Should have gone to Specsavers: when seeing seems impossible

Jesus Heals a Blind Man at Bethsaida

 

22 They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. 23 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?”

 

24 He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.”

 

25 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. 26 Jesus sent him home, saying, “Don’t even go into[a] the village.”

 

Peter Declares That Jesus Is the Messiah

 

27 Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”

 

28 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”

 

29 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

 

Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”

 

30 Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

 

Jesus Predicts His Death

 

31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

 

33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

 

The Way of the Cross

 

34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life[b] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

 

The book of Mark is sometimes described as the action gospel.  It’s non-stop.  From one event straight onto another.  A piece of teaching, then some healing, then a confrontation with the leaders, straight onto miracles and so on.  Fast paced.  I commend it to anyone wanting to find out more about Christianity as probably the best of the four Gospels to read to get an overview of the life-and-death Christ.

 

But Mark structured what he recorded.  Maybe chronological but definitely intentional.  In our reading we have the healing of a blind beggar moving swiftly on to discussions between Jesus and his disciples and the crowd about what he would be going through as the one come to save mankind and the challenges for his followers.  One, Peter, gradually received his good vision.  For the others there needed to be more enlightening, for their eyes gradually to be opened to understand Christ’s mission.  We may have glasses or contact lenses.  We may have pretty perfect vision.  But do we see clearly who Jesus was and is and what he calls to us?

 

Jesus is travelling around the northern part of Israel, where he had grown up.  He is in Bethsaida.  It was the hometown of the disciples, Peter, Andrew and Philip.  He fed the 5000 a key place for fishing.  Jesus would have known it from his upbringing and he visited often during his three-year ministry.

 

Whilst there, some people brought a blind man for healing.  This healing of sight occurs elsewhere in the Gospels.  But only Mark records this particular incident.  How do we know?  Because there is a curious two stage healing.  Why?  We know he has already healed immediately.  My sermon two weeks ago about the woman who had been immediately healed from an illness she had had for more than 12 years just by touching Jesus cloak.  So why not now?  Why did this blind man have a two-stage healing?

 

Jesus put his saliva on him and his hands on him.  Instant healing?  No.  Jesus asks: what can you see?  We know the healing process is underway because previously he could not see.  He looks up and says: I can see people which look like trees walking around.  Indistinct shapes.  May be no colour.  Blurry.  Certainly nothing definite nor in focus.

 

Jesus once again put his hands on the man’s eyes.  He removes them.  The eyes are opened.  His sight restored.  Jesus never does anything by halves.  Not only restored but he could see clearly.

 

Of course we know Jesus did not need the two-stage process.  He could have healed immediately.  He was using this as a lesson, a visual aid, for his ongoing process of teaching the disciples.  He already had told them off for a lack of belief when he had fed the 5000 with only five loaves but they had subsequently gone around after everyone had eaten and what was left was 12 loaves.  A God of superabundance and wonder for a provision.  But they couldn’t clearly understand.

 

Jesus had taken the man outside the village, presumably accompanied by just his disciples.  So he was showing them.  This man’s progressive healing from blindness to blurred vision to clear sightedness is a reflection of the disciples gradual progress in understanding Jesus identity, teaching and mission.  The two-stage healing showed the disciples, and us, and understanding the things of God is progressive and requires a divine helping hand.  When we reach out to God, we don’t immediately understand everything about Christianity.  We keep learning through the weeks and months and years and decades.  It’s a journey.  We have definitely started when we came to faith.  We are well into the journey but we are definitely journeying onwards.  It’s like a relationship.  The more we spend time with somebody, the more we really get to know them and the deeper the relationship.  So with us and our Lord.  We can now say as in the passage in John 9.25: One thing I do know.  I was blind but now I see.  Jesus enables us to see gradually, in the time which is best for us, opens our eyes fully to see his wonder, love and grace.

 

Jesus travels on.  It may have been a physical travelling but it was definitely a moving on in the teaching of his disciples, to train them up for their role after his resurrection.

 

He asks.  Who do people say I am.?  I’m not sure he particularly cared.  I think he wanted to find out what they thought themselves.  The disciples say that some in the crowd think he is John the Baptist or Elijah or one of the prophets.  Jesus would have known what the crowd was thinking.  What matters is the disciples.  So he says: and what about you.  Who do you think I am.  Peter, always impetuous, speaking before brain is necessarily engaged, says you are the Messiah.  He’s got it dead right.  Spot on.  He may not have understood fully what it meant especially different to the Jewish expectations but he was getting there.  His eyes were being opened.

