Tuesday, September 8, 2015

What Can You See?

    Blindness can oftentimes be something much more than a physical disability.  I do not mean to be insensitive with this comment because there are those who are very near and dear to me who suffer with literal blindness and loss of sight.  I mean this to say that we all, and I mean all, miss things which are right in front of our noses.  These things can be very small and somewhat insignificant, but they can also be very damaging.

    For instance, this past week, I had a meeting scheduled on Wednesday with a representative of a company that sells playground equipment.  We had corresponded by email, and in her initial contact, she relayed to me the contact information she had for me–including the church’s phone number.  I hastily read through the email she sent, and replied setting up a meeting.  She said she would call me when she was arriving.  The appointed meeting time came and went.  No phone call.  After a period of time, I checked my email, and the sales rep said, “I waited for you for 30 minutes.  I tried to call the number I had for you, and all I got was a busy signal.  We can try again sometime later.”  She left her cell phone number, and I scratched my head.  Both Sam and I had been in the office, and no phone call had come.  I scrolled down to the bottom of the email correspondence, and I read the contact number she had for the church 979-854-5444.  Those of you who know the church number know now what the problem was.  The church’s number is 979-865-5444.  How had I missed this obvious mistake?  How had I overlooked it?  How is it that I had eyes but didn’t see?  Fortunately, I made contact with the sales rep.  She hadn’t gone too far, and we were able to meet.  However, my “blindness” almost prevented us from conducting the business we had scheduled and could have led to hard feelings.

    That one is minor.  Unfortunately, not all such blindness is minor.  There are other such things that are major.  When I was on internship in Waco, I remember vividly driving through town one evening.  Dawna and I were heading out to eat when we approached a stoplight.  The light turned red, and a truck ran through the light and hit a motorcycle–at least that’s what I saw.  The motorcyclist lay in the middle of the intersection, and people began rendering aid.  Dawna and I stopped as witnesses to the incident.  Police arrived, and I sought them out and gave a statement.  Then, a guy walks up and says, “What about my truck?”  Not only had the motorcycle been involved, but another vehicle had as well.  I never saw it–even though I saw it.  That added a whole other layer to the situation–which thankfully the police officer worked out. 

    I know I am not the only one this happens to.  I know most of you here this morning have had similar things happen.  You’ve been stopped at an intersection.  You’ve looked both ways.  You start easing off the break and driving forward only to see out of the corner of your eye a car coming.  You wonder, “How did I miss that?”  You work through paperwork on your job.  You glance over it several times, and someone still manages to find an error on it.  You are walking around in the grocery store looking for an item, and you walk by a section ten times.  Suddenly, you finally see it, and you wonder, “Am I going insane?” 

    No.  You and I are not going insane.  We just simply miss things.  Sometimes we are moving too fast or events are happening too fast around us.  Our brains cannot process the information our eyes see fast enough.  Gaps get automatically filled in.  We think we see it all, but in reality, we don’t.  We catch only in part, and our brains fill the rest in.  And it doesn’t just happen when we are at an intersection or in the grocery store or looking at an email or paperwork.  It happens in the rest of our lives as well.  Whenever we see a situation unfolding, our brains take all sorts of information and link them together filling in missing information–and here’s the kicker–based upon a particular set of assumptions that govern the way we view the world.

    Let me repeat that.  Our brains automatically fill in missing information and construct a way of looking at the world based upon a particular set of governing assumptions.  This is why two people can look at the same facts and come up with two very different ways of reading those two sets of facts.  Oh, and here is the icing on the cake–if new information is added that contradicts our original “story” we are more apt to disregard the new evidence and cling to our particular, original story.  Why?  Not because the facts are irrelevant, but because we have to change our assumptions.  We have to change the very foundation of the way we look at the world. 

    I know it may seem like I am talking way up here, but let me pull it into perspective by turning to our lesson this morning from Mark chapter 8.  As we work through this, I hope you will see what I am talking about:

    This text follows Jesus’ feeding of the 4000, an event that the disciples wanted nothing to do with because those gathered were Gentiles.  The disciples had a major assumption that God would restore the Kingdom of Israel through the work of the Messiah, and the Gentiles would kowtow to the Israelites.  The disciples believed that Israel mattered most in the eyes of God, and everyone else were second class citizens.  This is the same thing the Pharisees believed way back in Mark chapter 7 when they had forgotten the basic premise of the covenant that God made with Abraham–that the Jews would be blessed to be a blessing.  Jesus is working to unravel these assumptions, and He is having a difficult time.

    For right after the feeding of the 4000, Jesus and His disciples have another encounter with the Pharisees.  The Pharisees come to challenge Jesus, and they demand a sign.  Now, we need to be very careful here in understanding what is going on.  The Pharisees are not asking for another miracle.  They have witnessed some of Jesus’ miracles.  They have heard eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ miracles.  The Pharisees come up to Jesus and ask for a sameion–the Greek word for sign.  Mark uses the word dunamis in Greek to describe a miracle, so the distinction is very important.  You see the Pharisees wanted to know the source of Jesus’ power.  They wanted to know the source of His miracles, and they were asking for confirmation that God was working through Jesus.  In effect, the Pharisees are saying, “How do we know that you are from God.  Show us that you truly are from God.  Give us a direct signal from God that He is responsible for what you are doing.”

    Jesus sighs deeply.  It’s a sigh of indignation.  It’s a sigh of almost despair.  The Pharisees, who were religious leaders should have gotten it.  They should be able to see plainly that everything Jesus is doing is from God.  There is no need for any sort of sign, and Jesus says exactly that.  The language in the Greek is actually much stronger than the English translation we have before us.  Jesus essentially says, “If any sign is given to you, may I die!”  It’s really an interesting comment given what will eventually happen to Jesus, but I will get there in a little while.

