During the 1980s, a government scandal that took place during the Reagan administration went by the name of Iran-Contra. As a Senate investigation committee looked into matters, Colonel Oliver North was called to testify. He’d been what’s called a “White House operative” during that period.
North sat at a table in the hearing room accompanied by his attorney, Brendan Sullivan, member of a high-powered Washington legal firm. During the questioning period, a senator would ask North something, he would turn and confer with Sullivan, then turn back to the microphone and answer. Another question would be asked, North would confer with Sullivan, then answer.
Once in a while, Attorney Sullivan would respond to a senator’s question that it was vague or out of line or mistaken. Finally, in exasperation, the chairman of the committee, Hawaii’s Senator Daniel Inouye, erupted, “Sir! We would like to get a straight answer from Colonel North without your interruptions. Could I just ask a simple question and get an answer without you butting in?”
Brendan Sullivan said, “Well, sir…I’m not a potted plant. I’m here as the lawyer. That’s my job.”
I was watching that hearing from my living room couch and recall thinking, “Zing! You got him there, Mister Attorney. Great answer.”
That day, “I’m not a potted plant” entered the vernacular in American life. Google it or type it into a wikipedia search and it comes up on that Senate hearing.
When we say someone is a potted plant, we mean they are a non-entity, a nobody, a zero, a cipher, someone who does not count for anything, who can be safely ignored.
There is such a man in the 18th chapter of Luke’s Gospel. We call him Blind Bartimaeus. His community treated him like a potted plant. But he receives my nomination as the “smartest man in Jericho.”
And it came about as (Jesus) was approaching Jericho, a certain blind man was sitting by the road, begging. Now, hearing a multitude going by, he began to inquire what this might be. And they told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by.
And he called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Those who led the way were sternly telling him to be quiet. But he kept crying out all the more,”Son of David, have mercy on me!”
And Jesus stopped and commanded that he be brought to Him. And when he had come near, He questioned him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And he said, “Lord, I want to regain my sight!” And Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight. Your faith has made you well.”
Immediately, he regained his sight, and began following Him, glorifying God. And when all the people saw it, they gave praise to God. (Luke 18:35-43)
The panhandler you see at the same intersection every day pretty soon becomes invisible. That’s how it was with the man we call Blind Bartimaeus. He was the ultimate potted plant as far as most of the townspeople were concerned. That’s why he was parked outside the city gate on a road leading into town: he hoped to catch travelers before they spent their money in the city.
When Luke tells his story, he doesn’t even give the man’s name. Mark’s account (Mk. 10) is only slightly better, because Bartimaeus isn’t a name at all. “Bar” is Aramaic for “son,” and “Timaeus” would have been his father’s name. So, the blind beggar of Jericho was known as the Son of Timaeus.
People often make a serious error about handicapped people. They think because you are limited in one area, you are in other ways also. So, because you are blind, they treat you like you’re deaf and raise their voice to you. Or, they see you as blind or deaf and think you’re also stupid. So, they talk down to you, or worse, don’t talk to you at all.
Anyone making such an assumption about Bartimaeus would have been seriously off. He gets my vote as the smartest man in Jericho. For four reasons….
1. He kept his mouth shut.
Because he was an embarrassment to the citizens of his town, he had parked himself out of the city and spoke to them seldom. So, when he did speak–to call on Jesus–it was so out of character for him that some resented it.
2. He kept his ears opened.
By keeping quiet, Bartimaeus picked up on the conversation around him. Eventually, people no longer noticed him sitting by the roadside and they talked freely.
Since this was toward the end of Jesus’ three-year ministry, everyone in this region had heard of the Man of Galilee. No one had not heard.
People talked of the teachings of Jesus. They said, “No one ever spoke like Him.” And they repeated some of the things they’d heard.
People talked about his miracles–the healings and even at least three people raised from the dead. But what caught Bartimaeus’ full attention was reports that He had restored sight to blind people.
