Faith is for use, not keep

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Today's sermon was taken from Mark 8:22-26: the humourous "I see trees walking around" account of the healing of a blind. The fact that he said he saw men like trees walking around may imply that he was not born blind.

Three points was brought out from the passage:
1. The blind man was brought to Jesus by others, implying that the blind man was not himself looking to be healed, indicating a lack of faith.
2. Jesus led them out of the village, indicating a high sense of unbelief itself in the village.
3. The way the blind man was healed was pretty unique. Jesus spat on his eyes, and Jesus had to do it two times for the man to see again. This indicated the lack of faith on the man's side.

The call is to increase the level of faith in our lives. Like what the disciples asked of the Lord in Luke 17:5 to increase their faith, Jesus said "If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and be planted in the sea'; and it would obey you."

My thoughts:
On #1, I have to say I disagree with this because being a blind man, he needed the help of others to bring him to Jesus.

On #3, I was asking myself why would Jesus spit on the man's eyes? Could it be how healing is normally done in those days, like how poking needles into our behinds now would have appalled them? On the other text in Mark where Jesus uses spittle (7:33), Robert Guelich in his commentary said:

The text does not say why Jesus spit or what he did with the spittle. We do know, however, that spittle supposedly had a therapeutic function in both the Greco-Roman (e.g., Pliny, Nat. Hist. 28.4.7; Tacitus, Hist. 6.18; Suetonius, Vesp. 7) and the Jewish world (Str-B, 2:15–17). In 8:22–26 and in John 9:1–7 Jesus mixes spittle with some earth and uses it to heal blindness. In Gal 4:14 spitting has an apotropaic function against evil spirits and disease (H. Schlier, TDNT 2 [1964] 448). 1

So the spit did not come to him as a surprise like we would have thought it did. Also on #3, why did Jesus had to perform the healing twice? I checked on James Edwards':

The necessity of repeated touches cannot imply for Mark insufficiency on Jesus' part, however, since elsewhere Jesus performs more difficult miracles (from a human perspective) without fail such as healing the Gerasene demoniac (5:1-20) or raising a dead girl (5:35-43). The two-stage cure in the present miracle thus suggests a process of revelation -- as much for the disciples, we suspect, as for the blind man in Bethsaida. 2

No mention of the blind man's level of faith in these commentaries on this pericope. Most probably since he came anyway with the help of his friends, to get healing from Jesus, his faith is assumed, whatever level it is.

But if we look at Jesus' mention of the mustard seed, I began to wonder why he encourages that even with faith like a mustard seed, impossible things can happen - tell a mulberry tree to be uprooted and be planted in the sea? And yet Jesus chided the people, "You men of little faith!" (Luke 12:28). Can can we reconcile both? John Nolland has some interesting things to say about this.

The opening words continue to provide the Lukan setting. As a response in the present setting, the words of v 6 say in effect that what is needed is not the increase of faith, but the exercise of faith ... Even the smallest possible portion of faith can achieve what is humanly impossible. 3

“You people of little faith” points to the pervasiveness of human anxiety about the basic provisions for life, which, given this vision of God as generous provider, can only be described as a limitation of faith. 4

It boils down to what we do with our faith, for both is its practice and exercise. It is not so much a prayer to increase our faith but a prayer to help us exercise it.

pearlie

1 Robert A. Guelich, Mark 1-8:26, WBC, vol. 34A, (Dallas: Word, 2002): 394.
2 James R. Edwards, Mark, PNTC, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002): 244.

3 John Nolland, Luke 9:21-18:34, WBC, vol. 35B, (Dallas: Word, 2002): 838.
4 Nolland, Luke, 693.

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4 comment(s)

  1. You're right: this passage has nothing to do with the level of the man's faith. Rather, Mark's arrangement of the material is significant here. In 8:17-18, having already fed 4000 with a few loaves in 8:1-10 (not to mention the earlier feeding miracle), Jesus is exasperated at the desiciples who "still do not see or understand". It's not that they don't have physical eyes, but they
    just haven't picked up on the clues as to who Jesus really is.

    Mark then tells us of this two-stage miracle and in doing so, wants us to draw an analogy between the man's blindness and the disciples failure to understand. The good news is that Jesus' miracle here gives us hope that this state of affairs will not continue. And so, immediately after this miracle, we have Peter's confession of Christ, which is quite a reversal from their time in the boat just a few verses before! But Peter has yet to fully appreciate the significance of this, so when Jesus teaches he has to be killed (v.32), Peter actually rebukes Jesus, showing that he has not completely understood Jesus' mission at this point.

    Thankfully, he will eventually see clearly, and this same Peter will be the guy who proclaim's Christ's death so faithfully in Acts 2. This is what Edwards presumably is getting at as well in his comments. We too may be thankful that God has similarly opened our eyes and pray the same for our unbelieving friends.

    Sorry for the longwindedness; I did Mark for a year from 2006-07 and looked at this passage recently with some non-Christians, so it's still pretty fresh in my mind!

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  2. Thanks BK for your thoughts - please don't worry anymore about longwindedness - I love thick books anyway ;)

    This is good because it will help me when I get to these passages on my sessions with the youth. Having bible study with the youth is really getting very challenging for me - if you have any suggestions on that, by all means, please share with me. Two weeks from now, I would be doing the controversy accounts in ch.2-3, I am thinking of role playing one of them, most probably the paralysed man through the roof one like how we did it during class ourselves.

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  3. A good use of citations. That is good to see on some blog articles.

    No mention of the blind man's level of faith in these commentaries on this pericope. Most probably since he came anyway with the help of his friends, to get healing from Jesus, his faith is assumed, whatever level it is.

    The two-stage cure in the present miracle thus suggests a process of revelation -- as much for the disciples, we suspect, as for the blind man in Bethsaida. 2

    God does not always work immediately, from a human perspective, but does work in stages. Persons can perhaps better understand God's workings this way.

    Russ:)

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  4. Good observation there, Russ. Yes, Jesus does have the right to work in stages and not choose to work immediately. Thanks for highlighting that.

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