We have reached a major turning point in Mark’s Gospel. Indeed the major turning point. Jesus is about to enter Jerusalem to face the fate he has been promising will be his, and whose details have been given most recently down to specifics. The disciples persist in various forms of blindness and half-blindness, but doggedly he instructs them and they follow. Their fate too has been described, and it is to their credit they do not turn and head in the other direction. Not yet.
We now enter the frame passage matching the one that opened this middle section of Mark, whose counterpart of healing a blind man is back in chapter 8 at Bethsaida. Centering on three passion predictions. A section, as we noted last week, devoid of specific geographical orientation so the focus can fall on his teaching of disciples in the final days before reaching the fateful arena of God’s action in him.
Jericho is now the named locale, the city but 12 miles east of Jerusalem itself. The city conquered first by Joshua, now conquered in its own way by the Son of David. The geographical notice is odd: he enters and immediately leaves, a point usually put down to redaction or some other explanation. But Mark likely wants the echo from Joshua to register. This also helps underscore, one can imagine, the urgency of the blind beggar. Last chance. Sitting by the road of his hometown exit, Jesus is setting his face toward the capital, the twelve in tow. Now or never.
And he is up to it. He cries aloud, to the point of disturbing a faceless crowd gathered around Jesus. Their rebuke only intensifies his blind urgency. Rumor has reached his ears that this is Jesus of Nazareth and he wants to see again. Presumably he has lost his sight. Many note this matches the reality of the disciples who had seen and been witnesses to Jesus dramatic work, and then begin to falter as the light grows dimmer and they need to find renewed sight to move forward into Jesus dark night. If so, the healing is a good harbinger. Things need not spiral down at this fateful hour. Cry out for the Son of David. You are right to persist with all your strength. With this messianic cry he further serves as a forerunner of the Palm Sunday crowds upon his entry into the city from the Mount of Olives.
The throwing off of his cloak has lots of resonance with baptism, and the declaration of the baptizand that she or he want to see, find their new life in Jesus. Justin, Gregory Nazianzus, Clement all speak of baptism as a kind of sight receiving illumination. Jesus asks the question “what do you want me to do?” no matter how obvious the ailment or need, as we have seen previously. We must articulate our needs and not just box the air, if true healing and relationship with the healer are to be ours.
The following on the way is redolent of Isaiah’s second exodus language, and appropriate for one depicted as enrolled behind Jesus on his ultimate Way. Perhaps no bad model for the twelve themselves struggling for sight and insight both.
Our OT reading in Track Two’s pairing comes from Jeremiah, who has his own version of exodus language. We see this admixture in Isaiah as well, where second exodus is joined with pilgrimage, and the return to Zion is from all corners of the earth. There, further, we find the blind and the lame in their midst, a great company. They walk a straight path all the same, throwing off their cloaks of whatever weaving, because called by the one who is Father and Lord. The psalm for the day reinforces the praise called for by the prophet Jeremiah.
1 When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, *
then were we like those who dream.
2 Then was our mouth filled with laughter, *
and our tongue with shouts of joy.
3 Then they said among the nations, *
“The LORD has done great things for them.”
4 The LORD has done great things for us, *
and we are glad indeed.
Note as well how the fact of praised thanksgiving for God’s past actions, remembered and relived, becomes the occasion for present salvation as well, as tears sown are turned into harvested songs, and weeping into shouldered joy. A marvelous image of transformation, appropriate for the blind beggar on the way behind the healer.
Hebrews provides his own version of this ongoing, permanent, generation to generation salvation. Jesus holds his high priesthood permanently, because having walked the way of our salvation, he continues now as high priest forever. “Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” He is always asking “what do you want me to do for you?” and he is always ready to do just that, in his priestly role, for us sitting by the side of the road who call out in faith and honestly named need. Jesus needs to make no sacrifice for his own sins, for his priestly order is of a different caliber and character, given the sacrifice once for all time he has made for us.
In Track One we come to the final reading from Job and what one can call the denouement of the plot the book has set before us in all its stark unfolding. To speak of a resolution of course implies we know just what the book has set into motion. If it is to explain innocent suffering, it is unclear just how the divine speech or the ending has done that. As an old teacher once put it, “when you’re blue go to the zoo” is hardly an adequate solution. If it is just to reward Job for an ordeal no one can fully understand, except to say he was somehow right and the friends wrong, is true enough in terms of Job’s lavish and well earned final compensation. Sympathy, comforting and double what he lost, with beautiful new children to boot.
But in my view we must remember how the book set the matter up to begin with, something Job himself did not know and never learned, appropriate if also terribly true to the nature of the test God allowed to befall him. Satan argued no one would serve God for naught. Job did just that, with nothing to show for it except an unwillingness to leave the field where he and God alone met, when all was said and done. Ezekiel 14 reminds us of how Job was remembered: a man of great intercessory power, who daily offered sacrifices for his children just in case they had been wayward.
I think it is crucial to note at just what point Job is recessitated. He confesses that God has showed himself and that this amounts to a contrast between what one might know by hearsay and deep personal knowledge: “now my eye sees thee.” In the dust he hands himself over to God. And it is in just this posture that Job, we are told, takes up the role that had been his pride and that he was renown for and would always be: he prayed for the three that had turned against him. We do not read that God asked this of him. We do learn that their account of God provoked his anger against them. But in the end Job let all of that go and he prayed for his friends. Here is the denouement of the Book of Job. The Lord restored the fortunes of Job when he, still on the ash heap, had prayed for his friends. The rest of the story is just the sort of ending that is required, fitting for the hero of this long ordeal. Satan is vanquished, and true to form, nowhere on the scene, presumably back to his prowling the earth in search of new victims. Until that final day when he comes forth with all his might and is exposed and defeated by the Son of God himself.
Taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are they who trust in him and never waver.