    The Pharisees just don’t get it.  They are incapable of seeing God’s actions.  Their assumptions run too deep.  Their worldview is too entrenched, and they cannot even come close to seeing what Jesus is doing.  One of the commentators said it best, “...the unbeliever despite the evidence will always find grounds for unbelief, especially if believing means abandoning the familiar, the source of security.  For those who had the eyes of faith, Jesus’ ministry provided an ample “sign from heaven” of God’s confirming work.  For those blinded by unbelief no sign could adequately reveal the nature of Jesus words and work.”

    But it isn’t just the Pharisees who are having difficulty.  It isn’t just the Pharisees who are blinded by things.  The disciples are in that boat as well–literally and figuratively.  When Jesus and the disciples leave the Pharisees, Jesus turns to them and says, “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Herod!” 

    The disciples are very dense here.  They fail to grasp what Jesus is trying to get across to them.  In one of those very curious responses, they say, “Oh, it’s because we forgot to bring bread.”  WHAT???

    How in the world does “Beware the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod” have anything to do with a lack of bread?  Maybe the disciples had heard just a few too many of Jesus’ teachings.  Maybe they were looking for all sorts of hidden meanings, but this one seems just a little too far fetched.

    Jesus, patiently tries to bring them around.  “You think I am talking about bread?  How many lunch boxes of bread did you take up after I fed 5000?”  The disciples say, “12.”  How many large baskets did you take up after I fed the 4000?  “Seven,” the disciples respond. 

    Jesus says, “And you still don’t get it?”  Mark leaves us hanging right there.  We don’t see the disciples response to this.  Maybe they do get it now.  Maybe they don’t.  One think we can see for certain is that Jesus isn’t talking about bread.  He is talking about something much more important.  Jesus can produce bread out of thin air.  He can take five loaves and provide for 5000.  He can take seven loaves and provide for 4000.  He can take that one loaf and provide for 13.  There is no issue here!!!  But there is an issue with being able to see.  There is an issue with trusting Jesus.  The disciples aren’t there yet.  They may be starting to see.   They are in the boat with Jesus, but they only see dimly!

    Which brings us to this next part of the text.  It is a very, very intriguing story.  It’s almost at the center of Mark’s gospel, and as I have studied it, I think it is a very, very important piece.  It is the healing of a man who is blind, but it is unlike any other healing we find Jesus doing.  No other Gospel has a healing like this, and most of the commentators I read, and I agree with them–is this healing is both a healing and a metaphor exposing the blindness of the Pharisees, the semi-sight of the disciples, and ultimately pointing to what can bring us sight.

    People bring to Jesus a man who is blind, and much like He did with the man who was deaf and tongue tied, Jesus takes the man away from the crowd.  Jesus spits in the man’s eye, lays His hands on him and then asks, “What do you see?”  This is the only time Jesus ever asks this question of someone He is healing.  Nowhere else does He ask such a thing.

    The man replies, “I see people, but they look like trees.”  Now, here is an interesting statement because it implies that the guy once was able to see.  He must have known what trees looked like at one time.  He must have known what people looked like at one time.  This is a restoration miracle, but it isn’t complete.  He cannot see clearly.  Did Jesus mess up?  No.  As I said earlier, there is a metaphor–a teaching taking place.   Why would I say this?  Who would the blind man have seen?  Who would be the men looking like trees?  The disciples.  The disciples must have been the ones the man saw who looked like trees walking around.  The disciples would have been the ones seeing this healing taking place in stages.  Jesus healing in this manner would hopefully be a lesson for them–a lesson about their own stages of belief, unbelief, blindness, and being able to see.

    Jesus then takes the man, lays hands on him once again, and then the man can see clearly.  Jesus doesn’t ask the man whether or not he can see.  Jesus knows He’s completed the task.  Jesus knows what He can do.  Jesus then orders the man to go home and not to tell anyone what has happened–once again to show that Jesus is not simply here to be a miracle worker.  He has a greater purpose.

    And what is that purpose?  We know that Jesus is here to redeem and save the world.  We know that Jesus is the incarnate Son of God who has come to reconcile the world unto God by living the life we are supposed to live and dying the death we deserve.  We know Jesus is here to bring about salvation.  The Pharisees can’t see this at all.  They are blind.  The disciples have gotten a glimpse of this, but they don’t grasp it fully.  They are partially blind.  They can’t grasp it either–partially because their assumptions still have not been changed.  Next week, we will see this very clearly–no pun intended. 

    The Pharisees’ blindness, and the disciples’ blindness will not be fully cleared until their basic assumptions about who the Messiah is supposed to be are changed.  They will not be able to see Jesus for who He is until their very worldviews are shaken to the core.

    And we will not be able to see Jesus for who He truly is until our assumptions are shaken as well.  We will not be able to see what Jesus has done until our worldviews crumble and fall.  We will not be able to understand what it is like to see clearly until we take a journey with Jesus to the cross.  Next week is our youth service, so you will have to wait until the following Sunday to see how this is all brought about, but for today, we will have to stop here. 

    Let us pray.  Gracious God, you so loved the world that you sent your only begotten Son so that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  You sent Him into the world not to condemn the world but so that the world might be saved through Him.  We have heard this good news.  We have heard of Jesus’ work, but for some reason, we remain blinded.  We still cannot seem to see but dimly.  We ask that in the next couple of weeks, you will work on our hearts and minds that we may one day see clearly.  Amen.

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