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					Oct. 21, 2007

Mark 8: 22-26; 10: 46-52

Prayer: Dear God, We are so grateful we are able to come into your presence this morning. Please go with us into the study of your servant Mark and the words he left to tell us about you. In Jesus‟ name we pray, Amen.

Following blind
One day in 1994, I got a call from an old college friend. Jackie had gone into the Peace Corps after we graduated nearly 20 years before, and I had visited her for a week in Honduras. After the Peace Corps, she had gotten her master of divinity degree at Duke University and worked as a union organizer. In 1994, she had taken a job as a publicist for a documentary called “The Uprising of ‟34,” and the film was coming to the Upstate. She came and spent the night with us, and we talked a great deal that evening about this film. It was all about the General Textile Strike of 1934, in which 400,000 workers in the nation‟s textile mills walked out because of low wages, long hours and unsafe working conditions. The strike lasted three weeks, and 14 people were killed. And it just so happened, Jackie said, that seven of those people were killed at the Chiquola Mill down the road in Honea Path. Well, my

grandparents had been textile workers for many years, and lived only 40 miles or so from Honea Path. I think I‟ve told you before how amazed I was that I‟d never heard this story. So using a lot of information from the movie, I began to research a newspaper story about how these killings from 60 years before had affected the little town of Honea Path. And the story turned out to be how they hadn’t. The town had effectively shut down any talk of the 1934 shootings. And only when the filmmakers came to town did many of the children of those dead men learn for the first time what really happened to their fathers. In the same way, the children of the people who fired the shots learned for the very first time what their parents and grandparents had done. Families of the shooters and the victims, it turned out, sat side by side in churches through those 60 years. They shopped together. They ate together. And they feared if they ever talked about what happened, the town would blow wide open. And so they buried the truth. I interviewed one woman whose father was shot and killed that day. And she said her mother kept the bloodied clothes that he wore and would take them out every night and stroke them.

But then this mother‟s oldest son took those bloody clothes out to a field and buried them. The mom begged him to tell her where they were but he never would. When I wrote the story, I used that anecdote. And one of my friends at The Greenville News came up to me the day the story was published and told me how much she loved that image – how the boy buried his father‟s clothes just like the town buried the truth. I stood there and looked at her, and mumbled a thank you. It was a good image. It was a heck of a good image. But I had never seen it. I wrote that the boy buried his father‟s clothes … because the boy buried his father’s clothes. I never realized the symbolism, the connection, of what I‟d written. That‟s why I am always suspicious when people attribute these great sweeping concepts to writers. I‟ve always suspected that English teachers sometimes wander far afield in the search for symbolism and foreshadowing, and I never wanted to place more on a text than was actually there. But sometimes, sometimes writers are so pointed that even a skeptic like me has to sit up and take notice.

Such is the case with the gospel writer Mark. We have talked in here before about Mark‟s sandwiches. Mark constructs story sandwiches. That is, he starts one story, interrupts it to tell another, then finishes the first story. He does this so that each story says something about the other. It‟s very effective storytelling. Mark uses this technique when Jesus starts off to heal the daughter of Jairus, the synagogue leader. Jesus is interrupted by the hemorrhaging woman, who tugs on his cloak and is healed after 12 years of bleeding. Then Jesus continues on to Jairus‟ house, where he now has to raise the daughter from the dead. The stories comment on each other: In one, Jesus is healing a family member of an important man in Jewish society. In the other, he is healing the lowliest, most unclean person in Jewish society. By placing one inside the other, Mark is telling us that this gospel of Jesus is for everyone. Mark also uses this technique when Jesus and the disciples are headed to Jerusalem during the last week of his life. He passes a fig tree and curses it for not producing fruit. Then he clears the temple of the moneychangers. The next morning he passes back by the fig tree, and the disciples see that it has withered and died.

Matthew doesn‟t tell the story this way. He writes simply that Jesus cursed the tree, and it withered on the spot. But Mark clearly has something else in mind. He is relating the nonproducing fig tree to the non-producing temple. In his story, the temple – representing official Judaism – has lost its meaning. Both the fig tree and the temple are not going to be part of this new kingdom. In today‟s Scripture passages, we have to pull out the telescope rather than the microscope. We‟re going to look at how Mark structures an entire section of his gospel by sandwiching it between our two passages.. Please turn with me to the first passage, Mark 8: 22-26.
22 They came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him. 23He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, „Can you see anything?‟ 24And the man looked up and said, „I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.‟ 25Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. 26Then he sent him away to his home, saying, „Do not even go into the village.‟

You may remember that the Salvation Army band that played here calls itself Men Like Trees, Walking. They get the name from this passage. And if you‟ll remember, they sang, “I Can See Clearly Now.”

