Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Opening of our eyes

A few kilo metres from where I live, was a farm opened for visitors. It was an rare patch of pristine countryside in the midst of a booming urban landscape. Among the many attractions there, was the workshop of a potter. In his workshop, the potter displayed making various articles from clay. I had frequented his workshop a number of times. He is very patient as he works with wet clay on his wheels. The patience of the potter and the vulnerability of the clay combined ends up in a beautiful clay object!

Whenever, I visited this potter's workshop, I used picture myself as the clay on the wheels and the fingers of the potter as that of my Lord who shapes me. The Lord is like a potter, willing to work with us as long as we are willing to be shaped by his hands. He doesn't give up in the middle of the process if we are willing and vulnerable in his hands. He keeps working on us to bring to fulfilment what he has begun in us. That’s why he is called, ‘the founder and perfecter of our faith’ (Heb 12:2).

The story in Mark 8:22-26 is about a blind man who was brought to Jesus so that he may receive healing. Jesus had healed many sick so far; especially those who are blind. But this healing is very unique. First of all, it is found only in the Gospel of Mark. Secondly, rather unusually, Jesus takes this man out of his village to be healed. Third strange thing is that, Jesus spat on his eyes; certainly the spray must have fallen all over his face too! Fourthly, though there is nothing unusual about touching the eyes in order to receive healing, in this case, Jesus had to touch twice! After the first touch, Jesus asked the man whether he is able to see or not his answer was rather strange. He said, ‘I see people, they walk like trees.’ Trees don't walk! He might have seen people walking around and people might have appeared to as trees. What is important is that he did not receive total healing. Jesus had to try again. On the second touch he received full sight: ‘He saw everything clearly.’ Finally, he prevents him from entering the village again.

It is important to note that how the first readers of the Gospel of Mark might have read it. They could identify with this man who was taken out of his village to receive healing. Like him they were also led out of their villages, homes and businesses to follow him. In this Gospel we have the stories of Peter, Andrew, James and John the fishermen and that of Levi the tax-collector who were called by Jesus. They had to leave their fishing nets, their boats and their tax-booths in order to follow him and travel all over the towns and villages of Galilee. As the gospel was preached all over the world, many followed suit: Leaving their villages and towns, their own communities and families behind. They were not allowed to go back, though some did. Like Demas who went back because of his love for the world. The story though strange it looks was packed with significance for all of us. We can all put ourselves in the shoes of this man who follows the Lord, cutting all that moorings to our life-style.

This calling and going out was to receive sight—a new sight about the Galilean carpenter. The new sight they received was that the Galilean carpenter by the name Jesus is not just an ordinary leader but he is the Messiah, the saviour of the world.

However, this sight they received about him was not sudden, it was gradual. They began with total ignorance, then slowly, degree by degree they began to receive deeper insights about him—like this blind man. First he was blind, then his sight was foggy and then clarity came.

It is this idea of receiving sight by degrees that Mark intends to convey by positioning this event at this particular point in his Gospel. This passage that is unique to the Gospel of Mark is placed between Jesus’ warning about ‘leaven of the Pharisees’ (Mark 8:11-21) and Peter’s confession (Mark 8:27-30). The Pharisees though they have seen many signs that Jesus’ had performed still needed more sign. They were not willing to accept the fact that Jesus is the promised Messiah. Their unwillingness to accept Jesus is the leaven. The disciples in a like manner were not able to put their trust in him fully. The miracles and teachings have to produce faith in them but they were not sufficient progress in their journey of faith with him. When Jesus mentioned ‘leaven’ they thought of bread. It is true that leaven can mean bread but Jesus did not mean the literal bread. They failed to see the spiritual significance of his warning. However, Jesus was patient with his disciples: teaching, warning, doing miracles.

However, there is a great change in the disciples when we come to Mark 8:27-30. The same disciples who wondered ‘Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?’ (Mark 4:41) is able to confess that Jesus is the Messiah. Though their vision of Messiah was very different from that of Jesus’. Peter rebuked Jesus because he could not understand the concept of a suffering Messiah (Mark 8:31-33). His notion was a triumphant Messiah in line with the popular Jewish expectations of the day. Whether it is faulty or partial, the disciples represented by Peter has made considerable progress in their vision of Jesus. From a country carpenter, to a teacher-miracle worker to Messiah!

The acted parable of the double healing of the blind man is the transitional narrative. A parable that tells us the gradual growth in our faith, the faith of those who follow him out of their ‘villages.’ We follow him. However, we fail to receive the sight fully. However, the Lord helps us in our weaknesses. He touches again and again and again till we see people as people and trees as trees! He works with us patiently as the potter does.

That is why Paul calls Christian lives as ‘the handiwork of God’ (Eph 2:10). God works with us, in us until we are ready to be presented. Just as the potter takes the object he shaped from the clay out of the workshop to the sunlight to be dried and then to the showcase to be displayed. This is summarised beautifully by Paul. ‘... so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.’ (Ephesians 5:27, ESV).

Burning Bushes

'And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning,...