Mark 8:28

“John the Baptist,” they answered, “but others say Elijah, while others say one of the prophets.”

we know what we know
and this little bit
we use and recycle
seeing it everywhere

in specific or general
we are stuck
on our meaning plateau
awaiting a next insight

until there is growth
to be carried on
we circle our heroes
naming them one by one

Dipper John
Leather-belted Elijah
Whispering Jonah
Dancing Miriam

Within their bounds
we bind our responses
bouncing from judge to prophet
in search of a larger justice

Are you remembering 6:14–15 where Herod is hearing exactly these same rumors. We each are a part of a cultural rumor, urban legend, fake news system. It is a background of perceptions among which we either choose or find ourselves drawn to as a result of our genetic make-up or prior experiences pre-dispose us to.

It takes a conversion experience to begin considering a move outside whatever choir we are currently part of. This is prelude to a repentance that can lead to changed hearts and lives.

A more cynical approach would have a narcissist being able to switch categories at a moments notice to take advantage of whatever will bring them praise and adulation they are convinced is already theirs.

Not only are we always fighting the last war, we are looking for a last leader. The people listed in the stanza above are energetic movers-and-shakers, not gentle and mild shepherds. There is fire and energy in them that was noticed by others, perhaps jealously so.

They are also counter-cultural. The stasis of institutions seems to require great energy to call it to account for having lost its way. There is a roughness here that cannot be contained in the shrouds within which the institution has wrapped itself and its heroes.

Consider a recent call, hundreds of years late, to remove monuments to Confederates who lost their war to keep slavery. Note the difficulty to affect cultural mores even after more than a hundred straight days of a mass shooting that kills 4 or more.

Mark 8:27

Afterward Jesus and his disciples went into the villages around Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples this question – “Who do people say that I am?” 

village by village
a picture grows clearer

question by question
a painter grows clearer

what is the product
who is the producer

having seen one
the other is seen

who am I
I am you

but this is not
the only report

who else and what else
are people seeing

each has some truth
enough to distract

until both are seen
their value village small

As our valiant band travels from Bethsaida-Julias, a couple of miles north of the sea that has played such an important role in the first part of Mark, to Caesarea Philippi, another 30+ miles away from Jerusalem, we find a continuation of the end of the first part of Mark and the lament, “Do you not yet understand?”

If the Twelve don’t get the import of the yeast, here is what seems like a next opportunity to begin building toward that missed understanding. “Who do people say that I am?

What appears to be a data-driven question is really part of an on-going investigation into who these people are that were called into this mission. They were certainly not full-blown apostellō. In fact they didn’t have the personal experience the healed had who were admonished to not tell about their experience.

Their experience of going out two-by-two was an experience of their participation in being on the receiving end of hospitality (that they couldn’t translate into hospitality) and being participants in healing of others (without having had the experience of, themselves, being healed). They had no real witness to make about Jesus. They only had their own presumed privilege and anticipated glory to come.

The question about other’s perception of Jesus is here a question about what categories the Twelve have available to them when the question gets closer to home. We are all connected with a culture, even hermits have a connection-at-a-distance. These connections set some of the limits on our perception. This in turn affects what we are able to hope for and recognize as significant.

In the end this is a significant question—what water do we swim in?

Mark 8:26

Jesus sent him to his home, and said, “Do not go even into the village.” 

you can go home again
it is just not the same home
from whence you have come

nostalgic homes are fantastical
reshapers of tomorrow into yesterday
with nothing left for today

a parade of homes hopes for more
than a settled bungalow for two
nestled safely away from care

a next home is a seedbed
for raising a new village
and then composting itself

of villages and homes there is no end
while eyes are opened
and hearts trust change

The word behind “sent” is ἀποστέλλω (apostellō, apostle, one commissioned).

This sets up a tension between being commissioned as a prophet or ambassador or disciple (presumably with a message to be delivered) and the injunction to not go into his hometown (6:1–6). While modern translations usually have a footnote about an alternative translation, there are those such as Mann335 who prefer the alternative translation of “do not tell anyone in the village”, which is an even stronger tension.

Another place of uncertainty has to do with where “home” is. This is the same word that is used after the feeding of 4,000. Having received whatever teaching and/or healing was available, the crowd was fed and then sent on their way home, which is presumed to be at some distance. Adding stories together we find a new location of “home”—literally, where the heart is (hint: think physically here).

