The Eyes Have It

At the cross. At the burial. At the empty tomb. Three wait-and-see days. Three women.

The gospel according to Mark begins with the ushering in of “the good news of Jesus the Messiah, God’s son” (Mk. 1:1). Composed of short narratives that could be easily visualized by those who heard its reading, Mark’s terse and unembellished gospel clears a straight path so that the reader can see and perceive Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s promises (Mk. 1:3).

For example, Mark uses literary bracketing (inclusio) to focus in on that fulfillment. Two accounts of blind men receiving their sight bracket Jesus telling his disciples (three times) that he will be rejected, handed over to the authorities, killed and then rise from the dead after three days.  (Beginning Bracket: Mark 8:22-26; End Bracket:  Mark.10:46-52.)

Because of their own unwillingness to really really look at Jesus (cf. Mk.8:25) the disciples do not perceive Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s promises through death and resurrection.

At a mission critical point in the gospel account -Mark chapter 8 – Jesus reproaches his disciples for their lack of understanding. We learn from the brutally honest account that those closest to Jesus, each with two good eyes and two good ears, still did not grasp that the Messiah had to be crucified and then rise again. We hear that in Peter’s repudiation of that mission (Mk. 8:32).

Peter is Mark’s principal eyewitness source of what Jesus said and did and of the disciple’s reactions. But after the end of Mark chapter 14, where Peter’s denial is recorded, Peter and the male disciples are nowhere to be seen or heard from.

Three women are introduced into the passion narrative (Mk 15). They are the source for Mark’s passion account. They are eyewitnesses of what occurred at the cross, at the burial and at the empty tomb.

Earlier in the text, Mark wrote of the blind gaining sight, of those with two good eyes not seeing and not perceiving what was taking place. Mark now places emphasis on seeing that would lead to perceiving and, hopefully, to belief. He records the seeing of the women seven times:

Henry Ossawa Tanner

At the cross. Some of the women observed from a distance. They included Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of the younger James and of Joses, and Salome. They had followed Jesus in Galilee, and had attended to his needs. There were several other women, too, who had come up with him to Jerusalem. (Mk. 15: 40-41).

(Note that Mark added that these women had also been with Jesus for most of his ministry. He is telling us that they had observed Jesus from his early ministry to the empty tomb. These women likely heard Jesus teach his disciples new things: about him being handed over to be killed and his rising from the dead after three days. (Mk. 8:31-32; 9:31-32; 10:32-45)

At the burial. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses observed where he was buried. (Mk. 15:47)

At the empty tomb. After the Sabbath, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they could come and anoint Jesus …” who’s going to roll the stone away for us?”

Then, when they looked up, they observed that it had been rolled away. (It was extremely large.) (Mk. 16: 1-4)

So they went into the tomb, and there they saw a young man sitting on the right hand side. He was wearing white. They were totally astonished.

“Don’t be astonished,” he said to them. “You’re looking for Jesus of Nazarene, who was crucified. He has been raised! He isn’t here! Look – this is the place where they laid him.

“But go and tell his disciples – including Peter – that he is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there, just like he told you.” (Mk. 16:5-7)

The earliest manuscripts of Mark’s gospel account end at 16: 8:

They [the three women] went out, and fled from the tomb. Trembling and panic had seized them. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

This is a curious ending for a gospel that begins with “the good news of Jesus the Messiah, God’s son”. Mark clearly wanted the readers to perceive Jesus as the Messiah, God’s son. He clearly wanted the reader to take in the crucifixion of the Messiah and his bodily resurrection. Why end good news with fear and trembling?

Mark’s gospel account may have had a longer ending. If the original manuscript was written on a scroll (likely), the edge of the scroll containing his ending may have deteriorated. This also happened to many dead sea scrolls.

Later copies of Mark contained appended text (Mk. 16: 9-20). This text may have been added by a scribe in the second century who was familiar with Luke’s gospel account. There are similarities. Mark’s promise of “the good news of Jesus the Messiah, God’s son” has been restored- fulfilled – with the added text. And so was Mark’s emphasis of those not perceiving what is taking place.

Mark’s narrative emphasis on hardness of heart leading to unbelief – rejecting what has been seen and heard by eyewitness accounts– is reinforced in the added text:

When Jesus was raised, early on the first day of the week, he appeared to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. She went and told the people who had been with him, who were mourning and weeping. When they heard that he was alive, and that he had been seen by her, they didn’t believe it.

After this he appeared in a different guise to two of them as they were walking into the countryside. They came back and told the others, but they didn’t believe them.