Bartimaeus heard discussions about whether Jesus was the Messiah. He heard Old Testament scriptures discussed, some saying that the Messiah would sit on the throne of his father David and would be known as the Son of David.
3. He thought deeply about what he heard.
Taking all these reports in, the blind beggar of Jericho reflected on them as to what they meant. He had his own opinion, but day by day as he listened to the people around him–especially those near the city gate–he refined his own conclusions.
The Old Testament tells us that city leaders would often gather at the gates of a town as a meeting place. Since there were no newspapers or television or radio, the single way of getting news was from people just arriving in the city. So, leaders automatically assembled there. (When I was a kid, in the days before shopping malls changed downtowns forever, the courthouse square was the place to see anyone and everyone. I recall going with my dad to the courthouse square in Jasper, Alabama, on a Saturday. It would take him a full hour to go one block. He seemed to know everyone and to have business with half of them.)
4. And he made two extremely wise decisions.
Bartimaeus decided that Jesus of Nazareth was indeed the Messiah who had been predicted and prophesied throughout the Bible. And, therefore, he made one more critical decision: at the next opportunity, he would meet Jesus and give Him a chance to change his life forever.
Bartimaeus knew that Jesus had been through Jericho numerous times before. It was the regular stop on the way to Jerusalem for Jews traveling from the northern regions who did not wish to travel through Samaria. They would walk down the Jordan Valley to Jericho, known as “the city of palms,” and perhaps spend the night and rest up for the last leg of their journey. Then, they would turn west and begin the ascent up various hills and mountains on their way to Jerusalem, some 17 or 18 miles away.
But all the other times, Bartimaeus heard that Jesus was in Jericho after he had left. That’s why he made the decision that the next time, he would not miss Jesus.
That’s why I call him the smartest man in town.
He was smarter than he knew.
What Bartimaeus did not know was that this was Jesus’ final visit to Jericho. He was on His way to Jerusalem and had a date with a cross on a hill named Golgotha. He would not be back this way again.
Had Bartimaeus been foolish–he wasn’t, but just saying–he would have reasoned, “Now, Jesus is a young man. Why, he’s barely 30. He’s been through here many times, and I’m sure he’ll be back many more. One of these days, I’m going to call on him. But not today.”
How often have I heard people say, “One of these days, preacher.” My friend, that is the biggest scam in the universe. It’s a greater scam than the woman in the African country whose husband died leaving her a hundred million dollars in a U.S. bank and she needs your help to get it out. It’s a bigger scam than the friend who emails that he’s stuck in a London hotel without his billfold and needs you to wire him cash. Those are scams, but they are nothing compared to the one that originates in the bowels of hell and tells you, “It’s just fine for you to be saved and turn your life over to Jesus Christ. One of these days. Not today, of course.”
I have no doubt there will be many in hell saying, “But I had planned to be saved. I had every intention of giving my life to Jesus.”
Bartimaeus was smart. He grabbed the first opportunity to meet Jesus. And if you are wise, you will too.
That’s why, when he heard the crowd going by, Bartimaeus began to ask, “Who’s here? Who’s coming into town? Who is this?” And because he was a potted plant, there is no doubt in my mind that for a while, no one answered him. Finally, someone said, “Jesus of Nazareth is coming to town, old man. Now, hold it down.”
A chill ran over him. This was his moment. This was what he had been waiting for and praying for.
I think he struggled to his feet, to be ready. And he called out, “Jesus! Son of David! Have mercy on me!”
Being blind, he had no way of knowing whether Jesus was in front of him or a mile up the road. But he was not going to miss him.
“Jesus! Son of David! Have mercy on me!!”
“Mister, would you hold it down? We’re trying to have a nice reception for our distinguished visitor and His entourage and all we need is a blind beggar creating a scene.”
“JESUS! HAVE MERCY ON ME!”
He would not be silenced.
I told you he was smart.
Marge was married to a drunken gambler who abused her. The priest agreed that to save her sanity and probably her life, she would be justified in divorcing him. Then, after the divorce, the priest said, “Now, you understand you cannot take communion in our church. But anytime you’re in another town where no one knows you, it’s all right to take it there.”
