Summary: A skeptical reporter talks to the once-blind Bartimaeus about his encounter with the itinerant preacher Yeshua of Nazareth.

Good morning. This is The News Hour with Gaius Petronius, bringing you a special report from the Imperial Province of Judea in Palestine on Tuesday, April 9th, in the 16th year of the reign of the Emperor Tiberius. Today we have a newsmaker interview from Jericho, where the notorious Galilean rabbi Yeshua bar Joseph is reported to have healed a blind beggar. First some background from our Middle East correspondent, Quintus Parvo.

Thank you, Gaius Petronius. Crowds have been following this obscure Galilean ever since he first appeared on the Judean political and religious scene about 3 years ago. John the Baptizer, the wild-eyed, flamboyant so-called "prophet" killed last year by King Herod for treason, performed the ritual Jewish rite of cleansing for Yeshua in the river Jordan, just a few miles to the east of this busy Judean market town. Some eyewitnesses claim to have heard a voice from heaven when Yeshua came up out of the river; while this is disputed by impartial observers, there is no doubt that many of John’s followers abandoned him for the new leader. Temple officials from Jerusalem and Roman soldiers from Caesaria have been keeping a close eye on this man; all remember the recent tax revolt which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Judeans. Morale in town and countryside alike remains low, especially in Galilee, long known for producing hotheads and troublemakers, and all large gatherings are strictly monitored for

fear of riots.

So far, however, fears of another such rebellion seem to be wholly unjustified. Yeshua’s followers refer to him as Rabbi, or Teacher, and although there is no evidence that he ever received any formal training, there is no doubt that this Yeshua has an impressive grasp of Jewish religion and history. He seems to spend most of his time healing sick people, and the crowds around him would look more at home in infirmaries than at political rallies. He appears to specialize in exorcisms, although this is not the first reported instance of a blind man recovering his sight. Yeshua preaches simple living, charity and forgiveness; his followers pay their taxes without complaint, and there are unconfirmed reports that he has healed Gentiles - even Roman soldiers - as well as Jews. His teachings seem largely benign, although the temple lawyers complain that he encourages the common people not to respect the law. Many of his followers are women, which is surprising in this part of the world, but they seem to behave very modestly, and there have been no reports of lewd behavior. From what we’ve heard so far, Caesar doesn’t seem to have anything to worry about.

For the last few weeks, Yeshua and his entourage have been moving somewhat erratically toward Jerusalem, for the annual feast of Passover, which draws Jews from all over the world. Tension is always at its height during this time of year; extra soldiers are sent in from the coast and a special effort is made to take known troublemakers into custody before the city begins to fill up. As Jericho is only a couple of day’s walk north of Jerusalem, everyone wants to know what this Galilean Rabbi Yeshua and his crowd are bringing to the city. What can we expect? Who are these people? One of our reporters has been traveling with them, and will bring us up to date.

Thank you, Quintus. It’s been a very interesting week down here with Yeshua and his disciples. There’s a real feeling in the air that something’s about to happen. The teams that were sent out on healing trips at the beginning of the year have all come back, full of stories and adventures, but the 12-man inner circle has been acting very strangely, whispering together in corners, and staring at Yeshua whenever he’s busy with someone else. There have been rumors that the rabbi will announce as the Messiah when they reach Jerusalem, but he refuses to confirm or deny. Everyone is on edge. Last night James and John got into an altercation over which of them was most important, and Yeshua got very upset. He gave them a long lecture, the essence of which seemed to be that even servants were more important than they were. He seems very much opposed to ostentation and display, doesn’t wear expensive robes or jewels, and just last week refused even to see a delegation that wanted to crown him king. One day he alienated a rich young man, a pillar of the local community, who probably could have been counted on for substantial support, and the next day he ate with the local pariah, a tax collector named Zacchaeus, which offended almost everyone else. It really doesn’t look as though this unusual man has any political ambition, but just exactly what he is up to remains unclear. One of the most dramatic events since I’ve been with the group happened yesterday.

Yeshua’s following were finally on their way out of Jericho when a shout came from the crowds lining the road to wave goodbye. People are always cheering for him, of course, but this was different; we could see the people around the shouter trying to silence him. It was a blind man, a beggar named Bartimaeus, standing there shouting "Yeshua Ben David, have mercy on me!" And Reb Yeshua stopped, and so of course everyone else stopped too, and Bartimaeus was still shouting "Yeshua Ben David, have mercy on me!" And the rabbi had one of his disciples go get Bartimaeus to be quiet and come tell him what he wanted. And the beggar said, "I just want to be able to see again." And Yeshua said something like, "OK, faith has healed you, you may go." But he didn’t go; he joined the group going up to Jerusalem with the rabbi instead, and is here to tell you in person just what it feels like to be the recipient of what looks - even to this hardened and cynical reporter - like a real miracle.

Tell me, Bartimaeus, what made you stand up and shout like that in the first place?

Well, as usual when there’s a crowd out mostly I was just trying to make sure I didn’t get stepped on, and that I kept hold of my cloak. It’s the only thing I own, you know, and I’ve almost lost it a couple of times. But then I heard someone say that it was the Galilean rabbi, Yeshua, who was coming. And I knew I’d probably never have another chance, so everything else just went out of my mind. What’s that?

