As he had done for most of his life Bartimaeus arose early. After awaking Zeraiah he washed his face, then kneeled toward Jerusalem to say his morning prayers.
“A waste of time”, grumbled Zeraiah. “You have said those prayers every morning for the past 20 years since I have been living with you and not once has God heard you. Maybe he doesn’t hear blind men”, joked Zeraiah.
At the end of his prayer Bartimaeus added, “And please, Lord God, forgive Zeraiah for his insolence.”
“Bah!” replied Zeraiah.
A stranger would think from this conversation that Zeraiah was angry at Bartimaeus but that was not the case at all. If not for Bartimaeus he knew that he would be sleeping on the street. Bartimaeus had graciously offered to let Zeraiah move into his one room hovel 20 years before when Bartimaeus’, father, his only living relative had passed away. They had been inseparable since.
“Hurry, Bartimaeus, we will be late. Someone else may take our place by the city gate.”
Both men groped for their walking sticks and walked arm in arm down the busy street toward the spot where they had begged for the past 20 years. Both would have preferred to earn a living in meaningful employment, but there was no such opportunity for a blind man.
As they passed the home of the widow of Jacob, the cobbler, she pressed a piece of day old bread in each ones hand. “May God bless you for your goodness”, said Bartimaeus as he did every morning.
They arrived to find that no one had taken their spot. They placed their walking sticks against the wall just inside the gate and slowly lowered themselves down to the dusty street.
“Have you noticed that it is very noisy this morning. Something is going on”, observed Bartimaeus.
“It is always noisy, My Friend”, offered Zeraiah. “You are hearing things in your old age.”
“No! You are wrong, Zeraiah. Something is going on. Besides I am not old. Younger than you if I remember correctly.”
“If you say so”, Zeraiah said dismissively as he began his usual chant, “Alms, alms, mercy for a blind man.”
Bartimaeus could sense the tension in the air. He called out to whoever would answer, “What is it; what is going on?”
Joshua the lame man who always sat near them answered, “Haven’t you heard, Bartimaeus? It is the prophet, the one called Jesus; the one who heals. He is coming through Jericho on his way to Jerusalem.”
“A man who heals”, scowled Zeraiah. “How foolish can you be, Joshua. Next you’ll be seeing the Messiah.”
“Some say he is the messiah, Zeraiah.”
“Now I know. You are not only lame in the limbs but also in the brain.”
“Zeraiah, don’t talk that way about our friend”, scolded Bartmaeus.
“This is foolishness, Bartimaeus. Do you really believe that this man heals?
About that time the level of noise and excitement grew. People were shouting,” Hail to the King, the son of David.”
“He is here!”, shouted Joseph.
Bartimaeus stood up. There was this strange feeling coursing through his body. He sensed that this was the moment he had waited for all those many years.
He shouted at the top of his lungs, “Lord, son of David, have mercy on us!”
Zeraiah also stood up and shouted for mercy. He too was caught up in the excitement. He knew Bartimaeus well. He was not a man to show emotion unless there was good reason. “Could his friend be right”, he thought to himself.
People around them tried to quiet them but they just shouted louder.
Jesus stopped right in front of them and called to them. The crowd grew quiet. Bartimaeus and Zeraiah walked toward his voice arm in arm. It was a strong, yet gentle voice Bartimaeus thought to himself. “If only I could see Him.”
“What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.
“Lord, give us our sight back”, said Bartimaeus.
“Yes”, repeated Zeraiah. “Give us our sight.”
Jesus felt compassion for them. He touched their eyes.
“I can see shouted, Zeraiah. I can see!”
Bartimaeus looked at his friend for the first time and laughed with joy. Then he looked into the eyes of the man who had healed him and saw what he seen many times in his darkness. He saw the face of God.
Jesus turned to continue into Jericho. “Come Zeraiah, we must follow the Master”, said Bartimaeus.
Zeraiah balked. “I can not”, he replied.
“Why not, my friend? Did he not give us our sight back?”
