Mark 8:22-26 They came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him. 23 He 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?" 24 And the man looked up and said, "I can see people, but they look like trees, walking." 25 Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. 26 Then he sent him away to his home, saying, "Do not even go into the village."
Mark 10:46-52 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. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" 48 Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" 49 Jesus stood still and said, "Call him here." And they called the blind man, saying to him, "Take heart; get up, he is calling you." 50 So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 Then 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." 52 Jesus said to him, "Go; your faith has made you well." Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
Let's look at what it means 'to see' in the light of chapters 9 and 10 in Mark's gospel. I want to do this in the context of male 'mid-life crisis'. (Of course, that's no by no means the only way to look at these chapters!)
I'm pretty certain that many women experience getting older quite differently from men.... So I'd be interested to hear how women observe all this bloke stuff. And I would also be very interested to share at some stage how, or if, women see these two chapters particularly applying to them.
The two blind people in Mark can be symbols of different stages of life and faith in a person. They represent two stages of life many of us, male or female, may experience.
In other words, we can see them as just the one blind person in two different times. He acts like a set of brackets around chapters 9 and 10 of Mark. And the material inside the brackets teaches us what it means to follow the Messiah.
Jesus takes him out of the village. For healing, we need to leave the rush of life and take stock of where we are! In this first story, Jesus brings an odd healing. "I can see people, but they look like trees walking."
Only when the man is touched again by Jesus, and looks intently, can he see clearly. He looked intently: those words are important. Mark is saying we will only see clearly and be healed if we look intently at what follows in this part of the gospel.
Well our young man goes out into the world and tries to live what Jesus has shown him. Of course, many men don't realise they are blind, and pay no attention to Jesus at all.
There is a path we men follow. While women learn to nurture and relate, we look for knowledge and power. If we know, we will understand, and have mastery... we will be safe... or to be theologically honest about it, we will be saved! You who are wives, mothers, or girlfriends can testify to that obsessive male fascination for fiddling pointlessly with cars and computers. Knowledge is power!
Except Mark tells us it doesn't work. Jesus gives the disciples all the knowledge they need three times: that he is indeed the Messiah, as Peter had said, and he will be rejected, killed, and rise again. But knowledge alone gets you nowhere. The disciples can not understand. They are afraid. Men get no peace through power; indeed, if we really learn, we learn our essential ignorance, and weakness.
Well if it's not knowledge, do we need a religious high? Religious men sometimes seek this in things like the charismatic movement. But the thrill of the footy, or the high of a fast and powerful car also has an element of religious experience, as does the discovery of science or art.
Religious experience, sought for itself, also fails us. On the mountain of the Transfiguration, in the very presence of God, Peter is a fool. 'Let me make tents for you, Lord!' Not very profound! Religious experience, leaves us incoherent. It is not to be sought, or it becomes manufactured, and we become jaded. It gives only limited power for living.
The disciples came down off the mountain with Jesus. Evil was still there, seizing a small boy in fits. Even with the echo of the very voice of God in their ears, and the dampness of the cloud still in their clothing, they were powerless to combat the evil.
'How did you cast it out,' they asked Jesus. 'This kind comes out only by prayer,' he said. Prayer.... is the act of confessing our powerlessness before God. We men have to learn that we cannot achieve joy and peace and salvation by high experiences, or by manufacturing happiness.
But we are still young. Some of us take many years to recognise our powerlessness.
Money!!! That will get us somewhere. Except Jesus says to the rich man, 'Leave it behind, then you will have treasure in heaven'. Some of us wonder if, with more money, we could at least have breathing space to work through our sorrows. But those who have not yet seen even the trees walking, really think money will make them happy!
Another way to seek peace is to become exclusive. 'We saw someone casting out demons in your name, but they were not one of us so we told them to stop,' the disciples told Jesus.
Fundamentalism... Cliques.... Define yourself right and the others wrong. Then you will be secure and have peace and joy!?
It doesn't work. The fundamentalist approach to life subverts the experience of grace, erodes joy, and brings only a poor parody of peace. To work at all, it requires us to make ourselves blind!
Maybe then, I should get to the top of the pile and be the greatest? Get a good job and get on in life!
