For a reflection on spiritual blindness as it relates to unbelievers (as opposed to ‘half-believer’s, as here), click here: “A Letter to My Skeptic Friends.”
“The Lord open the eyes of the blind” (Ps. 146:8a).
There are two types of blindness. Mark points this out in the way he arranges two stories side-by-side in the his telling of the Gospel. There’s a blind man. He couldn’t see things like the ‘E’ on an eye exam. That kind of blind. His friends brought him to Jesus. Jesus spit on his eyes and laid hands on him, naturally. “Do you see anything?”, asked Jesus, wiping the side of his lip. “I see men, but they look like trees, walking.” That’s kind of like calling the ‘E’ and ‘8’. He could see things now; he just couldn’t distinguish one thing from another. Maybe it was the spit? Jesus gave another whack at it, laid hands on him again and, “E!” (paraphrased).
There is a total blindness and a partial blindness, but neither are safe behind the wheel (cf. Mk. 8:22-26).
The very next story Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” People were blind. They couldn’t see things like God or his Christ. “Some say John the baptist, others Elijah; one of the prophets.” Jesus spits, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter could see it: “You are the Christ!” Jesus calls him blessed, gives him the keys to the kingdom (Mt. 16:19). He was right, halfway. He could see in part. It’s just that as soon he could see that Jesus was the Christ, Jesus began helping Peter distinguish him from all the other “christs” who had come before him. Many had come and would continue to come claiming that title (Mt. 24:5; Mk. 13:6; Lk. 21:8), but only would be the kind of Christ he was going to be: “Yes, Peter! Now I’m going to go be murdered!” Peter pulls the God-Man aside and rebukes him, naturally. “Ehmm, actually Jesus, the plan was….” Jesus calls him Satan.
Peter was right about the Man, wrong about the Mission. He was partially blind, certainly not safe behind the wheel. He didn’t realize that “it was necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Lk. 24:26). So Jesus kicks him out of the driver’s seat: “Get behind me, Satan!” (cf. Mk. 8:27-38; Mt. 16:13-28) and take the keys back, for now.
The resistance to Jesus being the kind of Christ who will be crucified is that he is the kind of Christ who says, “Follow me.” Actually, he says, “Take up your cross and follow me.” And the first time he says it, in fact, he says it to Peter just at the end of this uncomfortable exchange: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me…” (Mk. 8:34).
The world is filled with blind people. The Church is filled with partially blind people. To confess Jesus is the Christ is half way there. But we can’t be right about the Man and wrong about the Mission anymore than Jesus can be the Truth without also being the Way. That’s like the guy who can just make the ‘E’-or-is-it-‘8? and yet expects to be given a license to drive. That’s a license to kill. There’s still some spit in his eyes. No keys for him.
The thing about the Gospel is that there really is no fine print. Jesus puts everything on the top line. “Yes, I am the Christ. Yes, my way is the cross. Yes, so is yours. No, there are no shortcuts. Hop in the back.” But our blindness is not a defect of the eyes to see or the mind to perceive. It is the defect of the will to see, to perceive, to obey. It is the exercise of the will to believe what cannot be true in light of the cross, things like: I am justified in holding grudges, keeping records of wrong, deciding to not like somebody, gossiping, calling gossip: “well, it’s the truth”, turning a blind eye…, not forgiving, wanting to remain the victim rather than choosing to trust, lying, hiding, not really believing Jesus is coming back, etc.
Popular opinion is like cataracts. It clouds the vision. It’s a safe assumption that the answer to “Who do people say that I am?” will almost invariably be a half-truth at best. But the only way to see Jesus for who he is is to follow him–down the path of humility to the place where we can see things for what they truly are in the light of the Christ, especially ourselves.
“Who do you say that I am?” (Mk. 8:29).