Well, I knew he could heal me if he wanted. He’s the Son of David. - Oh, of course, you wouldn’t understand about that, would you, you’re a Roman. You see, we had a real king in Israel once, whom the Lord YHWH chose, and who loved YHWH and obeyed Him. And the Lord promised that someday one of David’s descendants would come back and when he did the deaf would hear and the lame walk and the blind would see.

YHWH? Haven’t you heard that name? That’s the name of God, the God who created the universe, our God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, our ancestors. It means I AM WHO I AM. Oh, yes, some of the Jerusalem lawyers say we shouldn’t say the name out loud. But I say, how can you praise His name if you won’t even say it?

How did I know that Yeshua is the Son of David? Well, I hear things, you know. Not much gets by me, and I have time to think. You saw what he did for me, didn’t you? That’s not all he’s done, you know. There’s even a woman up in Nain whose son had died - And all the prophecies fit, you see. He’s from David’s line, and he even comes from Galilee of the Gentiles. It all came together in my head, as if God was speaking directly to me, you know? And I just knew. It was like a pressure inside that made me stand up and shout, I didn’t even stop to grab my cloak or worry about what the people around me would do, it was just something I had to do.

Did I have doubts? Well, I suppose I might have, if I’d stopped to think, but there really wasn’t time. And doesn’t one of your own poets say something about "seize the day"? Carpe diem, isn’t it? When something matters that much, and you’ve only got one chance, you leap or you lose. If I’d just stayed there on the side of the road, wondering if I was about to make a fool of myself, I’d still be there, and he’d be in Jerusalem, and I’d have missed out on everything.

I suppose that’s what he meant when he said, "Your faith has saved you." If I hadn’t believed he was the Son of David, and could make me see again, I wouldn’t have stood up and yelled like that.

Whaddya mean, what does it feel like to be able to see? Now that’s a pretty stupid question, isn’t it? What do you think it feels like? It feels like not being blind any more, that’s what it feels like. I tell you, you don’t know how much it means to be able to see until you can’t any more. I tell you, I’ll drink up sights like water for the rest of my life. What a gift!

Why didn’t I go home, like he told me to? Why should I go home when I can follow the rabbi? What’s better than that? I tell you, he’s the Son of David. Great things are happening, I want to be part of it. Besides, I owe him. Maybe I can do something for him some day. Anyway, I want to be around.

Yes, I know he didn’t tell me to come along. But he hasn’t told me to leave. And until he tells me different, I’m staying right here. And I am at home, really. I’ve never been more at home. It’s as though we’re all part of the same family, we all belong, we all look out for each other. You’ve been around him for longer than I have, can’t you see it? Don’t you feel it?

My cloak? Yes, I forgot it. I would have left more than that behind, if I had anything else to lose. The only thing that mattered was getting to the Teacher, and being able to see again. And I don’t miss it anyway, there’s always someone willing to share when it’s cold.

Well of course I think he’s a king, that’s what Son of David means! But what kind of king? Who knows? Do you Romans tell your Emperor Tiberius what to do? The rabbi will do what’s right, that’s all I know. He’ll tell me what to do. Do I expect him to make me a lord? Now, that’s a laugh, me - Bartimaeus the beggar, a lord! Why should he make me a lord? I just want to follow, and learn, and help, if I can. I’ve got my reward. Excuse me - I want to get back up front, I don’t want to miss anything.

Well, Quintus, there you have it: the testimony of Bartimaeus, the former blind beggar of Jericho, now the latest follower of Rabbi Yeshua bar Joseph. This movement is something altogether outside of my experience. A king without a throne or a crown, an army that heals instead of fights, and something else that I don’t altogether understand. They don’t sacrifice to the goddess Fortune, they don’t believe that chance and luck rule. They really think that there is only one God, who controls everything, all of history, who chose them, spoke to them, lived with and protected them. They really believe that what they do in this little out-of the way corner of the Empire matters more to God than Rome and her legions. They talk about God’s promises as if they were as modern as today’s imperial proclamation, instead of hundreds of years old, crumbling away on old parchments. They believe that in following this Reb Yeshua that they’re in on the inside track of whatever it is that this God of theirs is doing. Many of them have given up position, wealth, and family to do it. That tax collector Zacchaeus wound up giving half of his money away to the poor. A lot of people besides Bartimaeus say out loud that he’s the Son of David; others call him, the Anointed One, or Messiah. He doesn’t deny it. Something unusual is happening here.

But I can’t see it going anywhere. Whatever it is that Yeshua ben Joseph wants, he’s not going to get it. He threatens too many people. I don’t think that this king business is any real danger to Rome, it’s just some kind of religious talk, and we’ve always managed our provinces by being tolerant of the local beliefs, no matter how strange they might seem to a Roman. But the temple lawyers that were hanging around the edges heckling for so long have been too quiet; I think they’re planning something. They really hate him, and it’s not just politics. It feels really personal to me, and you know how ugly family fights can get. I can see Pilate having to intervene, to keep Jerusalem from exploding. Tiberius isn’t going to be so lenient next time he lets a riot get out of hand.

No, this movement, as amazing as it is, isn’t going to go anywhere. They’re heading for disaster; if not now, then soon. The only way they can succeed is if their fierce desert God really is who they think he is, actually more powerful than Rome, and her legions, and all her gods - and I just can’t see it, can you?