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.” (Mark 8:23-24)
Blindness plays an important role in the gospel accounts.
Matthew has three ‘healing of the blind’ stories, Mark two, Luke and John one each.
In Mark, this story comes hot on the heels of Jesus’ frustration with his disciples after a second ‘feeding of the multitude’ story which, except for the number of people fed, sounds much like the first story. The second story underscores the disciples’ amazing spiritual blindness.
John has a similar story, but there are subtle differences – one of which is that John’s account highlights the spiritual blindness of Israel’s religious leaders. Mark’s account highlights the blindness of the disciples. That this healing story happens in stages makes it different from not only John, but every other miracle Jesus performs.
Mark’s account helps to explain why Jesus, though disappointed with his disciples, doesn’t just leave them in disgust. Some blindness doesn’t go away immediately – even by the power of God. It takes time, and the patient persistent ministry of the sighted. Lives aren’t changed just because they are taught better. It’s a point we all should remember as we serve.
Eventually, of course, with proper treatment, the spiritually blind are expected to see; willful blindness is not an option for the child of God. It’s all a part of the required ever changing, ever growing Christian life.
Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18 Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? . . . Do you still not understand? (Mark 8:17-21)
It may well be the closest Jesus gets to losing his cool. The words are not addressed to his enemies, but to his disciples, and few early readers would be surprised by Jesus’ frustration.
Mark 1:16 – 8:21 is marked by three callings of Jesus: a call to follow him, a call to be with him, and a call to imitate him. At the beginning of the last call, Jesus feeds 5000 people from 5 loaves of bread and two fish. At the end of the last call, he feeds four thousand from a sack lunch.
* begin with a need to feed the crowd.
* continue with Jesus delegating the task to the disciples
* have the disciples insisting it cannot be done.
* have Jesus asking “how many loaves do you have?”
* mention Jesus telling the crowd to sit on the ground.
* mention Jesus praying
* have Jesus feeding the crowd.
And then, scant hours later, the disciples are arguing with one another because they have no food.
Hopefully, you can understand why Jesus comes a bit unhinged.
When we’re too busy bemoaning our challenges, worrying about them, or even hoping they never come our way, we become willingly blind to the matchless power of God to provide – and eyes that won’t see are the blindest of all.
“There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him. . . He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means ‘Be opened!’)” At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly” (Mark 7:32-34).
Though Jesus met people randomly in his travels, and many sought him out , the gospels tell us some sought Jesus for what he could do for others.
You’d think that would be a good thing, but Mark has another point to make.
I can only think of one case where someone was invited to come hear what Jesus had to say. And yet, Jesus’ ministry was intended to be more about teaching people how to live than helping them through the rough patches of their lives. The Lord did both of course, but like raising people from the dead, his miracles were only temporary. Other illnesses would come, and so too would death. But what Jesus had to say would be of eternal benefit.
Here, faced with yet another plaintive plea for healing, Jesus, with a bit of exasperation – that’s that sighing deeply part – consents. And people are “overwhelmed with amazement” and speak glowingly of his work. Yet Mark tells us they paid no attention to what Jesus said (see verse 36).
It’s not the first time Mark makes this observation. It won’t be the last. The message is subtle but vital: turning to Jesus in moments of crisis may be wise. But wiser still is to listen to what he has to say, and obey.
So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?” . . . And [Jesus] said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!” (Mark 7:5, 9).
Britain’s House of Commons has traditionally inscribed its laws on parchment. Recently, after 600 years, it voted to use paper instead. The vote wasn’t without rancor. At least one MP protested: “This is destroying a piece of culture, history and tradition for no particular reason.”
I wouldn’t say “no” reason. Parchment costs $45 a sheet. Archival paper only costs twenty cents. At my house, this would be a “no brainer.”
Tradition is often “the way we’ve always done it.” Sometimes, tossing tradition is a good idea. Sometimes not. Jesus wasn’t against tradition – not even in our text. What he was against were traditions that violated the will of God, or competed with that will. Jesus condemned his critics because their tradition got in the way of their obedience.
An obedient faith, practiced over time, becomes a tradition. But it is not just a tradition. In at least three places Paul refers to obedient Christian practice as “tradition” – 1 Corinthians 11:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:15 and 3:8.
Let’s be careful of three things: First, that we never refer to any of our faith practices as just traditions when they in fact have a divine mandate. Second, that we not allow any faith practice that is just tradition to compete with what God has actually said. Third, let’s be careful to make following the will of God the tradition of our lives.