Later Jesus appeared to the eleven themselves, as they were at table. He told them off for their unbelief and the hardness, for not believing those who had seen him after he had been raised. (Mk. 16: 9-14)

At the cross. At the burial. At the empty tomb. Three wait-and-see days. Three women seeing seven times. Eleven hard-hearted disciples. And you? You still don’t get it? (cf. Mk.8:21)

All God’s promises, you see, find their yes in him: and that’s why we say the yes, the “Amen,” through him when we pray to God and give him glory (2 Cor. 1:20)

The eyes have it. Amen.

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Episode 836 – No Sanctuary in a Church … Mask Police Attack Pregnant Woman
Episode 843 – The Deep Church … Fraud and Fines Against Christians
Episode 847 – Descent Into Hell Transhumanism and the New Human

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“Nowhere in early Christian literature do we find traditions attributed to the community as their source or transmitter, only as the recipient. Against the general form-critical image of the early Christian movement as anonymous collectivity, we must stress that the New testament writings are full of prominent named individuals . . . Compared with the prominence of named individuals in the New Testament itself, form criticism represented a rather strange depersonalization of early Christianity that still exercised an unconscious influence on New Testament scholars.”[i]


[i] Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., Grand Rapids, MI), 2017), 297

“You still don’t get it?”

“I can see people,” said the man, peering around, “but they look like trees walking about.”

A blind man gains partial sight. He interprets the forms he sees via his prior limited understanding. Did he know at this stage that his perception was off?

The gospel according to Mark is composed of short narratives that could be easily visualized by those who heard its oral performance. Mark would have the listener hear, see and perceive who Jesus is. He would have the listener understand that seeing and hearing alone are not sufficient for the followers of Jesus. Understanding is what is required. At a mission critical point in the gospel account -Mark chapter 8 – Jesus reproaches his disciples for their lack of understanding.

The disciples had been mumbling about not having brought enough bread for their boat crossing. Yet twice before they had seen with their own two good eyes Jesus multiplying loaves to feed thousands. They had picked up the leftovers! And now they are mumbling about not having enough bread!

“Don’t you get it? Don’t you understand? Have your hearts gone hard? Can’t you see with your two good eyes? Can’t you hear with your two good ears?”

“You still don’t get it?”

Right after this rebuke is the narrative of the blind man who receives a two-stage healing of his eyesight (Mk. 8:22-26). The man’s depth of field is made whole. He could see everything clearly. Men were no longer like walking trees. His perception was growing.

Mark then increases the depth of field for those visualizing the account of the blind man’s healing:

Jesus and his disciples came to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked his disciples, “Who are the people saying that I am?

(I suppose in this setting that Jesus’ question could also be stated as “What do people perceive about me?”)

He gets feedback.

John the Baptist,” they said, or, some say, Elijah. Or, some say, one of the prophets.

Like the blind man whose initial vision is without depth of field and lacking clarity, people are reporting that they are seeing a form that they were vaguely familiar with.

What about you? asked Jesus. Who do you say that I am?

Peter, recently admonished about the bread incident, doesn’t hesitate to declare “You’re the Messiah.”

The people perceived Jesus to be one of several polemical figures: Elijah, John the Baptist or a prophet. The people were looking for just such a figure to re-enter into their times and bring about God’s judgement on the wicked.

Peter, like many Jews during the second temple period, looked for a new emergent figure: the messiah.

Hearing Peter’s reply, Jesus gave his disciples strict orders to not disclose this to anyone. It would appear that Jesus had more to teach the disciples and he didn’t want them to go public without them seeing/understanding what he sees. Mk. 8:31:

Jesus now began to teach them something new.

Jesus tells the disciples that the son of man must suffer and die at the hands of those who reject him.

Peter is clearly rattled with this new teaching. Clinging to the vague figure of a messiah and projecting onto Jesus that image, Peter rebukes Jesus for saying things that would alter his own view of things.

Jesus sternly rebukes Peter for rebuking him.

Get behind me, Accuser! he said. You’re thinking human thoughts, not God’s thoughts.

Even after all that he had witnessed, including an unclean spirt that identified Jesus as “God’s Holy One”, Peter still did not perceive who Jesus is. Peter still didn’t understand. Peter, with his “human thoughts”, was still in “men as trees walking” mode.

Jesus does not hold back. Jesus goes on to describe what is required of those who follow him. He talks about life altering choices. He talks about accountability. (I think Peter, at this point, wanted to go back to passing out bread.)