This healing of the blind man at Bethsaida is the only miracle Jesus performs in stages. He touches the blind man twice. The first touch gives the man blurred vision. The second allows him to see clearly. Matthew and Luke do not even use this story, probably because they think it casts doubt on Jesus‟ abilities. But Mark uses it for a reason. Jesus‟ repeated touch is sometimes necessary for us to see completely. Now let‟s read our second passage, Mark 10: 46-52.
46 They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, „Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!‟ 48Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, „Son of David, have mercy on me!‟ 49Jesus stood still and said, „Call him here.‟ And they called the blind man, saying to him, „Take heart; get up, he is calling you.‟ 50So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51Then Jesus said to him, „What do you want me to do for you?‟ The blind man said to him, „My teacher, let me see again.‟ 52Jesus said to him, „Go; your faith has made you well.‟ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

The way we usually study these passages in Sunday school lessons and even sermons, you‟d never know they were part of a package. We study them individually, and look at them as simple healing stories.

But they are two halves of a whole. They are bookends that tell how two blind men came to see Jesus. And in between are sandwiched stories about the disciples not seeing. Here‟s what happens between these two bookend stories: Jesus predicts his death three times. And every time, the disciples resist. They refuse to see that their Lord plans to suffer and die. The first time Jesus predicts his death, Peter rebukes him, and Jesus actually responds, “Get behind me, Satan!” (Mark 8: 31-33) The second time, Mark says the disciples did not understand what Jesus was saying and were afraid to ask him. And then, even worse, they began arguing about who among them is the greatest. (Mark 9: 30-37) The third time Jesus predicts his death, James and John come to him and ask if they can sit on his right hand and his left hand in glory. (Mark 10: 32-45) So while Jesus is trying to explain how he will suffer and die, his blind disciples are saying in every way they know how: No, that’s not how it’s going to work. We are going to be kings! Something else that happens between these two stories of healing blind men is the Transfiguration. Jesus takes Peter and James and John to a mountain top, where Elijah and Moses appear and talk to Jesus. Peter offers

to build tabernacles for the three prophets. Mark tells us the disciples were terrified and didn‟t know what else to say. On the way down, the three disciples talk among themselves, asking what this rising from the dead could mean. (Mark 9: 2-10) In Mark‟s eyes, the disciples simply do not get Jesus. They cannot see what he is about. And finally, this section includes the story of a rich man who asks Jesus how to inherit eternal life. Jesus tells him he must sell all his belongings and give the money to the poor. The man can‟t do it, and so goes away “grieving, for he had many possessions.” (Mark 10: 22) And again, the disciples are mystified. They ask one another, “Then who can be saved?” (Mark 10: 26) Who indeed? Well, we know two, don‟t we? A blind man at Bethsaida. And blind Bartimaeus. These two complete strangers accept Jesus‟ healing. The blind man at Bethsaida “saw everything clearly.” Blind Bartimaeus went even a step further. He regained his sight and followed Jesus “on the way.”

In Mark‟s hands, this section from the middle of chapter 8 through chapter 10 is an extended sandwich story. The strangers who were blind could see and accept and understand Jesus. And the disciples, who ostensibly could see, were fumbling and misunderstanding and planning for glory. At times, they could see with blurred vision. And at times, they could not see at all. And that, of course, is the danger for us. We think we see the gospel story so plainly. Many of us have heard it since we were at our grandmother‟s knee. And yet, do we see clearly like the blind man at Bethsaida? Do we follow Jesus on the way like blind Bartimaeus? Or are we in essence blind followers of Jesus, not really having any understanding of what we‟re doing, who we‟re following? I was talking to a pastor who used to serve meals here quite frequently, and his congregation stopped. And he told me how much he enjoyed preaching the gospel overseas. The difference, he said, is that people overseas are hungry for it, sit on the edges of their chairs for hours as translators turn his words into their language.

But here, he said, everyone has heard the gospel or at least has had multiple opportunities to. And in the dining room of Triune, quite frankly, people were hearing it over and over and turning a deaf ear to it, a blind eye to it. They were simply not seeing the way of Jesus. If they were, we wouldn‟t be seeing the drug addictions and alcoholism and stealing that are so rampant. We wouldn‟t be seeing people living in crack houses and stumbling in for breakfast on Saturday mornings. We wouldn‟t be seeing men beating their wives and girlfriends until their faces are a mass of bruises and their heads reveal bald spots. There is none so blind as he who will not see. Just as Jesus‟ own followers, his handpicked Twelve, were the blindest people in this midsection of Mark‟s gospel, so may we in the church be the blindest of all humankind. Because coming to church and hearing the word is no guarantee of seeing Jesus‟ way clearly. Many of us may be like the blind man at Bethsaida midway through his healing. We have a hazy view of the gospel but do not see how it can impact our lives. We do not allow it to turn our lives toward obedience, toward transformation.

To do that, we may require a second touch from Jesus. And as that story teaches, a second touch is certainly possible. But then our challenge is to travel the way of no-longer-blind Bartimaeus. For when he regained his sight, he followed Jesus on the way. That will be the true test of our healing. Amen.

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