Miraculous events make up 31 percent of Mark’s Gospel. With only two discourses in the book, the accent is clearly on the deeds of Jesus. Jesus is portrayed as no mere slight-of-hand magician but as a true worker of wonders. Miracles are sprinkled in these middle chapters of Mark (4-10) as the events move us through boat narratives, bread narratives, and blind narratives.
Our text today concludes the bread stories (6:30-8:21) and gets us ready for the blind stories (8:22-10:52). The bread stories climax with the disciples learning about hardness of heart. The blind stories, which function as brackets in this section of Mark, teach the disciples the importance of having spiritual sight.
The Miraculous One Can Open the Heart
Jesus was good with bread. He was born in the “house of bread” (Bethlehem, Luke 2:4). He lived by the bread of God (Matthew 4:4). He was the bread of God (John 6:35, 48). He multiplied bread (Mark 6:30-44; 8:1-10). He consecrated bread (Mark 14:22-25). He broke bread (Luke 24:30).
The disciples, who often are portrayed in Mark’s Gospel as “out to lunch,” needed to go to the culinary school of bread. Jesus had just fed the 4,000 and showed his exasperation with the Pharisees over their request for a sign (Mark 8:1-13). Since they wanted a sign “from Heaven,” they were probably thinking of something dramatic like manna (i.e. bread). Jesus used it as a teachable moment.
Jesus noticed the skimpy supply of physical bread due to the disciples’ forgetfulness. They had only one loaf (think of a pancake). Jesus said, “Be careful . . . and . . . watch out.” But he was not talking about physical bread. He elevated the conversation with his disciples by talking with them about the “teaching” of the Pharisees and the Herodians (Matthew 16:12). Leaven (yeast—a bacteria of sorts) became the metaphor for Jesus to drive home the truth of the Pharisees’ hypocrisy and the Herodians’ lack of a moral compass.
Jesus drew a bead on the connection between bread and the brain. He spoke about the physical multiplication of bread in the two miraculous feedings of the 5,000 and the 4,000. The miraculous provisions were so abundant that leftovers were picked up both times. Those two bread meals should have served as evidence that Jesus could not only provide for the disciples’ needs but also free their minds and hearts from “stinkin’ thinkin.” Twice in the text the phrase, “Do you still not understand?” occurs. The miracle of multiplying bread is one thing, but a miracle on the human heart (and mind) is even greater.
The Miraculous One Can Open the Eyes—of the Heart
The miracle of the blind man healed in stages is unique to Mark’s Gospel. He lived at Bethsaida, a little fishing village on the northern tip of the Sea of Galilee. He must have had his sight at one time because he knew what a tree looked like. But at some point he had become blind. He had probably heard that this worker of wonders had touched other blind people and made them see, so he made his request (beseeched or begged).
The miracles of Jesus on blind people are some of the most tender. Jesus had no interest in some kind of carnival show, so he led the man out of the village and attended to his need with the compassionate bedside manner of a loving physician. He used spittle—believed to have medicinal qualities in Jesus’ day—on the man’s eyes. Jesus asked him, “Do you see anything?”
What happened next is most intriguing. The man did see—somewhat. But his sight was blurred and people looked like trees to him. There might be several scientific explanations for this phenomenon, but legally blind people have testified that this is exactly what they see at times—movement but no clarity. Did the man have insufficient faith that required a second touch? Did Jesus have a power shortage? Neither.
Just as Jesus elevated the conversation about bread in the previous event, so he used this miracle to demonstrate and teach about spiritual sight. Three verbs are used to help us “see” this. When Jesus touched him a second time the man could see “up, in, and through” (opened, restored, and clearly). The disciples needed this lesson as much as the man needed to be healed. Jesus sent him home so he could reunite with his family and not have to beg any more.
There is such a thing as spiritual sight (John 9:39-41), having the eyes of our hearts enlightened (Ephesians 1:18). Jesus would teach on several other aspects of discipleship until he encountered Bartimaeus, another blind man, who, upon being healed, would follow Jesus “in the way” of the cross.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Lesson study ©2018, Christian Standard Media. Lesson based on The Lookout’s Scope and Sequence ©2018. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.