Blogging Towards Sunday, March 4th
Spiritual sight is something that most of us are looking for. It’s not primarily the capacity to know all things that we long for, but more for perspective, balance and direction. I’ve spent years praying for sudden illumination, the sort of explosive religious experience that comes to mind when you think of Paul on the way to Damascus, Moses in front of the burning bush, or Esther in her journey to queenship.
We live among a few spiritual giants: Mother Teresa, MLK Jr., Desmond Tutu, Billy Graham, the Dalai Lama, other yogis. We have our own lists which differ with specifics, but have the same focus. I’ve been around people who had an authority that you could feel. It was as if the air was different around them, the space changed, their perspective stretching out to impact me, to invite me to deeper vision, wiser words, radical humility and action. But how do you achieve that? You can’t buy it in the dollar bin at Target. Nor can you order it from the Great Speakers’ Series.
The disciples were also looking for such authority, perspective and leadership. Last week we heard of the feeding of the 4,000 with the Bread that Jesus multiplies and then the stark warning of the master to avoid the leaven of the Pharisees and Herodians who would seek to mislead the disciples from the Way. Jesus is pointing towards some sort of freedom that comes in and by faith, a freedom to relate to others, to be in different sorts of community that reflects God’s love and involve concrete actions of solidarity and healing redemption here in the world. The others seem to point back to a black and white observance of purity laws, to maintain righteousness through distance from the world.
Mark 8:22 – 10:52 is seen as the fourth major section of Mark’s gospel, and the very heart of his good news. This sections both begins and ends with healings stories of the blind receiving sight: Mark 8:22-26 & 10:46-52. In between the disciples are given a vision of Jesus: through confession and then an epiphany experience on the mountaintop. Up until now the gospel has been filled with healings and miraculous encounters. This section contains only 3: the 2 healings of the blind and an exorcism of an epileptic boy in 9:14-29. In many ways the disciples are like the blind men: even though they display an insight into the identity of Jesus that transcends human knowledge, they still don’t see. Like the boy’s deliverance, they too still struggle with faith and disbelief. They are on a journey of The Way: a journey in which human blindness is healed, human subjection to demonic forces terminated, and the royal power of God experienced.
Today’s section begins with massive amounts of vocabulary about seeing and hearing. It follows as section (8:1-21) in which the disciples are rebuked for their lack of vision. How is the man healed in 8:22-26? Why does it take two interventions of Jesus? What does it mean that he sees things as if they were trees walking around? Is Jesus not strong enough to heal him in one touch? Is he more blind than others? What is the obstacle that keeps him from seeing clearly immediately?
Some would say that the pessimistic view of humanity is that we are blind and cannot see like God. Some would say that the optimistic view of humanity – what we experience as spiritual giants and authorities – are those that through grace, spiritual practice or divine gift are able to see with new eyes, or even a third eye. The second subsection of today’s text 8:27-33 points to that. Gathered in a pagan city in Northern Palestine, which was the site of a great temple with a gigantic statue of Caesar Augustus (in which his divinity was worshipped). Caeserea Philippi was also the site were the Roman General Vespasian was celebrated by his troops for suppressing the Jewish rebellion. It was a city associated with imperial rule, messianic hope and violent death: a perfect backdrop for this encounter.
Jesus, teaching like Socrates, asks a series of two questions. The conversation both begins and ends with him. Did you notice how the vocabulary shifts from seeing and hearing to teaching and speaking? Jesus asks first who others say he is, then asks his disciples who they say he is. He moves them from observation to confession, from an objective conclusion to a subjective commitment.
The teachings of Jesus are counter-cultural not just in terms of calling people to a community of disciples gathered by a common faith in a God who loves by grace all people – no matter their gender, race or nationality. His call to faith is an eye-opening challenging to the ancient assumption, and unspoken current understanding, that God loves and blesses the beautiful, powerful, un-handicapped and wealthy – which is why they’re so “blessed.” Jesus calls those that follow him, and reminds Peter in his mistaken advice to get behind him to follow him, to renounce a simplistic vision of God as a blesser of those that are followed by the paparazzi (powerful, beautiful, famous), to a deeper experience of a God who enters into our world, into our human condition, into our suffering – to heal and free us, to complete and redeem us, to love and to grace us. Our integrity as disciples (as was the case for Peter and the others) is how much are we with the program of Jesus?; Or how much are we putting forward our own program, based on our own assumptions, ideas and wishes – no matter how well meaning?
How do you hear God calling you to a new experience of faith, discipleship and spiritual vision through this text today?
How do you need to have your vision healed in order to not to see Jesus how we want to, but to see Jesus as he is?