“Yes, Bartimaeus, and for that I am eternally grateful, but don’t you see; for the first time in many years I am free. No longer bound by blindness I can become a tradesman and make a living. I will no longer have to beg on the streets. I can find a soft loving woman and marry. We will have children.”
“I understand, Zeraiah. I have dreamed of these very same things, but don’t you see, we have been touched by the hand of God. We will never be the same again. Though we may try to deny him we can not. It is the will of God.”
Bartimaeus turned and glanced longingly toward the crowd that surrounded Jesus as he continued down the street. “Go, my friend”, said Zeraiah. “Do what you must do. May God bless you.”
The two men embraced for a long moment. “Shalom, My Friend”, said Bartimaeus as he pulled away and ran down the street to follow Jesus.
Zeraiah was sad to see his dearest friend go but at the same time we felt a joy he had never known before. He picked up the two walking canes and handed them to beggars still trapped in their infirmary. “Why did he heal us and not them he wondered?”
He began to walk down the street toward Bartimaeus’ hovel. “I guess it is my hovel now”, he laughed to himself. At times he found that he had to close his eyes to remember the way. He passed the well where he and Bartimaeus had stopped every morning and evening to take a sip of the cool fresh water. He greeted people along the way. Their faces were foreign but as soon as they spoke he called their names. Soon he came to the home of the Joseph, the cobbler’s widow. He expected a heavenly angel but found a quite ordinary woman who looked tired and worn by the years.
As he neared home people gathered around him greeting him and celebrating his good fortune. The people kept coming bringing food and wine. They celebrated far into the night. When finally they all went home Zeraiah climbed up to the roof to bed down in the cool night air. He laid down and gazed into the starry sky. He had forgotten how beautiful it was. He wondered about Bartimaeus. Would he ever see his friend again?
The next day he immediately starting looking for work. He would apprentice himself out for a trade but no one was interested in hiring a man his age. The well wishers soon forgot about him. He became lonely and hungered for the companionship of his old friend. He refused to beg alms. People assumed that now he could see that he no longer needed their help.
He soon found that his blindness had provided him some degree of security. Now he had none. He heard two men talking one day that there was plenty of work in Jerusalem especially with the Passover coming up, so Zeraiah decided to move to Jerusalem. Surely he would find work there and make his fortune. It was just a days journey, but the road was treacherous and haunted by bandits. Since he had no possessions he figured he had nothing to lose.
Jerusalem was overflowing with people; pilgrims for the Passover; merchants selling their wares; prostitutes and thieves; and every other type of predator. As he entered the city he noticed that there was a great commotion. People were running and gathering along the street.
“What is going on?” he asked of a stranger.
“Have you not heard? They are going to crucify him.”
“Who he asked. What are you talking about?”
“The prophet. The one called Jesus. They are now taking him to Golgatha.”
A cold shiver ran through his body. His heart raced; his mind became a blur. What can I do he wondered. Then he thought of Bartimaeus.
“Is he the only one? Are they crucifying any of his followers?”
“No”, the man laughed. “They scattered like scared chickens. They are crucifying a couple of thieves at the same time but not his followers.”
“Where is this happening?”
“Follow me. I am on my way there now.”
As they drew near Zeraiah ran ahead. He pushed his way through the crowds that lined the street and then what he saw struck terror into his heart. Jesus was coming down the street, beaten and bloody, bearing his own cross.
Zeraiah wanted to help but he didn’t know what to do. Just as Jesus passed in front of him he stumbled. Zeraiah reached out to grab his arm and hold him up. Jesus turned his head, looked into his eyes, and mumbled his name, “Zeraiah”.
One of the Roman soldiers struck Zeraiah with his club and he fell unconscious to the ground. When he awakened Jesus was gone; the crowds were gone; he saw only the face of Bartimaeus looking down on him.
“Yes it is me, My Friend.”
“Jesus, what… where…”
“Golgotha. They have taken him to be crucified.”
“Why? What did he do to deserve crucifixion?”
“Nothing, My Friend, but that is the way it must be.”
“I don’t understand…”
“Come, come with me, Zeraiah. I have much to tell you.”