I See Men as Trees Walking

This sermon was preached by Rev Sue on Wednesday 15 February 2022. Here it is for you again:

Today’s gospel reading, at first glance, is a curious little story. Jesus had performed many healings, including restoring the sight of blind people, so why did he take this man out of the village, put saliva on his eyes and lay hands on him twice? Presumably Jesus could have healed him instantly. As with many of Jesus miracles, the answer lies in its symbolic significance.

In the Bible the gospels almost every event is laden with meaning. Few things are related purely as historical information. We find it frustrating it is to know nothing of Jesus between the ages of 12 and 30. We do not even know whether he had been married.  But the gospel writers were not interested in the details, but in the significance of Jesus’ deeds.

We live in a more mundane society, where actions are usually either a statement of beliefs (like burning a flag) or have a practical intention (like giving someone food from a foodbank), although the latter can also be a witness to our faith. But sometimes actions can be prophetic in the Biblical sense.

In the 1980s I lived in Maltby, a pit village in South Yorkshire. Unemployment was high, and young people who had left school with no qualifications saw little prospect of proper jobs and were hard to engage in the training schemes run by the Manpower Services Commission. There was also a shortage of housing, with long council waiting lists. A project with a difference addressed both needs. 11 people were given the chance to build their own homes. They worked together as a team, alongside professionals, learning building skills and achieving qualifications. The incentives to engage were high, and anyone who turned up late would face the wrath of their fellow workers, not just a telling off from the foreman, so the participants soon became reliable employees. The houses they built were owned by a housing association which divided between them the amount it had saved by not using contractors, giving them some cash to spend on their new homes. The young people were housed, employable and immensely proud of their achievements. But the project was also symbolic. It showed that given the right circumstances young adults who society had written off could achieve great things. The lives of the 11 people directly concerned were changed, but many more lives were affected by the hope the project inspired. It was, in the proper sense of the word, a small miracle.

The healing in today’s reading is both an act of compassion and a symbolic gesture. The disciples had had their eyes opened when Jesus had called them as they went about their daily business as ordinary people. But still they were not quite understanding who Jesus really was. They were like the man who saw people as trees walking – they had a vague idea of what was going on, but they lacked a sharp focus. In the verses immediately following the reading is the turning point of Mark’s gospel. Jesus asks his disciples “who do you say I am”. And Peter replies “You are the Messiah”. Their uncertain faith found words and they saw with clarity who their master was. And Jesus, for the first time, talks of suffering and a cross.

We are often confused, whether it’s because we don’t understand what the Bible is saying, or that we cannot apply it to our own lives. There are situations in which we know whatever we do someone will be hurt or upset, or times when God seems far away, and we lose the sense of his presence. Like the blind man, we have been touched by Jesus, but our vision is blurred, and we know that we are not seeing the full picture. It is time to ask Jesus for a second touch, a renewing of our faith and a clarity of vision, so that we both know what to do and have the strength to do it. I shall leave the last word to Johnny Cash, a man who knew all about repeatedly needing the touch of Jesus in his life:

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