Along with the recent “looking up” language, this story concludes one section and is prelude to the conclusion of Mark. Jesus’ instruction to not tell anyone about the wonder just experienced leaves us hanging. We don’t know if this now-no-longer-blind man was like all the others who broke silence or if he followed through on it and was an anonymous witness to wonder wherever he wandered.

It is this uncertainty that is important to begin dealing with. At some point the reader is going to have to decide how they are going to deal with what they have read and experienced through their reading. What will I do? What will you do?

It is this uncertainty of response that also sets us up for the next scenes about typology and Messiah.

Mark 8:25

Then Jesus again placed his hands on the man’s eyes; and the man saw clearly, his sight was restored, and he saw everything with perfect distinctness.

feedback loops
keep us honest
about actual results

knowing adjustments
are typically in order
we simply proceed

no need for anger
as we enter the breech
once again and again

softening eyes wide
proceeding past focal points
smaller patterns connect

a good place to pause
before turning away
from expected next steps

Matthew and Luke may have had other reasons to not include this second healing story in their recounting of Jesus’ presence for their communities, but the mere suggestion that Jesus’ work wasn’t entirely perfect from the get-go may have been a final straw to pass over this telling.

Remember Jesus having been pushed to a second try by Justus, the Syrophoenician woman. While we are in a transition spot between sections of Mark, it will be important to remember not only second chances, but 490 opportunities to make a difference. The disciples and the Twelve will need every one.

In this context we can appreciate that healing involves the healed.

What we miss in translation is the intensity with which the man looks to see. Anyone who needs glasses knows this concentration of effort to see afar when nearsighted or make out a detail when farsighted. It is this desire to see clearly or properly that comes from peering hard, gazing steadily, looking intently.

Though brought by others, the blind man has his part to play.

To play a bit, what is described as seeing plainly or clearly can also be translated “to see from afar”. The context here is still that of questioning the yeastiness of life, judging a situation in light of mercy and its eventual redemption. To see afar when nearsighted is a great blessing. A wider context does make a difference.

Blindness is a condition of nearsightedness. We don’t see what is available. A possibility of an early mercy escapes us in the midst of a tangle of rules and doctrines. An opportunity to repent and participate in good news is not part of the picture we have of the way the world works. Clarity will make a difference when we look up to see our stones rolled away.

Mark 8:24

The man looked up, and said, “I see the people, for, as they walk about, they look to me like trees.”

how many loaves
am I holding up
how many leftovers
are held within

levels of perception
never slacken
whether we talk bread
or blindness

our claims of sight
are based on fragments
and such confession
clears our speculator

having seen everyday deadwood
full of sound and fury
masquerading as @real…
we can look again

Try this literal translation: “And looking up he said: I see these humans, because like trees I behold walking.”

There are a couple of points to be made about looking up. It is something Jesus does. It is a connecting point for him with a larger presence of blessedness and blessing (6:41).

Looking up occurs here at a transition place from blindness to sight (of ourselves as well as of the Blind Man of Bethsaida—can you guess which part he sang in the Blind Boys of Bethsaida?)

The women at the tomb also looked up to find the stone rolled away.

Once upon a time, when asked how we were, it was possible to say, “Things are looking up.” I’m looking forward to another time when that phrase might again come easily to mind.

David Galston in the recent book, God’s Human Future: The Struggle to Define Theology Today, makes a distinction between a closed religion looking down a foreordained way to an apocalyptic end and an open religion attending to choice and change operating hopefully to draw us forward beyond fate to new streams of living water. Galston’s one liner is, “…open religion is more about comparing different things and cultivating wisdom, rather than reducing different things to one choice and cultivating doctrine.”

To look up, to be open, is a statement of trust in a present moment.

Psalm 121 begins, “I will lift up mine eyes unto hills”. The King James Version then states, “from whence my help shall come.” Today most translations affirm a trust by returning to the questioning openness of the Jewish original, “from where will my help come?”

