Mark (and Luke) 8: Comparison/Contrast

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Sermon today on Mark 8:22ff. Something that has not been preached enough: why wasn't the man healed on Jesus' first attempt? As the Gerasene demoniac wasn't. One could say Christ's intentions are mysterious beyond our mortal comprehension. I've been hearing that "explanation" all my life and suspect it rather signals whenever we don't know or our theology is out of kilter with the biblical record.

A better explanation is that Jesus, being fully human, was no more powerful or knowing than we are. In other words, he didn't cheat but acted and knew as the Holy Spirit, aka the On-Going (trans. English "Living") Word, revealed to him. He said so himself: "I only do what I see the Father doing." (John 5:19) Since he granted that same Spirit to his followers when he gained the authority to do so (John 16:13), his followers technically have the same authority to know and do -- plus more time to hear and do. That's why he wasn't just flattering us when he said that we would do greater things than he (John 14:12).

Which means the story of the church should be: millions of Christians knowing and doing the things Christ did, but more so, and the world was changed. I think it is worth asking, "What happened?" and "Why isn't it happening?" I think at least part of the answer is that Christ was turned into a demi-god so that there would be an excuse for so-called "believers" to not follow.

Second question that was brought up: why did Jesus take the blind man out of the village, the village that brought him to Jesus to heal to start with? Here we must make educated guesses. Fortunately, there are several "red flags" in the text.

First we learn, at the end of the story, that the man was not in fact from that town. Why was the citizenry so solicitous for his healing? In this gospel, the story is placed in a chapter that starts with a miracle that arguably impressed ancient peoples most of all -- given the number of early depictions archaeology has uncovered. Immediately following the feeding of the thousands from almost nothing, the Pharisees come out, seeking a miraculous sign! And the story of the citizens of Bethsaida follows immediately.

At this point, it's important to know that the healing of blind people was widely regarded as a scriptural sign of the Messiah. Which is why the people of nearby Nazareth tried to kill Jesus for heresy when he initiated his ministry with them (Luke 4:18) -- see Ken Bailey's excellent exposition of all this.

So I would say, there's a lot more going on here than we at two millennia's distance from the cultural context of the story realize. Now I assert that the basis of the leaven of the Pharisees is this: that signs beget belief. However, according to Jesus' teachings and actions -- and my own personal experience -- it is quite the opposite: God's acts (let's not call them "signs" in this formulation) FOLLOW belief. Contrary to what the Pharisees -- and I would say the majority of our theologians -- would say, Jesus did not do miracles primarily to get people to believe. He fed the thousands, why? Because THEY WERE HUNGRY. And, perhaps more importantly, they had followed him for days into the wilderness without planning to do so. They were so focused on Jesus that they were blind to the danger of following him. Anyone that knows that faith is not mere belief will recognize it here.

So at Bethsaida, Jesus had a dilemma. He wanted to save the blind man JUST BECAUSE HE WAS BLIND. But the people that had shoved him forward wanted to test God according to scripture. Jesus KNEW the biblical penalty against testing God (v. 12) and wanted no part of that. So he took the man away from there -- for good.

The fact is, miracles as signs and wonders don't work. In Jesus' story of the beggar Lazarus, Father Abraham indicates that they are quite useless for this purpose (Luke 16:31). Jesus' view is that people that will believe will receive with gladness the smallest seed of the Word. The people that won't will not even with the sign of resurrection. "My sheep hear my voice," he said, and didn't agonize that the wolves refuse to. "No sign will be given to them."

No, miracles exist because God is willing and able for them that believe. Period.

Edie Sodowsky Hmm. I've never seen "failures" in these passages. I presumed that when the blind man said that he saw people walking and noted that they looked like trees, that this was the first step of healing. I presumed that previously he had no sight at all, and seeing figures was an improvement. I consider it possible that healing in stages would make the transition easier. Re the Gerasene, I didn't see failure at all, but that the second sentence in Luke 8:29 was parenthetical - an explanation of the man's past, not a result of prior attempts by Jesus to heal him. Am I reading these wrong?

Michael Richter You're right: "failures" is too strong a word. I meant "failure" in the sense that the healing was not immediately complete, as one might expect of an omnipotent being.

I was focusing more on the first part of Luke 8:29, "For He had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man." Again, as you say, one may see the resulting manifestation of the demon cowering at Jesus' feet as but one stage of that healing process.

Now that you mention the second part of 8:29, I notice this passage is not linear, but follows the "circular" Hebrew rhetorical style explained well (again) by Bailey. Here the demon's confession is the climax of the structure (and therefore the main point). "For He had commanded..." (the line after the climax) matches ""Seeing Jesus..." (the line before). Moving outward, "For it had seized him many times..." goes back to explaining "...who had not put on clothes for a long time..." "And Jesus asked him..." refers back to "...a man... possessed with demons." And outermost, perhaps, "the abyss" matches with the implied Sea of Galilee. This is two more layers than the ideal seven, but might explain the structure of the text.

Reading further is more structural fun, this in couplets. The demon enters the swine, and they all run into the lake. Upon which fear enters the swineherds, and they all run into town. We note here how Jewish chauvinism might nod approvingly at this comparison between pigs and gentiles. Then the people, well, BELIEVED in Jesus ...and turned him away. Then Jesus, perhaps in acknowledgement that a mission field can show promise through rejection, turned the former demoniac away -- to reap the harvest.

It's a complete reversal of Mark 8, and the key to explaining the difference is God's attitude toward fresh hearts (the indigenous gentiles of Gerasene in this case) and hardened hearts (the Jewish settlers of Bethsaida).

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