not mention Jericho in his Gospel, as he usually didn’t pick up on the events clearly recorded in the Synoptics unless they were specific things that would show the glory of Jesus in what John was conveying (e.g. feeding of the five thousand). Also bear in mind what we said about the different mindset that the writers had from ours, not being particularly concerned to itemize each step. Let’s see how each of the Synoptics cover this time.
Matthew: “Now Jesus was going up to Jerusalem. On the way, he took the Twelve aside and said to them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests.” (Mt 20:17,18) That was followed by the incident involving James and John’s mother and then immediately afterwards we find, “As Jesus and his disciples were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him.” (v.29) For Matthew, the incident that follows where two blind men are healed, is the important thing showing the coming of the kingdom which is a priority in his Gospel. (see v.30-34) All we know from Matthew is that they have been to Jericho where this healing occurred.
Mark: We start in chapter 10 with, “Jesus then left that place and went into the region of Judea and across the Jordan. Again crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them.” (v.1) A reference “When they were in the house again,” (v.10) would suggest that is the Judea part, probably back in Capernaum but we can’t be certain; it may just be a place where they were staying in the east. Direction and warning after a section of teaching: “They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him.” (v.32) The fact of going to Jerusalem, Mark interestingly informs us, creates a sense of fear in some of those following. Obviously they knew the rumblings in the authorities in Jerusalem and feared the outcome of a further visit. Then comes the James and John incident followed simply by, “Then they came to Jericho.” (v.46a) Peter, reporting through Mark in his Gospel remembers that (apparently) one of the two blind men stood out as a local character: “As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging.” (v.46b) and healing follows (v.47-52) and this man follows them, hence the reason he stands out to Peter.
Luke: Now we’ve already noted that Lord records their journey south – “Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee,” (Lk 17:11) and picks up on him healing ten lepers along the way (v.12-19). Teaching follows until in chapter 18 we read, “As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging.” (Lk 18:35) and healing follows (v.36-43) As there would have been numerous beggars it does not need to be a contradiction; it is just whoever Luke used as a resource remembered that particular one. The end of it is worth noting: “When all the people saw it, they also praised God.” (v.43b) Into chapter 19 we read, “Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus,” (v.1,2) and the whole incident involving Zacchaeus is revealed. Jesus’ popularity with what we might refer to as the underclass (involving tax-collectors and ‘sinners’) would have been seriously boosted by this incident. After finishing teaching we then read, “After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.” (v.28)
Why Jericho? We may look at these parts of the records and wonder why Jericho? There is uncertainty hanging over this part of the journey all the time – why? Well each of the accounts emphasize a different aspect of what went on. Matthew seeks to emphasize the coming of the kingdom in the way two blind men are healed. Peter, through Mark, is more focused on one of then who was a local character who ends up following them. Luke, the doctor, the people-person, the one interested in people, picks up on the gentle way Jesus healed the beggar on the way into town – getting into town is not so important that Jesus can’t pause up to help a beggar on the way in.
As far as Luke was concerned the big issue in Jericho was the calling and the change brought about in the chief tax-collector, Zacchaeus, whose area of control probably covered the whole of the south of Judea at least. His significance was the equivalent of saying the mayor of London or of New York getting saved. An amazing transformation that may have ongoing long-term effects.
But why have we bothered to cover this part of the trip? Well, apart from the fact that it happened, if it was on the way back from the area to the east of the Jordan (and Jericho is a few miles west of the Jordan), it shows Jesus in no rush to get back to the conflict in Jerusalem but, taking his Father’s leading, picking up some significant popularity while ‘bringing in the kingdom’ through miraculous healings and life transformations. Right up through this time, it is as if he pushes out what has got to come in Jerusalem and simply concentrates on bringing the love and goodness of the Father into each situation he finds as he travels. On the way down from the north he had healed ten lepers. In Bethany he had raised Lazarus from the dead, to the east of the Jordon he continues teaching and healing, on the way back through Jericho he shows his love for the outcasts by healing blind beggars and his love for the sinner called Zacchaeus. If I had that lot on my resume I would be thrilled.
And us? Can we apply some of what we find here? What I find coming through here is that, first of all, the pattern of their travels overall, or the strategy of Jesus, although often seeming unclear, seems to be a strategy involving a general desire to get closer to Jerusalem, bring the blessing of God to aggravate the religious authorities, and yet keep at a sufficient distance but not to provoke confrontation too early. Having said that, there is also just this sense of Jesus continuing to take any and every opportunity to bring the love and power of God to bear in changing people’s lives for the good. Yes, there may be that big pattern strategy (which the disciples probably couldn’t see) but behind it, there is this taking every moment left to him to continue to bless people. In a sense, it doesn’t matter about the long-term strategy, the question is what will I do with today? Can I catch something of the Father’s heart and the prompting and leading of His Holy Spirit, so that TODAY will be a day of blessing others, those closest to me and perhaps further afield, TODAY will be a day when Jesus will use me? Can we see it like that?