The "yeast of the Pharisees", 8:14-21, the healing of the blind man, 8:22-26, and the confession of Peter at Caesarea Philippi, 8:27-30, all demonstrate Mark's artistry; he arranges the oral tradition beautifully. As the blind man slowly comes to see, so the disciples move from a state of little understanding and hardened heart, v17, toward a true understanding of the person of Jesus.
v22. Crossing over the sea of Galilee, 8:13, Jesus and the twelve enter the district of Gaulanitis and the village/town of Bethsaida Julias, beside the northeastern shore of the sea. There, some people bring a blind man to Jesus.
v23-25. Jesus attempts to limit public involvement in the healing by leading the man outside the town; Jesus always strives for a low profile. The miracle is there for eyes that see, but for the rest, the mystery must remain. Jesus uses spittle as an acted-out symbol of the healing process, and so reinforces the symbolic nature of what he is about to do. The healing is unique in that it is achieved gradually and with difficulty. It was only partially successful and so Jesus has a second go at getting it right. The incident is not used to expose limitations in Jesus' healing power, but rather to use the slow recovery of the blind man's sight as an illustration of the disciples' slow growth toward a full understanding of Jesus' person.
v26. Jesus' command to return home and keep away from the crowded village may again reflect his preoccupation with maintaining a low profile so as to not stir up messianic fervor, but it may also serve as a prophetic allusion, cf. Isa.35:5f.
v27. Caesarea Philippi was some 50 kilometers North of Bethsaida, near the source of the Jordan River, on the slopes of Mount Hermon. Jesus sets out to reveal new insights to his disciples, and in typical form he does this through a question. What were the crowds saying of Jesus? The astonishing signs performed by Jesus produced quite a few different reactions: they provoked the crowds to wonder; they left the disciples befuddled; they assured the religious leaders of Jesus' Satanic origins; and they stirred up the forces of darkness. Jesus now draws out the significance of his person.
v28. The crowds certainly give Jesus great honour, but his true significance has remained veiled to them.
v29. Jesus prods the disciples for their own assessment of his ministry, and Peter, answering on behalf of the disciples, proclaims his faith in Jesus as messiah. The term "messiah" means "the one anointed by God." The messiah was the righteous prophet, priest and Davidic king, God's special representative who would realize Israel's hopes - the establishment of an eternal theocratic kingdom secure from the powers of darkness.
v30. Again, Jesus seeks to keep this startling truth quiet so as not to stir up popular messianic expectations. For the crowds, the messiah is a political leader who will overthrow the Roman authorities, but as Jesus explains, "my kingdom is not of this world".
"His eyes were opened; his sight was restored."
In darkness there is no sight;
In Christ the blind see.
As the blind man slowly receives complete sight, so the disciples, who "do not see or understand", move from blindness to insight. In the presence of Jesus their eyes are opened to the mystery of his person.
The business of acquiring wisdom is a fascinating process. We gain knowledge, not just by book-learning, but by observing life's circumstances. We inform the mind with facts, hopefully facts that are true, and then we apply them in our life situation. Truth is therefore tested and shaped by experience.
For a believer, the information is adjusted by Biblical truth, truth revealed in the power of the indwelling Spirit of Christ. We take on board life's lessons, compare them with Biblical principles, adjust them where necessary, and then reapply them to the circumstances of life. Experience serves to fine-tune the truth, move it from the head to the heart to the hands and the feet. Such is the business of acquiring knowledge, of acquiring wisdom.
Applied Biblical knowledge is eternal. What we learn here will be used in eternity. In fact, much of life's push and shove can be understood as an ambient culture within which we learn the lessons of eternity. Frustrations of personality, or circumstance, take on a different light when we look at them, not as mere pains to be avoided, but rather tests to be overcome, challenges to surmount. A constantly recurring personality fault, or a recurrent sin, is no longer a failing to be denied and escaped, but is rather a challenge for growth.
The constantly changing patterns of life (eg. ageing) can serve as a retreat into darkness, or a growth into light. In the presence of Jesus let us begin to see.
1. Does the progressive healing of the blind man indicate some limitation in the healing power of Jesus? If not, why not?
2. When Peter calls Jesus "the Christ", what is he actually saying?
3. In what ways do the circumstances of life prepare us for eternity?