 

So Jesus moves on in his teaching.  We find in Mark a progressiveness in Jesus teaching.  Slowly and surely opening up more about who he is and what is lying ahead of him.  He now says explicitly that he, the son of man, must suffer many things, be rejected, killed and then rise again.  It says he spoke plainly.  But clearly Peter didn’t get it entirely.  His eyes were clearly able to see but still blurry, he couldn’t see the clear big picture.  Peter says Jesus should not be saying these things.  But Jesus is strong and rebukes him.  You don’t have the concerns of God.  You are only thinking in human terms.  You need to reshape, re-form, completely recreate your thinking on these things.  A real challenge to the disciples.  As disciples we need to develop a divine mindset.  A mind controlled by God to understand the things of God.  But Jesus was giving them this new way of looking at things.

 

Romans 12.2 says: do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is.  His good, pleasing and perfect will.  This is jolly hard.  Everything around us moulds us and conforms us with a world vision, priorities and expectations.  We need continually to be in the presence of God and of fellow Christians to help ourselves be transformed, renewed and have Christ’s concerns, priorities, hopes and grace.

 

He then gives us a very different way of looking at things.  Well-known words.  Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up the cross and follow me.  Whoever wants to save their life will lose it.  Whoever loses their life for me and the gospel will save it.  What good is it for someone to gain the whole world yet lose their soul.  What can anyone give in exchange for their soul.  If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the son of man will be ashamed of him when that person comes to God at the end of time.

 

Incredibly strong words with so much meaning and needing so much unpacking.

 

He mentions two crucial aspects of being a disciple.  This is discipleship training by the best trainer of all.  He refers to self-denial and cross bearing

 

To deny oneself is to remove the “I” from the centre of our own life and surrender this, give it up to, the place of God.  In everything around our society, the self is evident, is the justification for any action, is the goal and purpose for lives.  Putting others first, despite our best interests, seems so rare.  That is why the praise for the NHS and other emergency workers was so incredible during the main period of the lockdown.  Their lives at risk for ours.  We knew it was going on already in the medical services but this was really exceptional.  And the praise was exceptional.  But putting others remains notable, noteworthy and exceptional.  Because most of the time it is me first.  I will do something if it suits me and will protest if it doesn’t.  I would expect services to be geared around my needs, and who I am and I will complain if it doesn’t.  Account should have been taken of me and what I want.  We don’t even need to look at the victim culture.  We are in a self first culture.

 

And if ever we thought Christianity was countercultural, transforming our mindset, then Jesus breaks that entire mould by saying we have to give up our self, deny our self, and follow Jesus.  We elevate Jesus.  We don’t do so by elevating ourselves.  We put Jesus on the throne of our lives and there’s no room on the throne for two of us.  If we lose our life for the sake of Christ, we will save it.  We turn our back on all that would hold us back from being a disciple.

 

To take up our cross has become a figure of speech.  The cross I bear.  Going the extra mile, implicitly, carrying the cross.  It is emblematic of forsaking something, maybe everything.  For some Christians it might be giving up our lives as it was for those disciples listening to him who were killed, persecuted.  It may be giving up elements of our lifestyle or of our life priorities.  It will be different for everyone.  The way in which Jesus challenges others will be different to us.  We each seek to find out what he wants for us.  There is no point trying to gain the whole world, whatever that may be in our life as to priorities and aspirations, if in doing so we have no divinely satisfied life here and now and no life beyond this one with our creator God.

 

I cannot say anything specific to everyone listening and watching this as to what you should or should not be doing.  But you know.  And when you come to God and ask, you will know more.  It won’t be easy.  It will be a challenge.  Taking up and carrying the cross is specifically burdensome.  But this is the calling.  This is the wonderful faith and discipleship.  It is the love and peace which we have discovered in Christ with the help of his Holy Spirit.

 

So consider how we can grow and develop by adopting a divine mindset, transforming our thinking and changing our priorities, perhaps our lifestyle, our expectations and ambitions to be more like Christ.  Look at our lives and ask how self-centred we may be, perhaps even we may have become.  How can we put aside our selfish ambitions and see God’s calling far more clearly?  In what way should we be denying elements of our life to have a closer and better walk with God.

 

And God doesn’t leave us on our own in doing this.  He helps us.  He gives us strength, perseverance, resolve and commitment.  He wants us to succeed and will do everything he can to help us to succeed in this.  Our role is wanting to do so.  May we do so

 

Dear heavenly father, open our eyes more clearly day by day that we may see wonder in all you have accomplished in Jesus and all you are accomplishing in our lives and we thank you.  Show us how aspects of our lives are getting in the way of becoming more like the person, the personality, you want us to be and then help us to do something about it.  That we may more clearly and more perfectly show your love to others, enjoy the fruits of the spirit, and to share the good news with each other and to all around us.

 

Amen

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