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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Mark 8:11–26

The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, asking him for a sign from heaven, to test him. And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to this generation.” And he left them, and getting into the boat again, he went across to the other side.

Now the disciples had forgotten to bring any bread; and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out—beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.” They said to one another, “It is because we have no bread.” And becoming aware of it, Jesus said to them, “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?” They said to him, “Twelve.” “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?” And they said to him, “Seven.” Then he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?” They came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Can you see anything?” And the man looked up and said, “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.” Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Then he sent him away to his home, saying, “Do not even go into the village.” (NRSV)

As I studied and reflected on this passage describing Jesus’s ministry in Galilee, I couldn’t help remembering a trip I took to Israel several years ago with friends from Shaker Heights, Ohio, and the experience of visiting the Roman ruins at Banias, also known as Caesarea-Phillipi, where the Jordan River originates. It was on the way here that Jesus asked his disciples, “‘Who do people say that I am?’ And they answered him, ‘John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’ He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah.’” (Mark 8:27-30, NRSV)

After the passages that precede this account in Mark, one wants to breathe a huge sigh of relief and utter “At last! Finally they have understood!” For in the foregoing passages, Mark 8:11-26, we see Jesus as his most human self. As the Pharisees came to Galilee from Jerusalem to test Jesus and attempt to entrap him, and his disciples fret that they have no bread for the trip across Galilee, his anger and frustration are palpable. To the Pharisees he demands, “Why does this generation seek a sign?” and to his disciples he asks, “Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember?” One can almost imagine Jesus’ inner self wondering, what must I do to convince you of who I am? And here one cannot help being reminded of the passage in Matthew 14:29-31—”O you of little faith. Why did you doubt?”

Verse 25 is a wonderfully ironic contrast to the confusion of the disciples and perfect finale to the story: “Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again [those of the blind man at Bethsaida]; and he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly(Italics are mine). It was surely this passage that inspired the first verse of John Newton’s 1779 beloved hymn “Amazing Grace”: Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.

O Lord, too often we—like the Pharisees—seek a sign, and too often—like the disciples—we doubt your care and the certainty of our salvation. Help us to believe without seeing and to trust in your saving grace. Amen.

Written by Claudia Boatright, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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