June 8th Mark 8b “The Turning Point: “Who do you say that I am?”

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

Today, we pass the half-way point of Mark (in chapter 8 of 16 chapters), but more importantly we come to a turning point.  The turning point comes when Simon Peter answers a question by Jesus.  After that answer, the whole story shifts direction, but we will get to that a little later.

First, we deal with a healing that helps us understand that we can be deceived.   That same healing can overcome deception.

Mark 8:22-38

They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?”

He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.”

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. Jesus sent him home, saying, “Don’t even go into the village.”

Blind people deserve our respect for living their lives with one fewer sense that the rest of us.  It is hard for most sighted people to cope with even a few minutes of absolute darkness.  We rarely allow ourselves the opportunity to be in complete darkness.  People who are completely blind are capable of being as good, loving, and perceptive as anyone else.  But sighted people can’t help making physical blindness into a metaphor for other people’s lack of perception.  When people are fooled, misinformed, or hopelessly naïve, we say they are blind.  When people don’t understand other people’s feelings or intentions, we say that they are blind to them.  If we receive an unexpected interruption, we say that we were blindsided. If we understand something, we say that “we see things clearly.”  Even in “Amazing Grace,” written by a man who was losing his sight as he got older, we have the words. “I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.”  So, even when Jesus restores sight to people, it is still a metaphor for something else.

This one time, we have a partial healing before a complete healing.  For a moment, the man sees things in a very strange way.  He sees people, but they “look like trees walking around.”  Then Jesus heals him completely and the man sees “everything clearly.”  The lesson from this is that many people are partially healed in our world, perceiving things in a distorted way.  We don’t see things clearly, especially people.  We speak our opinions based on insufficient evidence.   We don’t think that people are trees, but we think of them as something to be fought, something to be used, or something to be ignored.  We look at people and think of them as problems, when the real problem is that we are short-sighted.

Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”

Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

This is the turning point of the Gospel, and it has to do with perception.  Two questions… “Who do people say I am?” and “Who do you say that I am?”  Do you see who Jesus is?

People were thinking all sorts of amazing things about Jesus.  They thought he was John the Baptist raised from the dead, or Elijah returned from heaven (who had gone to heaven without ever dying) or one of the other prophets from the past.  Prophets were official (and un-official) advisers of the king, and that is not who Jesus is.  It is like looking at Jesus and seeing a tree.

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”

This answer from Peter is the turning point.  Jesus is revealed as the Messiah.  The word messiah was the Hebrew word for king (as Christ was the Greek word for king):  They both meant “anointed one.”  Instead of being crowned in those days, you were anointed with oil and given a special blessing.  So , Peter (in his limited understanding of kings) has been brave enough to say that Jesus is the true king.  This was a dangerous thing to say, because it could be considered treason against Herod or even Caesar.  By saying this, Peter is committing a crime that could be punished with death.

But Peter doesn’t see things clearly yet.  For the next eight chapters of Mark, Jesus starts moving in body and spirit toward his own crucifixion.  In the next eight chapters, Jesus is going to prove that he is king, but he will be a completely different kind of king than anyone was expecting.  Jesus is not going to behave like Herod, Saul, David, Solomon or any of the other kings of Israel.  By the time he is done, Jesus will help them see that a real king is much more than these administrators, wise men, poets and warriors.  It will turn out that Jesus is the real king while all the other kings and queens of the world might as well be wearing paper crowns.

We now see the quickest turn-around in history.  Peter goes from wise man to fool in a few seconds.  He goes from high moment to low moment, quicker than you can imagine.

[Jesus] 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. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

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.”

Just after announcing that Jesus is the messiah, Simon Peter takes upon himself the role of being adviser to the king, but he is still half blind, and is thoroughly rejected.  Remember that the name “Satan” means “the tempter” and Jesus rejects the temptation to avoid his own crucifixion.

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

So Jesus uses the imagery of crucifixion to convey the work of following in his footsteps.  Everybody knew what crucifixion was because it was the cheap and very visible way that poor people were executed for crimes like robbery, treason, murder, libel, arson, and forgery.  The most common things that got people crucified was theft or treasonous talk against the Roman invaders.  Crucifixions were very public executions that were set up like billboards near roads as you entered or left towns.  When Jesus speaks of carrying crosses, he is referring to the mental and physical torture of forcing prisoners to carry their own heavy crosses to the place of their execution.  The Roman had other types of execution that included beheading, strangling, being thrown from a great height, being buried alive, drowning, or  death by beast (like lions or bears), but crucifixion was the common form because it was the most visible and it lasted longer.

Jesus makes it clear that the death of a body is nowhere near as terrible as the death of a soul.  Bodies are temporary things, but the soul, the real identity of a person is meant to spend eternity with God.  Many of the things that people to do save their bodies risk the death of the souls. To stay alive people will become brutal, they will surrender to fear, and they will allow lies to go unchallenged, A person will allow their soul to die by rejecting mercy, by worshipping money, and by ignoring the voice of conscience by burying themselves in distractions.  Death of a body is a normal thing, but death of the soul is tragedy.

The fact that we still read Bibles, says something about life and death this way. The words of the Bible live on even though the first scrolls that it was written on fell apart many centuries ago. Scrolls and books have a limited life, and all the original copies of Bible texts turned to dust long ago.  But we have the “soul” of the Bible because the words have been copied carefully century after century.  The paper books that we own today, will eventually turn to dust, but the heart and soul of Bible will live on.

To put it into modern computer terms, the most ancients scrolls of parchment and the books of paper were like “hardware” that kept the “software” intact, but it needed repeated uploading so that when the hardware failed  the software would survive.  It is all very good to keep your hardware in good  shape, but if you lose all your real software, what use is it?

The Old Testament view was similar.  Your body wasn’t alive.  Your body carried your life.  Your life was sometimes seen as the blood in your veins, but the most common image for life was not the beating of your heart; it was the act of breathing.  The main image for a person’s soul was their breath.  There is even a link between the words for breath and spirit. When Adam was created or when children are born, life was breathed into them by God… a small bit of God’s life in the form of breath (inspiration that leads to respiration).  When a person dies their breath can go back to its source.  So in this Old Testament imagery, it is still a bit like thoughts of hardware and software.

[If you want to keep pondering these ideas, I suggest you read 1st Corinthians 15:35 to 58.]

Questions to Ponder:  How do people answer the question “Who is Jesus?”  Then, who do you say that Jesus is?


Pastor Rick