June 10, 2020·Ben McEntee
In Mark 8 of this week’s Pause reading, I find Jesus reproaching His disciples when He asked them, “Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear?” (Mark 8:17-18). These are Jesus’ words to His disciples, who began to grumble over their lack of bread, immediately after they had just witnessed Jesus miraculously provide food for a throng of people in need. Jesus confronts them about their lack of faith and understanding, and the account ends with Jesus empathically saying again, “Do you not yet understand?” (Mark 8:21).
As I meditate on Jesus’ words, and as I see hurting and broken people all over our country cry out against injustice, I can’t stop thinking that those words hit differently this week than they have before. I also believe we should not casually apply Scripture to the news of the day or to our social media threads without some proper understanding of context; on the other hand, I also believe “the Word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). And this week, as I read those words of Jesus, I was cut to the heart. I was convicted by Jesus’ words through the living breath of the Holy Spirit, and I was forced to ask myself, “Do I not yet perceive or understand? Am I blind to what is happening? Am I deaf to the cries of those who are mourning?” And to some degree, I repentantly say, “yes.”
As a Christian, I am confident in this: Scripture can cut to the heart of my own myopia, my own lack of understanding, and my own lack of empathy. I say this as I see and hear people of color, Christian and non-Christian alike, loudly declare their experiences of hurt and pain through years of prejudice, racism, and being singled out because of the color of their skin. I think Jesus is asking me to check my heart, check my eyes, check my ears, and check my understanding.
And, if that is the case and Jesus is reproaching me for lacking in these areas, where does that leave me? Am I to be disgraced? Do I resolve myself to go on without the hope of knowing, without the hope of seeing, without the hope of hearing? The answer to that, thankfully, is a resounding “No.”
The beautiful thing about this reproach Jesus gives to His disciples is that it is followed in the Gospel narrative with Jesus healing a blind man outside the village of Bethsaida, away from the crowds, so only His disciples are witnesses to this miracle. The account is found in Mark 8:22-26 and, in it, Jesus heals a man’s blindness, and his physical blindness mirrors the spiritual blindness that Jesus’ disciples had.
The comparison and the move of the narrative perfectly opens up the truth that Jesus desires His disciples and us to know and perceive: Spiritual blindness, like physical blindness, is something that has to be recognized to be restored, and these forms of blindness can only be restored, redeemed, and healed by the Son of God, Jesus Christ.
I hear a lot of talk about Christians needing to be the hands and feet of Jesus, particularly in this moment. I agree. But I also want to stress this reality: To effectively live like Christ, we first must see Him for who He truly is, the Son of God, our Savior, our Healer, and the One who sets us free from all our sin and shame. When we worship Jesus for who He is, then we can begin to live as He lived.
The chapter ends with Jesus proclaiming in Mark 8:34, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.” Denial of self, that is a spiritual act we would be wise to take part in, especially right now. And when I survey that cross, I’m reminded not of something that is inconvenient or uncomfortable. No, it is an instrument of suffering — but it also brings salvation and redemption. Oh, the beautiful mystery of the cross! Jesus told us to pick it up and embrace all that it represents! I think there is no better time to do that than right now.
Pastor Ben McEntee