Yeshua, as Luke depicts him, sometimes demands more than people are willing to give and sometimes surprises us with a willingness to accept and affirm graciously. He is demanding yet forgiving. And Luke depicts this artfully in chapters 18 and 19, as one of the sections of his gospel comes to a close (19:10 is the end of a major section in Luke).
An apt comment by Luke Timothy Johnson (Sacra Pagina: The Gospel of Luke, 2006, here on amazon) brought the issue to mind for me. He pointed out the relationship between four stories in Luke’s gospel:
- Faith Like Infants, Luke 18:15-17
- The Rich, Young Ruler, Luke 18:18-27
- The Blind Man at Jericho, Luke 18:35-43
- Zaccheus the Tax Collector, Luke 19:1-10
Before explaining Luke Johnson’s comment, though, there is a feature of the story of the blind man at Jericho that needs some explaining. The blind man in this story is unnamed, but the account bears a strong resemblance to Mark 10:46-52, the story of Bartimaeus. Luke doesn’t name Bartimaeus, perhaps because of his policy regarding eyewitnesses (see more on that here and here and here). So, though Luke does not name him (because Luke must not have been personally familiar with his story), the blind man is Bartimaeus.
Now that we have that piece of the puzzle, how are these four stories related?
The Way of Yeshua With Sinners, Luke’s Version
The four stories could be thought of as two pairs of two. The first two — “faith like infants” and “the rich, young ruler” — give the principles and the second two — Bartimaeus and Zaccheus — illustrate the principles.
So, we have two stories in Luke, one following on the other, about two men whose lives were changed by an encounter with Yeshua. These two stories also juxtapose with two of Yeshua’s powerful teachings.
As Luke Johnson observes, Bartimaeus illustrates the faith like a child from 18:16-17, while Zaccheus shows the beautiful alternative to the rich young ruler of 18:18-27.
Simple faith brings a miracle with Bartimaeus. The desire for absolution through repentance transforms a man’s life with Zaccheus.
Bartimaeus is helpless and open to the kingdom blessings. Zaccheus is rich like the rich ruler, but different from him in two ways: rather than being a righteous person, he has been a sinner, and rather than being self-righteous, he is sorrowful.
“Let the children come to me,” said Yeshua, and “to such belongs the kingdom of God” (18:16). So the blind man simply believes Yeshua is the Son of David and asks for mercy. There is no questioning. His faith is absolute.
“All these [laws of Torah] I have kept from my youth,” said the rich ruler (18:21). That may have been the truth, but there was no sense of contrition, no longing to be elevated and purified.
The rich ruler’s righteousness was his stumbling block, whereas Zaccheus’s certainty that he did not deserve absolution was true repentance. He longed for acceptance from heaven and change in his ways. He reached out desperately for a hand up from God and through Yeshua, God’s agent on earth, Zaccheus received the affirmation and permission his soul needed to accept himself. Zaccheus’s repentance helped him believe in his new identity as a reinstated son of Abraham.
Luke’s Yeshua is demanding (contrition) and at the same time forgiving (repentance). He is giving (healing, forgiveness) and demanding (absolute faith). Luke’s understanding of Yeshua commends to us two qualities: absolute faith and pure contrition. This simple formula keeps us humble and at the same time hopeful.
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