Mark 8:23

Taking the blind man’s hand, Jesus led him to the outskirts of the village, and, when he had put saliva on the man’s eyes, he placed his hands on him, and asked him, “Do you see anything?”

a hand extended
gently led
through dusty lanes
from busy talk
in wider scents
spit in the eye
shaken to the core
every trick loosed
third degree accused
what do you see now
and now

Mark’s style of repetition would lead us to think that this blind person represents disciples in general and the Twelve in particular.

“Taking the blind man’s hand”, is another way of calling the Twelve to “Follow me.” Jesus has specialized teaching for those following him that is imparted by taking the disciples apart for further work on what he has said or done. After a time of apartness, or retreat regarding a testing, Jesus’ last private time with the Twelve brought forward the question “Do you have eyes, and fail to see?” (8:18)

The earlier question can be seen as rhetorical. This question is to actually gather feedback about how much change has occurred as a result of a concentrated time with Jesus.

When combined with other encounters, there is a physicality to the presence of Jesus. The physical senses are important when engaged with good news for good news is no ethereal spiritualization of life, but deals with its nitty-gritty—hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, touching all intertwined.

This intersectionality of the senses helps incorporate the reader into the scene and raises a question of what the reader is seeing after this amount of time in Mark’s story. In bringing the entirety of our experience to the forefront also connects Mark’s first readers with his most recent readers as they find the fourth wall thinning and their identification with the Twelve growing.

How did I get to where I am? What aspect of myself is being called out of its closet? Have I been touched? These are all questions that are being raised in the simple request to report your experience— “What do you see?”

This doesn’t yet shock us out of our complacency or place of stuckness, but it is sensitizing us to the ways we are addicted to our lot. Try reading Russell Brand’s book: Recovery: Freedom from Our Addictions to get a sense of how raw this healing is.

Mark 8:22

They came to Bethsaida. There some people brought a blind man to Jesus, and begged him to touch him.

after potentially dividing words
we are still together on the way
to a next adventure
in familiar territory

in a desire for eternal stasis
we spit and fuss at one another
until a next need surfaces
and we engage

the left-out and left-over beggars
and those begging for them
re-ground our practice
in actual touch

This is likely the end of a first or second part of Mark. The earlier aborted trip to Bethsaida after the feeding of 5,000 and a storm, is now completed. We are now turning toward home with the question, “Do you still not understand?” still hanging in the air. Behind that discouraging question lies a prevenient hope.

Sure enough, the collective wisdom of Neighb*rly partnership comes through and an unnamed blind man is brought forward with the expectation of a touch, a healing.

Even as we move ahead we also pause to recollect the last healing just before a sequence of the feeding of 4,000 that brought forward a demand for an ever greater sign, a warning against the inherent spoilage of a monotheistic religion1, and the non-understanding of the Twelve.

Remember the deaf and essentially mute unnamed man that Jesus took aside and healed with the assistance of spit? We are now reprising those who come to hear, to see. They are brought, they have a retreat with Jesus, they accept being spat upon, and they find a desired healing. They come to understand their changed life.

Sabin157 sees a pattern in Mark:

…the two-stage healing of the blind man in 8:22–26 is a key to the theological design of Mark’s Gospel…. the Transfiguration in the middle. In the first part (chs. 1–8), the reader is like the blind man who at first only sees “people looking like trees” (8:24). In the second part (chs. 9–16), Mark repeats many of the same images, events, and themes, and the reader now sees them more plainly.


1 For monotheism’s autoimmune diseases of “God Intoxication” or “God Manipulation” that destroy an ethic of “nonindifference”—see Putting God Second: Saving Religion from Itself by Rabbi Donniel Hartman.

Mark 8:21

“Don’t you understand now?” he repeated. 

not understanding
is no block
for continuing

an on-ongoing understanding
of not understanding
is a standard operating situation

and SOP is not an SOS
no emergency protocol
need be engaged

all the response needed
is a simple yep
still connecting

turn down the sensitivity
to innate failure
accept the journey to date

With this question, LaVerdiere220 ends volume one of his two volume commentary on Mark. All the teachings and healings to this point are but an introduction to the crux or consequence of having begun a gospel of good news within a divided religious tradition occupied for what seems like the umpteenth time—“To understand, the disciples have to follow him on the way to Jerusalem, to his passion and resurrection.”

A number of commentators see this as a place where Mark changes images from the “sea” to “the way”.

