Contradiction? — Matthew 20:29–34

The King’s actions

This is one of those passages which if you read it in each of the synoptic Gospels it contradicts. Luke has the healing happening to one man as Jesus enters Jericho, Matthew and Mark have it as Jesus leaves the city, Matthew heals two men, whilst Mark has one man named Bartimaeus.

A blind-deaf man walking with a res and white cane.
Picture from Wikimedia Commons

29 And as they went out of Jericho, a great crowd followed him. 30 And behold, there were two blind men sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was passing by, they cried out, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” 31 The crowd rebuked them, telling them to be silent, but they cried out all the more, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” 32 And stopping, Jesus called them and said, “What do you want me to do for you?” 33 They said to him, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.” 34 And Jesus in pity touched their eyes, and immediately they recovered their sight and followed him.

Matthew 20:29 – 34

We have a blind friend, My wife and I were accompanying her home in a city we did not know, especially in the maze of residential streets. On the way, we met a stranger asking for directions. We were unable to help, two of us were sighted but did not know the area and the other used a different way of learning directions. We must have looked a sight, one walking with a white stick and another on crutches.

The first thing I notice about the story of the two blind men is that they wanted to be healed. Wanting to be healed is important, there is only one occurrence in the Bible where someone was healed without asking, apart from raising the dead, and that was when Peter and John heal a disabled man in the Jerusalem gate. Even then the healed man was delighted and leapt about praising God.

Do not worry about the discrepancy in the timing of the different accounts, it makes no difference to the story. The event happens outside Jericho on the way to Jesus’ final trip to Jerusalem. The Commentary I used when I started this Matthew series says Jesus healed Bartimaeus and his friend. I cannot hold to that. There are only four Gospels in the Bible: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. If I were to do a mash-up of say the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke and say something like. “The shepherds came to the manger when Jesus was born and the wise men about two years later,” that would be neither the Gospel of Matthew nor Luke. I have written a new Gospel, the Gospel of Steve, and the Gospel of Steve is not in the Bible. It is based on Bible accounts, but it is not authoritative like Matthew and Luke which are in the Bible. In the same way to say that Jesus healed Bartimaeus and his friend is not in Matthew’s or Mark’s Gospel but is a mash-up of the two, the Gospel of Warren, which is not the Bible. That does not mean that the Gospel of Warren is not useful in Bible study, it is very useful. I am not going to be deleting it from my Kindle app. Comparing the accounts is good too, just be aware that putting the accounts together to attempt a coherent narrative is writing a new Gospel. In any case, a study of Luke’s Gospel shows that between the incarnation and passion narratives there is no pretence of any chronology, it just says that on another occasion Jesus did …

That Matthew has two men healed instead of one is interesting. Matthew doubles the number at this part of story, the journey from Jericho to Jerusalem both in the number of blind men cured but also in the number of donkeys in the journey into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Previously Matthew had said there were two demoniacs in the Gaderine region when Mark and Luke mentioned only one.

One reason given is that in each occurrence there were two there, but as only one spoke to Jesus only one is mentioned by Mark and Luke. But after that casting out the Gadreine demons into a herd of pigs the crowds see the man in his right mind. Still singular. That explanation does not fit.

Another is that Matthew’s gospel was written in a Semitic language whose poetry uses repetition and the translators into Greek took the repetitions as two. Sadly we do not know this.

A third is that for something to be taken as true in Jewish law there had to be a minimum of two witnesses, so Matthew was doubling the number of people, and donkeys, as a code for this really happened. Sadly this will have to remain a theory also.

We will have to live with the discrepancies. Any attempt to make a mash-up of the Gospels is writing another Gospel, and while there is nothing wrong with this, the new Gospel is not scripture. Living with discrepancies is no bad thing, each gives us a different aspect of the story and adds to, not detracts from, our knowledge of Jesus, God and the Bible.

There is something peculiar about Matthew’s Gospel. I mentioned above in this post that Luke’s Gospel has no regard for chronology. Mathew’s Gospel also takes a free approach to when things happened, collecting things thematically. This miracle continues from the story of James and John’s mother: She wanted her boys to have a place of honour in Jesus’ kingdom and Jesus explained to the disciple that being a leader in his kingdom meant being a servant to other people. Jesus demonstrates what it is like to serve others by granting the wish of the men by the road. This is the last miracle recorded of Jesus before the Palm Sunday procession, and it shows the love of Jesus for people the crowd rejected.

Some Christians get what it means to be a servant of God but find the idea of serving other people difficult. Jesus summed up the whole law in two commandments, Love God and love your neighbour as yourself. I am not about to enter the argument of whether the first of these is greater than the other of they have equal status, theologians have been arguing that for millennia with no consensus, but both, in either case, are important. Serving other people is what we do. If you can’t say that, or if you put conditions in such as serving people like us is what we do, or serving white people is what we do, or serving straight people is what we do, or even serving people from our own country is what we do. then you are not following Jesus: You are acting like the crowd who tried to shut the blind men up.

People still cry out to Jesus, often it is still the same people that cried out in Jesus’ day, the disabled, the bereaved, and society still does not accept these people, the neurodiverse, sometimes it is people within the church that use the name of Jesus that keep people away from Jesus. Jesus accepts all who come to him. How accepted would someone be in your church if they wear the same clothes they have had on all week? Or if they are LGBT+? How will the congregation react if an epileptic has a seizure during or after the service, or an autistic has a meltdown? People are looking for Jesus and the church erects barriers to stop them from getting through.

Let us call out to Jesus. If people rebuke us and tell us to be quiet it just might be a sign that we are doing it right.

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