In Mark 7, Jesus cures a deaf man by placing His fingers in the man’s ears and His spittle on the man’s tongue. Not the prettiest picture to imagine. Maybe this is the reason why the later Evangelists choose not to retell the story, but Mark has no such aversion. As a matter of fact, at 8:22 Mark begins to tell another such story. This time the man is blind. Again, Jesus touches the man and this time Jesus puts His saliva on the man’s eyes.
This time, however, something unexpected occurs. The miracle is not immediately effective. The blind man recovers his sight, but only partially: “‘I can see people, but they look like trees walking.’” Well, this never happens with Jesus-miracles. Jesus tries again. He lays His hands upon the man. This time the miracle is complete; the man sees “everything clearly.”
The strangeness of this miracle story should suggest to us that something else is taking place in tandem with the miracle. The only somewhat successful miracle should grab our attention and ask us to think a bit more about the purpose of this story.
Many scholars see this as the fulcrum of the Gospel. The balance of the story is about to shift. And does it ever.
The Caesarea Philippi declaration at 8:29 was an historically and theologically significant event in the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth, and of His followers. It changes the direction of Mark’s Gospel. The symbolism is intentional that Jesus and the disciples are “on the way” when Jesus asks, “‘Who do people say that I am?’” This question and answer are a work in progress. This developmental quality is reflected in the disciples’ various answers.
Then I hear Jesus ask in a sullen and uncertain voice, “‘But who do you say that I am?’” He has come to realize that His ministry will culminate in a violent reaction to His person. Jesus searches His closest followers hoping that they at least have an awareness of who He is. Peter answers with words of great insight: “‘You are the Messiah [, the Christ].’” This may be Peter acting as spokesman for the group since Jesus answers quickly with a command to all of them: “He sternly ordered them …”
Now that the Messiahship has been broached, Jesus quickly retreats to “Son of Man” language. Messiah was a heavy-laden word in Jesus’ day and one that Jesus did not wish His followers to become distracted by, but Jesus still needed to hear it said. With this bit of reassurance rendered, Jesus chooses immediately to refer to Himself as Son of Man, a self-identification as one among the rest of us.
But the effects of Messiah are not that easily forgotten.
<To be continued>
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