Do note that this question remains unanswered here. There is not even the inkling of a response. Elizabeth Struthers Malbon, in her chapter on Narrative Criticism in Anderson44, writes: “The sea scene ends [with this question]. No character answers this question. It is forwarded to the implied reader….” We will find this same inconclusiveness when Mark finally ends his beginning of good news with silence.

For a moment it would be helpful to intentionally take your role as an “implied reader” and spend some time with this question in regard to your own life. This is an opportunity to take stock of what you do and do not understand about your life at this point, taking particular notice of what glimpse you have of that mysterious realm of what you do not understand and where you have relied on trust, habit, and ritual to comfort yourself in the midst of afflictions and addictions.

It would be helpful to learn a bit more about an Ignatian Examen. In particular: recall the leftovers of a presence of abundance you have picked up along the way; be thankful for these blessings; see how they have affected your behavior today; see where changed living is needed; and choose a hopeful recommitment to generosity.

Mark 8:20

“And when the seven for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of broken pieces did you pick up?” “Seven,” they said.

whether gathering more
than what was
or simply conserving
what is
details pull us together

at sixes and sevens
hungry two eight four
practically perfect ones or tens
divine three and three times three
it is five digits shape our work

never out of the woods
we have needed resources
in every scattered fragment
a map of the forest resides
one loaf to feed them all

With a second question about a second feeding we might begin to wonder if Jesus is not getting at something other than the crowds that were fed— the role the Twelve had in finding the bread and fish, or the sacramental form of the feedings.

Jesus has been asking about the leftovers that the Twelve had experienced. What was left over in their lives after these experiences and how did that connect with this and every moment since?

Carrington170 suggests the leftovers can be connected with Creation and when we forget Creation, “God…is often the forgotten factor. He was with them in the boat, even when they had only one loaf. They ought not to have been worrying about bread.”

LaVerdiere220 continues Myers concern of an ethic of mutual care by connecting the seven baskets of leftovers with a story of enacted unity or trust in G*D—the feeding of Greek widows in Acts 6:1–7. This liberationist remembrance places the oppressed at the center of the resolution of their oppression. Gentiles are placed at the core of decisions about the feeding of all the widows. This will also be seen in Paul’s insistence on the inherent value in non-Jewish lives (Galatians 3:28). [Note, seven Greek men were put in charge of distributing food to all widows, not the Greek widows themselves!]

Whether seen through trusting eyes able to see the G*D and the abundance of life or Neighb*r and the ethics of partnership, we only need to see the leftovers to hear echoes of John’s recollection of Jesus saying, “Do you believe because you see me? Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe/trust.” (John 20:29)

Mark 8:19

when I broke up the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets of broken pieces you picked up?” “Twelve,” they said. 

remembering what Jesus did
is old hat to us
we can reel it off
years of stories have settled
until we know
every little life episode
is really about Jesus

such remembrances
finally add up to being storyless
it turns out to be a dream
unmoored in effect
awaiting a next Jesus deed
missing our picking-up
we fail to carry on

having left left-overs
out of our equation
we have broken a trail
to new fishing grounds
and don’t know where
to pick it up again
without a big hint

Israel is dispersed
scattered inside and out
occupied through and through
on a scale of 1-10
it’s 12 sheets to the wind
remember forgotten bread
it is your bait

We all have information stored away within us that would be helpful if only we could access it when it would be helpful.

Unspoken is a remembrance of what followed that feeding—a storm. As a water-walking Jesus entered their boat, Mark notes the Twelve didn’t understand about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.

Such is still the case. It was as if a storm took any glimmer of insight away from them and they were simply left in awe. Awe is not a good place to try to figure things out.

This is the same distraction that comes with leavening (attending to short-term advertising glitz rather than long-term sustenance) and remains in attendance when we set fire to basic life needs, whether bread or news.

Myers90, sees in this verse the hardening of Christianity’s heart that formally began in 313 C.E. when “the church began to shift from the bottom to the top, from the margins to the center, from those who had no power to those in power”. The result: “once the dynamic core of the gospel message, the realm of God, was replaced by a different message, the defense of the status quo.” In a moment of testing we chose the “politics of exclusion and domination” and lost a “hermeneutic of suspicion … about the way in which our own self-interest might shape our reading of text or context.”