There’s a strange passage in the Bible that is hard to figure out. It’s hard because it looks like Jesus needs two takes to take a man from blindness to full sight. In Mark 8, some people bring a blind man to Jesus. He proceeds to spit into his eyes, and then asks him what he sees. The man replies, I see people that are like trees walking around. Huh?
Jesus then touches the man’s eyes again, and this time the man looks up and sees everything clearly. Ok, that’s better. That’s the way it should be. But why does it look like he is only “half-healed” at first glance? And what’s with the tree-looking people?
I don’t know that I can explain what happened, but I think this story begins to make (some) sense when I read what Mark writes around this story. Right after the healing, Jesus asks his disciples what other people are saying about him. Most people think you are a prophet of one kind or another. But what about you? Jesus asks them.
Peter blurts out: You are the Christ!
To which, Jesus essentially says: You’re right. Now, here’s what it means. It means that I am going to be rejected, killed — and on the third day, rise from the dead. At which, Peter, who only 3 verses before had made the Good Confession, now rebukes Jesus. No way, Peter says to Jesus. No way this happens!
To which, Jesus gives an even harsher rebuke to Peter: Get behind me, Satan!
Strong words, spoken strongly, I think, because so much is at stake. Peter sees who Jesus is (the Messiah!), but he has a complete lack of understanding what this means for Jesus (suffering, death, then resurrection). In other words, Peter is a lot like the blind guy Jesus just healed. He sees Jesus, but he doesn’t see clearly. Peter has the right language for Jesus; but he simply has no idea where that leads.
And so, fresh on the heels of the rebuke of Peter, Jesus turns to his disciples and the crowds, and says: If anyone wants to follow behind me, it’s going to involve a cross – cuz that’s where I’m going. If you are serious about following me, then the way to life is through death.
Could it be that the story of the blind man and Peter are two ways to tell the same truth? — If we are going to follow Jesus, we have to understand who he is? We have to see him clearly. No simple glances, or cute categories, or flannelgraph images. No projecting on Jesus our categories or our limited expectations. Instead, following Jesus means we better have our Eyes Wide Open. We had better look clearly; and we had better see clearly. And see Him clearly. For the path of Jesus is difficult. It may ask more of us than we feel we can give; it might take us places we’d rather not go.
Look at me clearly, Jesus might say. See ALL of me; see all that I came to do. And then decide: are you ready to follow me — ALL the way?
Yes, I want to say. Yes, I want to go all the way. But, with the father of the boy with an unclean spirit, I cry out: I believe. Help my unbelief!
For I know I cannot do this on my own. And I know so often I fail. Just like Peter, who would go on to deny his friend and Lord; and yet preach the first sermon on the day the Church was unleashed. Just like Peter, who would be the first to reach some non-Jews with the good news of Jesus, and then refuse to eat with them at the same table.
Peter would grow to see clearly; but still he would stumble. Like me. And probably like you. And when we do, we open our eyes, yet again, yet more clearly — and say, yet again: You are the Christ; help me to see you, again today; and again today, to pick up my cross and follow you. All the way.