Marge said to me, “Pastor, I didn’t know much. But I knew that I wanted Jesus, and if I wanted Him, He surely wanted me.”
Jesus said, “The one who comes to me, I will in no wise cast out.” (John 6:37)
When Jesus came within earshot, He stopped.
“What is that?”
“O Lord, we’ve got this blind beggar and he keeps calling for you.”
“Then, bring him to me.”
All right, let’s press the pause button for a moment.
“Uh, Lord, excuse me. But the beggar is sitting by the road, just this side of the city gate. And you’re on the road. If you’ll just keep walking, the path will take you right where he is.”
So why did the Lord ask the people around Him to bring Bartimaeus to Him?
He didn’t say.
But we know.
Jesus could have done this all by Himself. He did not need the help of anyone to heal the blind beggar. He does not need my help or yours to reach the lost. But He gives us a role in reaching people.
I believe the Lord was saying, “I want you to have a part in reaching this man. I want you to quit seeing him as a potted plant, and start valuing him as someone whom God loves and for whom Jesus died.”
They’re all around us, those invisible people. We see them but don’t see them. They’re in the laundromat, they pass us in the convenience stores and post office, they work as grocery checkers and stock boys and service station attendants.
God give us eyes to see them as He does. And to do our part in bringing them to the Savior.
They led Bartimaeus down the road to Jesus. After a short distance, they stopped. Bartimaeus stood there in his darkness, waiting. Then he heard that voice.
What must that voice have sounded like? Wouldn’t you love to have heard it?
“What do you want me to do for you?”
Uh, Lord. Excuse me. Anyone can see the man is a blind beggar. He needs healing. That’s what he has been calling for.
The question is not whether you and I can see his need. The issue is whether he himself knows it. Will he admit his need to Jesus and ask for healing?
To this point, Bartimaeus has been asking for mercy. That’s a broad category. So, the Lord asked him to get specific. “What exactly are you asking for?”
He could have said anything. “Lord, do you have any money? Five dollars?” “Lord, make these people be nice to me.” “Lord, help me find a better begging place.” “Could we get a training program for the blind?”
Any of these would have fallen under the heading of ‘mercy.’
“Lord,” he said. “I want to receive my sight.”
Ah, there it was.
And the Lord Jesus, who had not attended the Television Evangelist School of Dramatic Arts and Miracles which would have shown Him how to slap the poor guy upside the head and slain him in the Spirit, simply said, “All right. Then be healed.”
And he was.
Thereafter, Bartimaeus followed Jesus into the city, praising God all the way. And–I love this–when the people saw who was following Jesus and praising God, they joined in.
Wouldn’t it be great for our praise to be so contagious and our testimony so convincing that others who see will want to join in.
Someone reading this feels like you are the potted plant. Others overlook you, ignore you, and try to discourage you when you take the initiative to do something positive for your life.
Jesus is here, friend, and He believes in you. Get up and come to Him.
Someone reading this is more like I am, tending to ignore the poor guys who gather at the intersections to hold up boards saying, “Hungry. Need help.” We need the reminder to see them as Jesus sees them and to do our part in loving them and bringing them to Him.
A hundred years ago, former baseball player Billy Sunday was preaching in evangelistic crusades all across America. His songleader was a gentleman named Homer Rodeheaver. Many years ago, I heard an old recording of his voice singing a song he had written about this blind beggar of Jericho. By then, Rodeheaver was old and his voice broke as he sang. But I will never ever forget the power of that song as he told the story….
One sat alone beside the highway begging;
His eyes were blind; the light he could not see.
He clutched his rags and shivered in the shadows.
Then Jesus came and made his darkness flee.
When Jesus comes, the tempter’s power is broken.
When Jesus comes, the clouds are washed away.
He takes the gloom and fills the life with glory.
For all is changed, when Jesus comes to stay.