Second Sight

Tuesday, August 2, 2011 — Week of Proper 13, Year One

Samuel Ferguson, Missionary Bishop for West Africa, 1916

To read about our daily commemorations, go to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, 978)

Psalms 78:1-39 (morning) 78:40-72 (evening)

2 Samuel 7:18-29

Acts 18:12-28

Mark 8:22-33

There is seeing. And there is deeper insight.

Our reading from Mark today begins with the two stage healing of the blind man in Bethsaida. After the first touch, the blind man can see: “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.” Jesus lays hands on him a second time. Now he can see clearly. Many commentators have remarked how this healing seems like a metaphor for the way Mark describes the disciples’ gradual illumination. The disciples learn and grow during Jesus’ earthly ministry, but so often they fail to understand and seem so bumbling. But after the resurrection, they will see and understand in full.

Following the story of the two-stage healing of blindness, Mark gives us another story of staged enlightenment. Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” Their answers are profound. The people see Jesus as one of the God-sent prophets. For 500 years there had been no prophet in Israel, not since the end of the exile, since Daniel, Haggai, Zachariah, and Malachi. The people had seen John the Baptist as the revival of the prophets. So the disciples tell Jesus that the people are saying that Jesus is the new prophet, like Elijah or John the Baptist.

Jesus then makes it more personal. “But who do you say that I am?” Peter speaks: “You are the Messiah.” “Quiet!” Jesus says. It is a dangerous pronouncement. The authorities were always on the lookout for Messianic movements and their destabilizing, nationalistic tendencies. Rome broached no challengers.

If this passage were a symphony, the music has been building to a great crescendo: “You are the Messiah.” Visions of triumph and grandeur fill the air. When Messiah comes, Israel will be restored to greatness. The Messiah will lead the people to throw off the yoke of foreign oppression. Jerusalem will be raised as the greatest of all cities — the military, economic, and religious center of the world. All nations will see and acknowledge Israel’s glory and power.

Jesus bursts their visions with a second insight. The “Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” It is not what is expected of the Messiah. The other prophets taught us to expect a triumphant Messiah, not one who suffers and fails. Peter takes Jesus aside to try to correct Jesus’ vision.

“Get thee behind me Satan!” says Jesus in rebuke. “For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” The human addiction to power and glory is a terrible one, a devilish threat to Jesus’ mission. If Jesus’ followers define themselves by human standards of power and glory, they will completely sabotage his mission.

This Messiah will break violence not with violence but with love. He will be the suffering servant. He will be guided by compassion. Only love, compassion and suffering can break the vicious circles of pride, power and glory that inevitably exercise their will through violence and oppression. This is the deeper insight. This is the second vision, the subsequent clarity. As Mark tells the story, the disciples will not perceive it until the resurrection.

What do we see? How much of our focus is on the very human things of power and glory that feed our pride? How can we see the deeper, divine path of love, compassion and suffering that leads to new life? Can we see clearly enough to walk this other road?

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