Mark 8:13-38 ERV
Then Jesus left them and went in the boat to the other side of the lake. The followers had only one loaf of bread with them in the boat. They forgot to bring more bread.
Jesus warned them, “Be careful! Guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.”
The followers discussed the meaning of this. They said, “He said this because we have no bread.”
Jesus knew that the followers were talking about this. So he asked them, “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are you not able to understand? Do you have eyes that can’t see? Do you have ears that can’t hear? Remember what I did before, when we did not have enough bread? I divided five loaves of bread for 5000 people. Remember how many baskets you filled with pieces of food that were not eaten?”
The followers answered, “We filled twelve baskets.“
“And when I divided seven loaves of bread for 4000 people, how many baskets did you fill with the leftover pieces?”
They answered, “We filled seven baskets.”
Then he said to them, “You remember these things I did, but you still don’t understand?”
Jesus and his followers came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch the man. So Jesus held the blind man’s hand and led him out of the village. Then he spit on the man’s eyes. He laid his hands on him and asked, “Can you see now?”
The man looked up and said, “Yes, I see people. They look like trees walking around.”
Again Jesus laid his hands on the man’s eyes, and the man opened them wide. His eyes were healed, and he was able to see everything clearly. Jesus told him to go home. He said, “Don’t go into the town.”
Jesus and his followers went to the towns in the area of Caesarea Philippi. While they were traveling, Jesus asked the followers, “Who do people say I am?”
They answered, “Some people say you are John the Baptizer. Others say you are Elijah. And others say you are one of the prophets.”
Then Jesus asked, “Who do you say I am?”
Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”
Jesus told the followers, “Don’t tell anyone who I am.”
Then Jesus began to teach his followers that the Son of Man must suffer many things. He taught that the Son of Man would not be accepted by the older Jewish leaders, the leading priests, and the teachers of the law. He said that the Son of Man must be killed and then rise from death after three days. Jesus told them everything that would happen. He did not keep anything secret.
Peter took Jesus away from the other followers to talk to him alone. Peter criticized him for saying these things. But Jesus turned and looked at his followers. Then he criticized Peter. He said to Peter, “Get away from me, Satan! You don’t care about the same things God does. You care only about things that people think are important.”
Then Jesus called the crowd and his followers to him. He said, “Any of you who want to be my follower must stop thinking about yourself and what you want. You must be willing to carry the cross that is given to you for following me. Any of you who try to save the life you have will lose it. But you who give up your life for me and for the Good News will save it. It is worth nothing for you to have the whole world if you yourself are lost. You could never pay enough to buy back your life. People today are so sinful. They have not been faithful to God. As you live among them, don’t be ashamed of me and my teaching. If that happens, I will be ashamed of you when I come with the glory of my Father and the holy angels.”
— — —
I want to focus on two characters from this reading.
-1. Peter, a chosen disciple of Jesus.
-2. The blind man lead by the hand to Jesus.
These are two characters whose perspectives are addressed in this reading, in quite contradictory ways.
First we have the man born blind. He is lead to Jesus by the hand. In humility. The man asks to have eyes that see. After leading him away from the fanfare Jesus “heals” the man. He performs the proper procedure to bring about the sight. But when asked how he’s doing, he has to admit that something didn’t go quite as expected. Yes he can see. But something’s not quite right. Something is… just a bit off.
He sees people, but they look like trees, walking trees.
Now how on earth does the man come up with that? Did he watch the Lord of the Rings movies? Not likely. I’m not too interested in that theory. However, I do see something very interesting in this story. What’s that?
I’m glad you asked!
So first, a question to ponder. “What’s the difference between a person and a tree?”
There are, of course, a myriad of differences. But I would suggest that the biggest difference is the level of consciousness. A tree is a tree. A bunch of wood, some bark, roots and leaves or fruit or pine needles or whatever. But, as far as I am aware, a tree does not have an internal world. A tree doesn’t seem to be aware.
Humans however. People are completely different. We are a huge, seemingly infinite, collection of self awareness. Consciousness. Our awareness is the result of a melting pot of history, memory, relationships, DNA, our bodies and on and on. Everything we do is related to this huge amount of data floating around. We are, if you will, like the Tartus. (For all you Dr Who fans.) We’re bigger on the inside. We will never fully know who we are. What we are capable of. And even more so, we can’t, its impossible to fully know “Why he did that,” “Why she did this,” or “Why they are like that.”
