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M. K. Gandhi Is generally attributed with saying “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.” He tweaks the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:38 : “”You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’” Jesus is calling those that follow him to a new way of being – based on and from grace and forgiveness. A widely used cliché in our society asserts “ the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” Attributed to Einstein and Benjamin Franklin, it’s often used by current leaders to descirbe our contemporary situation of stuck-ness, impasse and -polarization. It’s the underlying theme of our emerging presidential election cycle. It’s what we often ask each other in terms of our society, our institutions, even the life of the Church. We seem able to see without seeing: either identifying our problems yet impotent to avoid them; or remain blind to our naïve lack of self-awareness. We can clearly see our troubles. What we can’t see is a way out.
Today’s scripture block from Mark addresses this paradox of seeing-yet-not-seeing. The opening section shows Jesus warning his boat-traveling disciples to not think that they are above the ignorance, foolishness – or even the evil – of the Pharisees who refuse to recognize the authority, purpose and truth of Jesus. The story is one of juxtaposition. The disciples are described as blind as the Pharisees are, as the blind man is before his eyes are opened. Yet at the end of the scripture, Peter – the leader of the seeing-yet-not-seeing disciples perceives an insight that transcends human knowledge.
Jesus calls out numbers (5, 7, 12, 4,000 & 5,000) as signs, visible images of an invisible truth. Numbers that point to God’s person: 5 books in the Torah. 7 days of creation. 12 tribes of Israel. Like the blind man they see partially, but need to be touched again, or anew, by Jesus in order to see fully and clearly.
The metaphor of blindness is commonly used in the 1st Testament to talk about physical and spiritual vision. It’s a wholeness that only the Messiah can deliver (see Isaiah 42:6-7). In the center of his telling of the story of Jesus, Mark recounts only two stories of blind men. Here and in 10:46-52. They are connected to the stories of the disciples. They’re connected to “the way” – which is both a road of travel, a path of discipleship and the first expression used to conotate Christian Life in the ancient world. Blindness isn’t a bad thing. Jesus touches this blind man more than anyone else in the scriptures, when folks repeatedly beg for his healing touch. He’s making a point: often an obstacle remains in our vision of God, our belief of God in the world, our understanding of what God is up to and how we’re interrelated.
Why does Jesus continually veto the possibility of publicity from his great works? Maybe he’s shifting the focus from his actions now, to the main purpose of his passion: resurrection: life overcoming death, light over darkness, hope over despair. Cubism (like the portrait of Jesus above), is the artistic way of trying to depict what we see without seeing, what is beyond one or two points of view. It seeks to gives us a bigger and deeper perspective. That’s what Jesus is up to as well. Like the disciples, the Pharisees and the blind man restored to sight….we too see without seeing, often have ears but don’t hear. How often do we keep doing the same thing, looking for a different outcome? How often do turn a blind eye to what God is doing in our world, or to the plight of our neighbors, to the hungers of our brothers and sisters? In a culture increasingly reinforced by group-cohesiveness fostered by an us versus them personality, or insider and outsider perspective, Jesus is calling us to something different….something bigger….something that we dream of but can’t see without first encountering his presence, purpose and passion.
Questions for Going Deeper:
• What word, phrase or image shimmers for you in the text?
• How does this intersect or interact with your life today?
• What invitation do you hear from God in this text to act, say, be or do?