Lent – 16th reading for discipleship reflections

James DouglasUncategorizedLeave a Comment

These posts seem to be marked more by absence than presence. I’ll persist in hope.

 

Reading: Mark 8

The saying goes that there are none so blind as those who will not see. In this chapter, Jesus is dealing with the blindness of his disciples, the Pharisees, the disciples again, and in the middle a blind man. The feeding of the four thousand repeats the pattern of the feeding of the five-thousand, but with different numbers this time (that nobody has definitively explained). Jesus notes the crowd’s hunger (they’ve been with him ‘three days’, too long to continue filling their bellies with picnic supplies), anticipates their distress and tells the disciples to act to prevent it. The disciples ask ‘How can one feed these people with bread here in the desert?’ Of course, the manna in the wilderness is echoed here – Jesus is portrayed as the new Moses – the disciples don’t ask ‘why did you lead us out here to the wilderness to starve?’ but the vision behind the question is the same. The vision is of the scarcity of the disciples resources and the size of the crowd. The disciples aren’t seeing who is with them. They don’t say ‘Well, Jesus, can you help us?’ even though he’s standing right there.

After feeding the crowd, Jesus is asked for a sign by the Pharisees. Apparently they missed seconds at the feast that’s just happened. There’s a palpable note of exasperation here – ‘Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to this generation.’ It seems this is why, as Jesus travels across the lake with the disciples, he warns them about the yeast of the Scribes and Pharisees. Instead of looking at how they can be part of the change that people seem to want (the baskets of leftovers weren’t because people didn’t like the bread), the Pharisees are looking for a(nother) sign that they should get on board, because Jesus isn’t acting like the Messiah they were expecting.

On the other side of the lake at Bethsaida, Jesus encounters a blind man who wants to see. His vision doesn’t clear immediately – people are ‘like trees, walking’ – but a second application of the same treatment brings clarity. Haven’t we just had a repeat of a story and the disciples are still not recognising things for what they are?

It seems their eyes are clearing by the time they reach Caesaria Phillipi, where a temple had recently been established to the latest god – the Roman Emperor. When Jesus asks who people say he is, the approximations come in – Elijah, John the Baptist, one of the prophets – when he asks who they say he is, Simon Peter jumps in with ‘you are the Messiah’.

Now they can see who he is and who he must stand against, Jesus ‘begins to teach them’ that the ‘son of Man’ will be betrayed and killed and rise again. Peter’s having none of it, so Jesus shows him his back: ‘Get behind me, Satan!’ The term for ‘get behind me’ can also be used to invite someone to ‘follow me’. Jesus has announced his destination and direction and Peter (and all the disciples) can choose to take up their cross and follow or go the other way.

As we read through Jesus’ story in Lent, we are offered the same choice – to follow Jesus and share our bread, and bring God’s healing, and champion the cause of the oppressed, and oppose the false gods of the world, conscious that there is a price to choosing such a path – or to follow the way of the world and hoard what’s ours, ignore others’ suffering, rejoice only in our own freedom and pretend that the false gods demand no sacrifices.

No wonder Jesus talked about taking up a cross.

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