One of my friends sees as I don’t. He walks into a room and immediately senses things in others and in me to which I’m oblivious. Sometimes he says: “Don’t you see?” and I reply: “No, you’ve got to tell me. I can’t see.” That’s hard to say, to realize being in the dark while another can clearly see, to discover and experience limitation in the light of another’s ability.
In today’s gospel story, Jesus walks along and sees a person who is blind and who doesn’t ask for help. Jesus doesn’t ask what he wants. Jesus comes and opens his eyes. In response, a flurry of questions by the neighbors and the leaders: How did this happen? Was he really blind before? Who is Jesus? They struggle with question upon question, arguing, accusing, reprimanding, and rejecting. This community is stumbling, groping in the dark, trying to escape the truth that one born blind now sees because of Jesus.
As the community struggles and stumbles, this person grows to see even more. He is honest about limits: “I don’t know where Jesus is. I don’t know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” He also comes to know Jesus. First, he says “the man called Jesus” touched me. Then “he is a prophet.” A bit later “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” Finally, again face to face “Lord, I believe.” First, he receives literal sight, and second, insight, awakened to Jesus.
This Gospel passage appointed for today is about blindness – a blind man whose sight Jesus restores – however there’s more going on here than meets the eye. In the Gospel according to Mark, there’s a recurring theme of blindness – blindness as a metaphor – of people seeing but not understanding. They have sight, but they do not have insight or foresight. The “eyes of their hearts” are notenlightened.
Just prior to this scene in the Gospel according to Mark, Jesus miraculously feeds a multitude of people, and two different times. The disciples witness both of these miracles, but they are blind to what is really going on, twice. They miss the meaning. Jesus asks, rhetorically: “Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes, and fail to see?”[i]
Mark uses a particular verb for seeing in this Gospel story and multiple times throughout his Gospel. The verb Mark uses for “seeing” is actually the verb for “perception”: which is observing something and then understanding correctly what it means.[ii]But the disciples don’t. They don’t get it. Repeatedly. They’re blind. Mark takes his inspiration from the prophecy of Isaiah, who writes recurringly about the Messiah’s coming to heal blindness, blindness of the heart to perceive and understand.[iii]