There’s a joke about ancient civilizations. Historians and archeologists are digging up vast amounts of stuff to figure out the mysteries of the ancients. Trying to sorta look through their librarys in hopes that they will reveal their secrets to us. But, what if, what if they were also a mystery to themselves. Just like we are.
Paul kinda alludes to this in Romans 7:15 where he contemplates “Why do I do the very things that I hate? Why don’t I do the things that I want to?” We are a mystery unto ourselves.
So back to the blind then tree seein man. Three cheers to you good sir. Thanks for admitting that the miracle didn’t work. After this admittion Jesus prays for him again. And he sees.
Peter on the other hand. Peter doesn’t get it. And what does he do? He doesn’t say “I wish to see.” He says. “NO no no. You don’t have to die!” He doesn’t listen, but continues to push for the old way. What he is familiar with. With what’s normal.
So the obvious question then is, “How can we experience Jesus’ gift of eyes that see? That’s a great question! I’ll attempt to shed some light on one way through two stories. Two stories floating around a sort of practice of deconstruction. The first is from a cooking show. And the second is from the scriptures in the book of Ezekiel.
The show is called “The Chef’s Table. This particular episode comes from a runoff show that takes place in France. The episode stars french chef, Alain Passard. Alain Passard runs a 3 michelin star restaurant in Paris. In the documentary he notes how incredible it is as you slowly work your way up in the ranks. Eventually achieving your 1 star rating, then 2 stars and finally 3! He even ends up taking over the place his mentor and hero had run when he was in training. But, it is mentioned, even when you get there you have to remain on the tip of your toes. Constant innovation is a must if you intend to hold on to your ranking. And he succeeds stunningly. That is until one day, he recounts, his ambition just dissappeared. Maybe he was just too overworked, maybe constantly working with the blood and bones got to his head. Its hard to tell, but he knew that he had to step away. To catch his breath. To clear his head. So he did just that. While clearing his head he finds his attention is drawn to the variety of vegetables and ways that said vegetables could be prepared and his vision is reflooded with imagination and excitment. His ambition reascends and he heads back to work. But in a new way. With the declaration to remove all meat products from his menu. The very items that brought him his three stars. He gave it all up. Amidst the masses of naysayers he stood firm. And pushed through.
Disclaimer: He did later add some fish and a few other meats back onto his menu. But, I contend, the journey into the darkness was still transformative. It still made a shift, revolutionalized the way the industry saw vegetables, according to one commentator.
We see another example of this phenomenon in the book of Ezekiel.
Ezekiel 47:3-7 ERV
The man walked east with a tape measure in his hand. He measured 1000 cubits.Then he told me to walk through the water at that place. The water was only ankle deep. He measured another 1000 cubits. Then he told me to walk through the water at that place. There the water came up to my knees. Then he measured another 1000 cubits and told me to walk through the water at that place. There the water was waist deep. He measured another 1000 cubits, but there the water was too deep to cross. It had become a river. The water was deep enough to swim in. It was a river that was too deep to cross. Then the man said to me, “Son of man, did you pay close attention to the things you saw?”
Then the man led me back along the side of the river. As I walked back along the side of the river, I saw many trees on both sides of the water.
Barry Taylor gives us an interesting reading of this story in his book, “Entertainment Theology,” with a particular twist toward this journey to eyes that see. A journey of deconstruction.
“The prophet Ezekiel once had a vision in which he was led into water. As he followed the direction of his guide he found himself going through stages of increasing immersion: water to his ankles, then to his knees, and then to his waist, all the while going deeper and deeper into the currents of the river until he reached a point where he could no longer touch the bottom and had to swim in order not to drown (Ezek. 47:1–6). I think it is easy to play with God in the shallows where we can feel the current of the river but do not really face the current as it seeks to carry us away. It is much more difficult to move out into the force of the water and feel its almost relentless challenge, its invitation to be carried away by its current. Interestingly, in the Bible story I just mentioned, when the prophet left the shore to enter the waters, the ground around him was barren and desert-like, but when he returned after his deepwater experience, the land along the river had become lush and verdant. Sometimes what we hold on to prevents us from experiencing the blossoming of new life. I think there is new life for a faith like Christianity, but in order to discover it (we may have to let go of other things first and venture into the deep) and feel the current of the twenty-first century river.”
So may we. May we continue to keep going back like the blind-then-tree-seeing man. May we continue to admit that we dont see people, we things objects that we can manipulate. May we keep asking over and over and over again. “I wish to see. For eyes that really see.”