One of the highlights of my week is a Bible study I facilitate on Wednesday mornings. The attendees are all thoughtful scholars in their own right and it is a pleasure to be with them as we go deep into the biblical text.
We have been studying Mark's Gospel. Last week as we discussed the eighth chapter, it became clear that spiritual blindness is a prominent theme at this point in the Gospel. The focus of the chapter appears to be verses 22-26 where Jesus heals a blind man. What is interesting about the healing is that Jesus needs to touch this man twice in order for his vision to be restored. The first time his vision is there but not sharply. The man sees "people as trees walking." It is the second time that Jesus put his hands on his eyes that his vision comes in clearly.
Mark uses this healing in context to portray the Pharisees and the Herodians as being completely blind as to who Jesus is and his mission. Not only do they not see, they refuse to see. Jesus has just fed the 4000 with seven small loaves of bread and a few small fish. After this the Pharisees test him by asking for a sign from heaven. Jesus has been performing signs from heaven all along, but they apparently want something even more dramatic. Jesus will perform no sign for them. He does not need to demonstrate his credentials to these self-appointment permission givers. Neither is Jesus a one-man side show whose feats of wonder resemble that of a traveling carnival.
But it is not only the Pharisees who have vision problems when it comes to Jesus. The disciples are struggling as well. Unlike the religious leaders, however, they have some sense of who Jesus is; the trouble they have is focusing on the specifics of the nature of Jesus' ministry. They see, meaning they believe in Jesus, but it is by no means clear to them what Jesus' messiahship actually means. They are like that blind man whose vision is blurry after Jesus' first touch.
When Jesus warns the disciples about the "yeast (the spreading evil) of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod," the disciples completely miss the point thinking Jesus is commenting on the fact that they forgot to bring bread with them in the boat. And when Jesus questions them on the meaning of the leftover baskets at the feeding of the 4000 and the 5000 previously, they still don't seem to understand the importance of it all.
Chapter eight culminates with Peter's confession of Jesus' messiahship. Peter knows the name by which Jesus has come, but he has yet to understand the content of that name. When Jesus begins to explain what it means for him to be Messiah, that he must suffer and die, Peter takes him aside and begins to give Jesus messiahship lessons on what his role truly means, which draws a sharp rebuke from Jesus. Peter, like the rest of the apostles, has a vision, a belief in Jesus, but it is blurry; it is rough around the edges. The nature of what it means for Jesus to be the Messiah has yet to come into focus for them. They are like the blind man after Jesus' first touch.
Are we content with a blurry Jesus? Are we satisfied with a Jesus whose outline we can make in our life, but whose details are vague? And does such a vague Jesus allow us then to fill in the details of what Jesus demands of us so that we can follow a Jesus of our own making, a Jesus whose expectations do not force us out of our own comfort zones of commitment?
One of the the narrative threads that runs throughout the Bible from Genesis to Revelation is that God has made us in God's image and likeness, but we human beings continue to try to fashion God after our image. We are less interested in living the kind of lives that resemble God's character, and we are more interested in creating a God whose character resembles our own with all of its frailty and shortcomings-- a God who expects little from us, but gives us everything we want and desire-- a God who keeps on giving, but asks for little in return.
Do we truly desire to follow Jesus on his terms or do we want to draw up the specific details of the "contract?" Is it preferable to keep Jesus and his ministry and the resultant claims on us vague, leaving us to fill in the specific details-- specifics that require little in the way of God's radically transforming grace?
Are we content with a blurry Jesus?