You may not agree with me, and that’s okay, but from my perspective the Bible is mythos, not history. It’s particularly important to note this when I’m about to use a passage as if it were … well … historical.The passage from Mark that’s used in the Revised Common Lectionary for this week is part of a longer narrative. As John Shearman points out in his analysis for it, the author was using metaphorical language, evoking an image of something quite different than the plain text conveys.
So let’s take another look.
First, we have to realize that there were some similarities between the society of the first century and our own. For one thing, a lot of people were pretty dissatisfied with their religion. Their parents and grandparents may have followed it devotedly but the current generation weren’t buying it. In fact, some scholars estimate that only about 5% of the population followed Jewish traditions well enough to be able to enter the temple. Even if they’d wanted to. And it wasn’t that they’d lost faith in God. They knew God was around, somewhere.
It was just that they’d lost faith in the people who claimed to speak for God. The priests and scribes and Pharisees and elders who so obviously didn’t live up to the high ideals that they declared God required of everyone if they wanted to be “acceptable.” They knew that those people were at best “clanging cymbals” or even worse, “vipers.”
Fast forward a couple of millennia. Anything seem familiar? The majority of us have no doubt that “God” exists. But fewer and fewer of us recognize the Presence of God in the institutional religions that our parents and grandparents took for granted for moral guidance. We have our own “clanging cymbals” in those whose message seems empty or hypocritical. And we have our own “vipers” who prey on the vulnerable.
And we, like the people of the ancient world, are turning our backs on the organizations that have claimed to be the “only” way to understand how we can be in relationship with God.
Along came a fellow who cut through all the self-righteousness and bafflegab. A fellow who said “Forget all that stuff about what’s ‘acceptable’. Forget all the rules and regulations. Here,” he said,” is what you have to do. Love one another.”
We call that fellow Jesus.
People didn’t get it.
It’s hard to break old patterns of thinking. It was then. It is now.
The Gospel writers knew that. They (the story is in Matthew and Luke too) use the story of this road trip that Jesus took with the apostles to point out just how hard it is. Even his closest companions, who should have understood, who had listened to everything that Jesus had said for years, couldn’t help but think in old ways. According to the story, they thought that Jesus was the warrior king that their priests and scribes and Pharisees claimed was coming to fix everything.
And all the apostles wanted to know was who would sit closest to the king.
They didn’t get it. They were blind.
To drive the point of their “blindness” home, Mark has Jesus restore the sight of a man they just happen to pass by along the road. Mark has Jesus make it very clear that it isn’t belief in the man Jesus that cured this random beggar. Nor is it because he followed the doctrine and dogma of the Sanhedrin. No, he was healed because he saw past all of those artificial limitations. He was healed because, unlike the apostles, he understood the Message of the Christ.
It was his faith in his inseverable relationship with Theos that overcame his blindness.
The apostles weren’t blind because they couldn’t see with their eyes. They were blind because they wouldn’t see with their hearts.
Are we any less blind today?
We may have walked away from traditional religious beliefs, but on some level don’t most of us accept the doctrine and dogma of our traditions? Don’t we think of “God” in the same terms that the ancient Israelites did?
If we want to be able to see like what that blind beggar saw, we have to be willing to set aside our traditions. We have to be willing to let ourselves see the reality of our inseverable agapé relationship with God.
We have to exercise the courage that faith in God and the Message of the Christ can give us.
It wasn’t easy then.
It isn’t easy now.
But just imagine how much different the world was for that beggar. He was, the author of Mark says, able to “follow Jesus on the Way.”
Could any of us ask for anything more?