Glorious SpectaclesBlog / Produced by The High Calling
The day I put on my first eyeglasses, I left the ophthalmologist’s office feeling like a 14-year-old with scaffolding attached. Then I walked outside and stopped dead. The trees had individual leaves. Each leaf, each limb, stunned me. I asked my mother if she saw what I saw. Was everyone else just passing by these sights? I could barely breathe. I forgot that I was fourteen and wearing scaffolding. I had even accidentally initiated conversation with my mother.
One of the strangest stories about Jesus was also about sight: He lays hands on a blind man and the man doesn’t see. Correction, he sees—but not clearly. When Jesus asks what he sees, the man replies, “People, but they look like trees walking around” (Mark 8:24). Jesus places his hands on the man a second time and the man sees clearly.
The question is: given Mark’s storytelling style, what does this story mean? With Mark, every account of Jesus has two functions: one literal, one figurative. On the literal level, Mark reports that in Jesus’ presence sick people became well, demons fled, the deaf heard, and the blind saw. On the figurative level, the healing stories also lift the veil on Jesus' identity and his disciples’. Jesus’ two-phase healing of the blind man raises literal questions that only resolve in the figurative level of Mark’s narrative style.
Mark’s point comes into focus when Jesus sequesters his closest followers for intensive training in who he is and how this will affect those who follow him. Toward the end of their intense time together, he heals a second blind man named Bartimaeus (10:46-52). Bartimaeus’ sight-recovery is perfect in the sense that he begs to be in Jesus’ presence; he pleads for his sight. Jesus heals him in one procedure and tells him to go his way. (Although Bartimaeus follows Jesus to Jerusalem.) Literally, Bartimaeus’ healing is efficient and problem free. Figuratively, Bartimaeus is the ideal disciple: willing to renounce everything (he tossed aside his cloak and endured the scorn of the crowds); desiring only to see clearly (i.e., to understand rightly who Jesus really is); choosing to follow Jesus into Jerusalem (the destination of the cross and suffering servanthood).
The disciples have now seen Jesus with the both the blind man whose blindness is stubbornly persistent and Bartimaeus who willingly and faithfully sees. That journey from stubborn blindness to willing participation is the parabolic road of all disciples who move from seeing Jesus and his mission and message partially to, by God’s grace, seeing it clearly. Most disciples require more than “one touch” from Jesus to see God as more than “a tree walking around.” We require intentional “getting away from it all”; failures and well-meaning missteps (Peter’s demonic confession, the disciples’ rebuke of the children); thick-headed lack of comprehension (8:14-21), and Jesus’ persistent faithfulness in spite of His disciples’ failures.
Mark is telling us, figuratively speaking, that the disciples’ own greatest problem was also vision—how they looked at what they saw. The cure is Jesus: his touch, his presence, his teaching, even his rebuke, but especially his persistent faithfulness with nearsighted, farsighted, and myopic disciples.
Only God can restore sight. When He does, what we see again for the first time may be scripture, worship, prayer, mission, Holy Communion. Our first encounters with scaffolding on our heads or new eyes of our heart may feel awkward and conspicuous. Then we stop cold, struck by the familiar and commonplace, now a vision of glory.
It’s not too late to put ourselves before the One who can touch us, once and again, and be fitted with new vision. God grants anew the lenses to see the radical specificity of his love, his purpose, and the kingdom of God rolling in even now like a great wave that cannot be stopped.