‘It was 7:51 a.m. on Friday [in] the middle of the morning rush hour. … No one knew it, but the fiddler standing outside the Metro was one of the finest classical musicians in the world, playing some of the most elegant music ever written on one of the most valuable violins ever made.’
Of the 1,097 people who passed by Joshua Bell that morning, only seven paused, even briefly, to listen. How often do you think we miss the significance of what is in front of us?
What can prevent us from seeing things the way they really are?
Jesus has repeatedly bewildered people by doing the unexpected.
In response to his miracles, his teaching and his claims, the question the people are left asking is ‘Who is this?’ Seeing him as simply a rabbi or a revolutionary didn’t seem to fit. Some suggested he was a prophet like those they’d read about from their history. Others remembered predictions that a great prophet, like Moses or Elijah, would one day return to get people ready for God’s kingdom. Everyone was wondering what to make of him.
The disciples, despite their privileged access to Jesus, seemed no more certain than anyone else. In the story immediately before our passage today, Jesus had challenged their failure to understand him with a barrage of questions: ‘Can you not see?’, ‘Can you not hear?’, ‘Don’t you remember?’, ‘Do you still not understand?’ (Mark 8:18–21).
But now there is a breakthrough. At this important turning point in Mark’s account the disciples at last acknowledge what Mark has announced to his readers from the beginning (Mark 1:1).
Perhaps things are starting to become clear.
22 They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. 23 He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spat on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, ‘Do you see anything?’
24 He looked up and said, ‘I see people; they look like trees walking around.’
25 Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. 26 Jesus sent him home, saying, ‘Don’t even go into the village.’
What features in the story of this blind man’s healing have we seen before? What is unusual?
With Jesus’ first touch the man was able to see things, but his brain seemed unable to make sense of what he saw. He needed a second touch from Jesus to see things clearly.
This is an unusual healing. Why might Jesus have chosen to heal this man in this way? What might he be showing us?
Consider what you’ve seen of Jesus so far. Why do you think Jesus’ identity is the subject of so much speculation?
27 Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, ‘Who do people say I am?’
28 They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’
29 ‘But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’
Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah.’
30 Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.
Jesus’ question to his disciples is direct and urgent. What do you make of the fact that Jesus’ teaching is so often about himself (rather than about, say, morality or spiritual practice)?
Peter’s answer, ‘You are the Messiah’, is of massive significance. Messiah meant ‘anointed one’, referring to the Jewish practice of anointing kings with oil. But the Messiah was to be no ordinary king.
The Messiah, they believed, would end all evil, heal all diseases and enable the world to become all that it could and should be. If Peter is right, then the world we all want is nearly here.
Mark has already let us, his readers, know that Peter is on the right track (Mark 1:1), but Jesus immediately warns them to keep it secret (verse 30). What possible reasons could Jesus have for this?
At last the disciples have recognised what Mark stated at the very beginning of his Gospel. But, at this very moment of insight, Jesus begins to say some very confusing and disturbing things.
31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. ‘Get behind me, Satan!’ he said. ‘You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.’
How does Peter respond to Jesus’ words? To what extent can you understand this reaction?
Jesus responds equally strongly. What does Jesus’ response suggest about how Peter’s words may have affected him?
Jesus twice uses the word ‘must’ in his description of what will happen to him. What does this imply?
We now jump ahead to where Jesus brings up this uncomfortable topic with his disciples for a second time.
30 They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, 31 because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, ‘The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.’ 32 But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.
33 They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the road?’ 34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.
35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, ‘Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.’
36 He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 ‘Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.’
Jesus is clearly keen for his disciples to understand what is going to happen to him (Mark 8:32). Why do you think they struggle to grasp what he means? Why might they be afraid to ask him about it?
Consider the disciples’ rather embarrassing argument. What do they seem to think the benefits will be for themselves if Jesus is the Messiah?
The Messiah that everyone was waiting for was going to be the one through whom God would rescue Israel and establish his kingdom. As the Messiah’s closest friends, therefore, the disciples were sure they were on a fast track to greatness.
Children and servants (the same word is used for both in Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke) had the lowest status in society. How is Jesus challenging the disciples’ understanding of what kind of king he will be?
What, if anything, is becoming clearer for you about Jesus? What remains obscure?
Like those commuters rushing past the great violinist, or the disciples in their pursuit of greatness, our personal priorities can sometimes prevent us from seeing things clearly.
What priorities motivate you personally? To what extent do you think these things may help or hinder you as you seek to understand Jesus and his significance?
The gospels are full of people telling their stories - people asking questions, seeking relationships, searching for something more.
A central character, woven throughout each story, is Jesus, a historical figure surrounded by mystery. Join us as we explore these stories, and build up a picture of Jesus through the people he meets and the accounts that are written about him.