All week we’ve been looking at Mark’s Gospel (chapters 6-11) trying to make sense of the strange two-stage healing in Mark 8:22-26. We’ve seen some blind disciples finally “see” who Jesus is – yet not all that clearly. They’re still thinking in human terms. Jesus tries to tell them that he’s about servanthood, not the exercise of power, but they remain stubbornly blind. In the next chapter (Mark 11), Jesus tries to enlighten them further – and not only them, but all of Jerusalem.
This week we’ve looked at the strange two-stage healing in Mark 8:22-26, trying to work out what it’s all about. So far, we’ve looked at the chapters leading up to this story in which the disciples (and others) are blind to who Jesus is, despite all they have seen. This may explain the “blindness” element of the story. But what of the strange two-stage way in which Jesus heals them? The next part of the story may be important.
Because what happens next is universally identified as a key moment, a turning-point in Mark’s Gospel:Mk 8:27-30 Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.” Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.
Finally, he gets it! After eight chapters – probably a couple of years of Jesus’ ministry – finally, Peter works out that Jesus is the Messiah! All of that cluelessness we read of earlier is behind us, and the disciples power on with their new-found understanding of who Jesus is – right? Um, let’s see what happens next.
Yesterday, we looked at a strange story that’s unique to Mark’s Gospel, about a healing that didn’t quite work the first time around (Mark 8:22-26). And we’re investigating the context of that story in Mark’s Gospel to help us work out what it’s all about. It’d be best to read yesterday’s post first if you’re just joining us.
We finished up with the disciples being a bit clueless: they’ve just seen Jesus feed five thousand people with a mere handful of food, and then they’re astounded that he can walk on water. Mark comments that they didn’t get it because at this point in the Gospel, “their hearts were hardened.”
Anyway, on with the story. In chapter 7 we see an encounter with the Pharisees who didn’t believe in him, and then a contrasting encounter with a Gentile woman who did. (You can read that later if you want.) And then we begin in chapter 8 with a by-now familiar scenario:
Today we’re looking at a short story from Mark’s gospel. One that’s seemingly unimportant. In fact, it’s one of the few bits of Mark’s Gospel that doesn’t occur in either Matthew or Luke. Both of them copied large slabs of Mark’s Gospel (these days they’d get in trouble for plagiarism.) Yet neither of them found room for this short story that’s only five verses long. Why?
Maybe it’s because it’s a bit of a strange story. Let’s face it, it’s not one of Jesus’ best moments. Not really one for the highlights reel, especially considering the spectacular stories that surround it. Let’s read it now:Mark 8:22-26 They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?” He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.” Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Jesus sent him home, saying, “Don’t even go into the village.”
Yeah, don’t go back to the village. Let’s just keep this one to ourselves, hey? What’s going on here? Is Jesus having a bad healing day? Does he need a second chance? Is this the divine equivalent of backyard cricket rules: you can’t get out first ball?