Thursday, October 19, 2006

I Can See Clearly, Now

Every Sunday I get up at 5:00 so I can get to the building early to go over my lesson a couple of more times. Last Sunday I got up and tried quietly to locate my cell phone. Terri had used it the night before. She woke and said, “It’s by the lamp beside the chair.” Not wanting to turn on the light I fumbled around and finally sat down on the chair—crack! No it wasn’t the cell phone. It was Terri’s reading glasses! She was really kind about it—but she didn’t like the superglue smell—not to mention, without her glasses, she can’t see anything on a printed page.

Don’t you hate it when you can’t see—or when your vision is clouded over and you can barely see well enough to realize you’re having problems? I guess it’s better than being totally blind—but even then, partial sight or clouded vision can cause a lot of problems.
They come to Bethsaida and some bring a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus said, “Do you see anything?”

He looked up and said, “I see men, like trees, walking around.”

Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored and he saw everything clearly. Jesus sent him home saying, “Do not go into the village.” [Mark 8:22-26]
This little story, found in Mark 8 is fascinating. A lot of people get nervous about it because it looks as if Jesus couldn’t heal the guy right. Actually, Jesus is making a point. The book of Mark is all about what it means to be a disciple, a follower of Jesus. Part of being his follower is to understand who he is and what he is trying to accomplish. So far in the book, people haven’t seen Jesus very clearly: not the crowds, not the religious leaders, not even his own band of followers. This blind man becomes an object lesson—people see Jesus, but not very clearly.

Let’s continue with this story:
Jesus and his followers went out to the villages if Caesarea Philippi. On the way he was questioning his followers, “Who do people say I am?” And they answer him, “Some say John the baptizer; others Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He questioned them “But who do you say I am?” Peter answers and says to him, “You are the Messiah.” And he warned [rebuked] them not to tell anyone about him.

Then he began to teach them the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said this word clearly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning sharply and looking at his disciples, he rebukes Peter and says, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting you mind not on the things of God but on the things of man.”

He called the crowd with his followers, and said to them, “If anyone wants to follow me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake, and for the sake of the good news, will save it. For what will it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Indeed, what can he give in return for his life? Anyone who is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.

And he says to them, “Truth: some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Kingdom of God come with power.”
Does this story strike you as a little confusing? After all, when Jesus asks them to tell him who they think he is, they give the right answer! He is Messiah! But then he literally rebukes them and tells them to shut up about it! Why? Because like the blind man, they see a little—but not clearly. Right word, wrong concept.

In fact, Peter demonstrates this by in turn rebuking Jesus when Jesus tries to explain exactly what his role is as Messiah. Jesus sees his mission as the Suffering Servant of Isaiah—he must suffer for the sake of Israel and for the sake of the world. Healing for a broken world can only come through his death. But Peter is a Galilean Jew—the suffering figure doesn’t quite fit with his visions of revolution and Empire. Messiah is supposed to come, restore or rebuild the temple and then fight the ultimate war with Israel’s enemies and come out on top. This sounds like defeat, not victory! Jesus confronts Peter with holding his own personal agenda—the agenda of his culture, rather than holding to the mission and agenda of God.

Jesus then gives his radical call to follow him. He explains in no uncertain terms what it means to follow him: Deny yourself, your visions of Empire, your agenda—you may have left everything to follow me, Jesus says—but you didn’t leave the one thing that must be left behind: you own agenda. The operative word is: repent—quit following your own ideas of Christianity, follow Jesus. He then says “pick up your cross.” If “deny” didn’t get their attention this would have. Jesus is saying: get yourself killed! Kill your personal interests and desires. Give up your rights, the privileges you think you deserve, put your self-centered ideas on a cross, nail them there and leave them. Only then can you Follow me. Jesus says: “Get rid of all this stuff and now look at me—I am the definition of what life is to be like. If you are going to follow a rabbi—then you’ve got to become just like him!”

And just in case anyone misses the point, Jesus adds this: If you think you can save your life—follow your own agenda—you’re going to find out you are sadly mistaken. You think you’re going to whip Rome? You think a Jesus made into your own image is going to save you, forget it. That’s just selfish ambition—it is just turning Jesus into an idol of your own image. The only way to save your life is to give it up for the real Jesus. Only then will you discover true life.

So exactly what do I do with this little story? Far too long I have viewed Christianity as a means to make me feel better about myself. For so many folk Christianity has become a self-help organization. I go to Jesus as the great problem solver: a psychologist, marriage counselor, or parenting expert. I see Jesus as someone who will get me a job, a better feeling about myself, who will provide an emotional overload, or an escape from Hell. The problem is: these are all about my agendas and me. Following Jesus looks more like what I want than what he wants. That’s a near-sighted approach. I'm still blind.

There is much more to life than health, wealth, and emotional well being. We get a glimpse of Jesus’ vision when we find ourselves serving others in truly unselfish ways: feeding the homeless, helping someone with no strings attached, giving our time to sit with someone who is suffering physically or emotionally. We walk away from those experiences feeling as if we were in the middle of kingdom business, don’t we? We long for a spiritual community operating from the same page: one demonstrating this eternal significance.

Jesus says it is all found in him. Self-denial, cross-carrying, and following Jesus is more than just simplifying my life or giving up some luxuries. It is a radical call to give everything over to Jesus’ call for healing a world that is broken. It is to take the same role as the suffering servant who will even give up her life to care for others. Following Jesus is so much more than Sunday mornings. It’s 24-7 and it starts today.

Can you see clearly now? Do you recognize Jesus as the suffering servant who gives his life to heal a world gone bad? Do you realize in order to follow Jesus you must give up your agenda of comfort and embrace his mission of self-sacrifice in order to love on others? Are you willing to say “no” to your own agenda and "yes" to God’s mission to show self-giving mercy to everyone around you? This is not an easy teaching. It is a difficult thing to give up your life and freedom for service to Jesus. But Jesus makes no apology for his demands. That is what he calls us to—will you accept his call? If not, resolve to live your life wandering around in a dark room, half blind—there’s no telling what you’ll break.

May you experience the second touch of Jesus. May you receive full sight. May you see clearly how he wants you to live. And may you deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus.

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