The spiritually aware man seeks to serve rather than lord it over people. Yet status and position are convenient drugs for the pain of our unknowing about life. Our families and society reward us for being 'a somebody.' Isn't the flattery welcome relief in life's uncertainty?
And then one day we realise that it has all been for naught. We never will get the position we wanted- it keeps going to younger men.
Or we have been turfed out... redundant!
Or, we decide to climb to just that one last crest on the slope, where we will finally see salvation from the top of the hill..... only to find there is always further to climb.
Perhaps a new relationship will lessen my pain. In Jesus' time a man could divorce a women for causing him offence. Offence could simply be finding a woman who was more attractive than her!
It still happens. 'If I can find another, better, younger wife I'll be happy.' Don't, said Jesus, you won't.
'And don't turn aside to sin. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off.'
That's chapters nine and ten... the things we blokes do seeking some sort of peace and happiness and fulfilment. But there always comes a time, where we find ourselves sitting on the side of the road, blind and desperate. Life has turned to dust and ashes in our mouth. All our riches and skills, like Job's, have come to nothing.
Men rarely have real friends, just work mates, drinking mates, and team mates. There is no one to talk to about truly deep things. Except perhaps a wife. And often she won't listen, deflecting us, afraid of the depths of our pain, which are so often accompanied by rage.
Many men suicide. I suspect there are many more of us who consider it, but out of love and duty for our family, go on, never telling of our pain, carrying the growing load, longing for a day when we can finally stop and let go.
Often we are truly a blind beggar alone on life's wayside. We may be neat and clean on the outside, and even a "success!" but behind the mask we are as alone, uncared for, and unwanted as our more honest brothers, wandering unkempt out there in the Square.
I remember a business man, drunk in his suit, crying out with pain and anger at God over in the Cathedral. It was like Job: 'I cry to you and you do not answer me; I stand, and you merely look at me'. The pain kills us. We die younger. The burden of our pain saps more of our energy as life goes on.
Where will I find the answer?
Job is given no answer by God. In the face of God's greatness he can never understand. He must simply accept he is, about some things, forever blind.
But there is a healing. The blind man persistently calls out in faith: 'Jesus, Son of David have mercy on me.' He springs up, not holding back. Keep looking. Don't give up.
He leaves behind his cloak: all the possession he has. And when Jesus asks what he wants (the same question asked of James and John a few verses earlier) he asks not for status, but only that he may see. Don't hang on to what you don't need.
Jesus heals him. And he follows on the way. Perhaps this is an answer for that great yawning pit of unease, and pain, and unknowing within us: Follow on the Way.
To see, to be healed, to be saved (the Greek for heal and save is the same word), and to be at peace, are all part of the one. Seeing, healing, being saved, and being at peace, come from following Jesus. They come from asking and doing what he would do if he were in our shoes.
When we ask... when we cry out, there is often no complete answer. There is often uncertainty.
There is often pain; Jesus was killed. We too will suffer and die many little deaths. But Jesus was also raised again. It will happen also for us.
Is this true? Or is it just words?
All I can say is that being on the way of Jesus, rather than knowing, and owning, and controlling, and being an Australian success story, has given me more peace than before.
My pain still hurts, but no longer terrifies me. In the darkness of depression I also find God. My joy is richer; it is real, not a self deceptive defence. I am beginning to live more a life and am less driven. My eyes are open.
I see two kinds of older men. There are those who have.... wised up to the rat race. They have been on the way of Jesus, or something like it. They are the men who have been humbled, even badly scarred by life. That's the cost of being on the way, but it has a return of rich humility. That is; their scarring has pointed them towards living life God's way. That's what humility really is, and it's deeply healing.
I admire these men. They have a certain peace.
There are other men who.... who 'haven't got it' yet. They haven't worked out that they're playing the wrong game, and got their ladder against the wrong wall. I don't want to be like that.
So men, let us work hard. Let us live out a servant leadership. Let us be full of courage. Jesus asks it of us. Let us also know that to be blind is no shame. Only the really strong can own their limitations and powerlessness.
Let us be on the Way with the Jesus vision. It will make us whole. And as often as life turns to ashes in our mouth, and our vision is clouded over in blindness, it will give us new vision for the next part of the way. Amen.
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.