3 lessons on healing from Mark 8

This reflection is based on today’s Gospel reading in the Book of Common Prayer’s Daily Office, which is Mark 8:1-26. You can read it here. And yes, this is another teaching I’m doing.

First lesson: Signs & healings are both miracles, but there’s an important difference. In verses  11 – 13 of this chapter of Mark, the Pharisees ask Jesus for a “sign.” You can almost hear his eyes roll and vs. 12 says “he sighed deeply.” He just flat out tells that that “no sign will be given to this generation” and leaves the Pharisees to stew in their own juices.

Jesus did have compassion on those asking for signs. In Matthew 11, John the Baptist, already in prison sends a disciple and asks Jesus “are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus told the disciple, “Tell John what you see and hear: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” The miraculous component of his ministry was the mark of him “who is to come.” Healings were the proofs to the theory that he preached and taught.

Why then no signs? No fire from heaven, so parting of the sea; even his more extraordinary miracles involved mundane things like feeding folks and getting from point A to point B in a boat. Why no spectacle? Jesus’ miracles were centered on relationships. Remember the paralytic, let down through the roof? What did Jesus say to him first? “Your sins are forgiven.” Well, that got the Pharisees in a bind, didn’t it? Jesus then asks them, “which is easier? To say ‘your sins or forgiven’ or ‘rise up and walk?'” Jesus speaks these words to the man and he is healed (Matthew 9). Maybe Jesus could have simply healed the man, but he wanted to make a point that being right with God was of the first importance and healing follows that. Even feeding a crowd harkens back to Jesus’ teaching that since our earthy fathers feed us good food–no scorpions, please–“how much more” does our Heavenly Father desire to give us good gifts? (Luke 11:11-13.) The physical healings we see Jesus perform are designed to restore relationships, both earthly and heavenly.

Second lesson: Witnessing a miracle doesn’t necessarily increase your ability to have faith for the next one. Here in Mark 8 we have the story of the feeding of the 4000, with 7 baskets of leftovers. Think Mark just got his details wrong? Oh, contraire! In Mark 6 we have the story of the feeding of the 5000. This is a different incident, yet it plays out in almost exactly the same way. They’re in a deserted place, no one has eaten for three days. Jesus says, basically, that he wants to feed these people. The disciples ask “how can this be?” Jesus has them scrounge for the seven loaves and then repeats the exact same feeding procedure as in chapter 6. So in the second incident, there is no memory of the first incident.

Now look at verses 14-21. The disciples are worrying because they forgot to bring any bread with them in the boat! Jesus reminds them not only of the first incident, but of the second, then asks “do you not understand?” Since Mark leaves it at that, we can presume that they didn’t.

Why is it so hard to have faith that there will be a miracle, especially one around something as basic food? Just guessing here, but I think it’s because when we start worrying about food, we get fearful. And when we get fearful, we stop engaging in our relationships. Remember “perfect love casts out all fear?” (1 John 4:18) Well, the opposite is true as well. When we allow fear to overtake us, it casts out love, and love is, in part, that relational spirit that exists between two people or a person and God. We can’t believe that God will provide because our fear blocks his love for us, the love that bring us the faith to believe he will provide.

Third lesson: Sometimes there is more than one step to healing. The healing in vs. 22-26 is an interesting one. For one thing, Jesus heals this man privately, and not only lays hands on him but puts spit in his eyes. Secondly, the man’s sight is restored in two steps. After the first step, the man can see but says men look like walking trees. (I can relate to this with my -9 contact lenses!) Jesus then lays his hands on the man a second time and “he saw everything clearly.”

Given that the man was born blind, don’t you think it’s amazing he was even able to tell that the walking trees were men? I almost wonder if they healing was of two kinds: a physical healing and a healing of the man’s ability to perceive correctly. This parallels the story of the paralytic’s healing again; he was only able to get up and walk after his sins were forgiven.

This should be a lesson to us that we can’t always expect healing to come in one fell swoop. I know for myself, I experienced some radical internal healing at a Leanne Payne conference, but recognized that it was not fully completed. I believe the rest of that healing is part of my on-going spiritual journey–much has been healed, but much remains to be done. Broken relationship often must be healed in stages simply because there is another party involved and you cannot control their willingness to seek healing. Sometimes it’s easier not to even know about the wound! But when we do know and it is not healed fully, it is up to us to bear them as Christ bears his wounds–not hidden and festering, but openly and as proofs of who we are.

For Reflection
Think about some of your favorite stories of Jesus’ healing people or miracles. Do you think there was an interpersonal interaction happening there? How did the person receiving healing respond?

When you notice yourself worrying about something, what happens to your relationships? To your relationship with God?

Is there anything in your life that you see as partially healed? How does that make you feel? Do you continue to ask for healing, or does it block your ability to hear God?

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