Today’s long reading starts with a strange story. As with so many other instances in the gospel, Jesus heals, but this account is a little bit different from the rest. Instead of healing in one motion, Jesus heals the blind man in Mark 8:22-26 in two stages, which can make some of us uncomfortable. Why didn’t Jesus get it right the first time around? A commentator named Morna Hooker is helpful in explaining that we should understand this story and others like it “not only as cures, but also as ‘acted parables’ of the miracle of faith.” (Morna Hooker, The Gospel According to Mark, Black’s New Testament Commentaries [Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2005], 197-198.) This becomes apparent when we look at the story that follows. Jesus asks his disciples who they say that he is, and Peter answers correctly that Jesus is the Messiah. It seems that he sees! But we find quickly that though Peter sees partially, his sight is not yet 20/20. Directly after this amazing confession, Peter rebukes Jesus for speaking of his impending suffering, rejection, death, and resurrection. It is as if Peter sees like the blind man: “I see people; they look like trees walking around.” (8:24) Like the blind man, Peter needs another touch from the Savior if he is to see clearly. The same can be said for the other disciples as well. Jesus predicts his death three times in this section, and no one gets it! First Peter rebukes Jesus. Second, the disciples bicker over who is greatest. Third, James and John ask for the best seats in the kingdom, which causes indignation among the others. Jesus speaks of sacrifice and service, and the disciples fail to understand what this will mean both for Jesus and for those who follow him. Much of this section is comprised of Jesus redefining greatness around his own example of service and the disciples failing to “see.”
This should give us hope, for we can sometimes be as clueless as the disciples in these stories. It is as if “the miracle of faith,” as Morna Hooker calls it, has been granted but is not complete. We need another touch if we are to see clearly. We can take heart that Jesus never abandons his disciples for their cluelessness. Instead, he goes out of his way to teach them again and again. In this we can see the commitment of Jesus to his followers, and we can also see that clear sight is not always automatic. The mark of discipleship is not that one understands everything in a flash. No, the mark of discipleship is a continual following of Jesus. In the end, this continual following makes the single flash of insight unnecessary, for we are allowed to learn along the way. Jesus leads us faithfully and gives us the miracle of better sight at different points along the way. The prerequisite is that we keep following and not that we get it all perfectly the first time around!
The section ends with another “acted parable’ as Jesus heals blind Bartimaeus. This time, the healing is instantaneous: “Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.” (10:52) In this we see the proper response of the disciple. David Garland notes, “This miracle takes on symbolic significance as it caps the discipleship theme in this section. Jesus has told others he has healed to go … Bartimaeus, however, does not choose to go off on his own way. With his eyes now open, he decides to follow Jesus as every disciple is called to do.” (David Garland, Mark: The NIV Application Commentary [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996], 421). In the two stage healing we see that there is hope even for us who don’t get everything right the first time. We are called to follow, and we wait for those healing touches that bring about clear sight. In the healing of Bartimaeus, we once again hear the call to follow and see it enacted by a new recruit. May we follow his example, seeking to live faithfully by the light already given. And may we also ask for clearer sight along the way. As Paul said in Philippians 3:15-16, “All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.” What exactly have we attained, and are we living up to it? Here is a question for disciples!