Having taught them something new, Jesus, his mind set like flint towards Jerusalem, brings his closest disciples on a field trip. Peter, James and John go with Jesus up atop a high mountain. There, Jesus is transfigured into heavenly splendor right before their eyes. Moses and Elijah, the Law and the Prophets, are standing with Jesus.

Peter, again using human thoughts, didn’t know what to say but he said it anyway . . .

I tell you what – we’ll make three shelters, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah!

Peter (“You still don’t get it?” Peter) gets another stern rebuke:

Then a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud: This is my son, the one I love. LISTEN TO HIM!

This same Peter declares to bystanders who are questioning his relationship to Jesus, “I don’t know this man you’re talking about.”

A Roman centurion who stood before the cross, saw how Jesus died. He declared “This fellow really was God’s son.”

Seeing, hearing and perceiving. “You still don’t get it?”

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Mark’s skillfully structured biography uses a literary device (inclusio) to emphasize that seeing, hearing and perceiving things from God’s perspective are absolutely essential traits for followers of Jesus. Between healing-of-blind-man narrative brackets, Jesus takes his disciples aside and talks mission detail. He relates what His father has told them. He wants the disciples to take this in. This information will prepare them for what is coming.

Beginning Bracket: Mark 8:22-26. We read of a blind man receiving a two-stage healing. Then, in Mark 8:31-32

There’s big trouble in store for the son of man, he said. The elders, the chief priests, and the scribes are going to reject him. He will be will be killed – and after three days he’ll be raised. He said this all quite explicitly.

And, again in Mark 9:31-32:

The son of man is going to be given over into human hands. They will kill him; and when he’s been killed, after three days he will rise again.

They didn’t understand the saying, and they were afraid to ask him.

And, again in Mark 10:32-34:

“Look, he said, “we’re going up to Jerusalem. The son of man will be handed over to the chief priests and the legal experts, and they will condemn him and hand him over to the pagans. They will taunt him and spit at him and flog him and kill him – after three days he will rise again.

End Bracket:  Mark.10:46-52. A blind beggar named Bartimaeus receives his sight after calling out loudly to Jesus “Son of David! Jesus! Take Pity on Me! … Son of David take pity on me! . . . Teacher, let me see again.”

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Both hardness of hard (Mk. 3:5) and the leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod (Mk. 8:15) can keep one from seeing and perceiving who Jesus is and what he is about. Jesus warned against both.

When the disciples asked about his use of parables (Mk4:10-13), Jesus’ response included words from Isaiah 6: 9-10:

The mystery of the kingdom is given to you, but for the people outside it’s all in parable, so that ‘they may look and look but never see, and hear and hear but never understand; otherwise they would turn and be forgiven.’

Don’t you understand the parable? He said to them. How are you going to understand all the parables?

When Jesus confronts the disciple’s mumbling about not bringing enough bread (Mk.8:17-18) he questions them as to whether they are just like the outsiders he talked about in his response to parable use:

Can’t you see with your two good eyes?

Can’t you hear with your two good ears?

Many today do not perceive who Jesus is. They, like Peter, readily associate themselves with Jesus, as Jesus appears to them as being “on the right side of history”. But they remain clueless as to who he is. Instead, they project onto Jesus a form they are familiar (and comfortable) with.

Some are not comfortable with a Jewish Jesus. Some project onto Jesus a Catholic or Evangelical image. Some project onto Jesus an image of a Progressive social justice warrior. Some say he is Elijah, some say John the Baptist and others . . . Oprah, for instance, projects a Pluralist-Pantheist-Playdough image onto “the Son of God”.

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Why was Jesus pressing so hard for his disciples to gain understanding? Human thoughts deny the reality of Jesus every time. With God’s thoughts, God’s perspectives, we can see beyond our present circumstances and our present suffering and grab ahold of God’s resources.

The apostle Paul, who wrote of unwise hearts growing dark (Rm. 1:21) and teachers possessing an outline of knowledge and truth (Rm. 2:20) prayed for the church at Ephesus. He desired that the church receive the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Jesus.

I personalized Paul’s prayer, found in Ephesians 1: 17-19, so that those of us who follow the Lord can pray and grow in the wisdom, knowledge and understanding of our Lord.

I pray that the God of King Jesus, our lord, the father of glory, would give me, in my spirit, the gift of being wise, of seeing things people can’t normally see, because I am coming to know him and to have the eyes of my inner most self opened to God’s light. Then I will know exactly what the hope is that goes with God’s call; I will know the wealth of the glory of his inheritance in his holy people; and I will know the outstanding greatness of his power toward those who are loyal to him in faith, according to the working of his strength and power.

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