Notes on Mark 8:27-10:52

Jesus has performed numerous miracles. Most recently He has fed another group of thousands, but afterwards His disciples still did not understand Him. Next He healed a blind man, and we enter this scene wondering: if Jesus can cure the beggar's blindness, can He not cure His own disciples'?

For a moment, it seems that He does just this. Still in Gentile territory, Jesus asks His disciples about His identity, and Peter confesses that He is the Messiah. Jesus warns them not to share this, and proceeds to explain His future path of opposition, death, and resurrection. As it turns out, the blindness is not all removed, for they cannot understand this new information or bring it into conformity with what they thought they had just discerned clearly. Jesus warns and invites them to share in His coming suffering with the promise that the reward on the other side is greater than what they could lose, even including their lives.

With this higher calling comes higher privilege. Jesus cryptically says that some of them will see Him come in power, and immediately after this, Peter, James, and John see Jesus transfigured with the voices of Elijah, Moses, and heaven itself. They don't know what to say, but this revelation proves the stakes. Things are moving forward into a new and more urgent stage, but for now even this must remain secret. The foreboding is made darker by the ominous note on how the people received the Elijah who came before the Messiah.

When Jesus and the Three get back to the other disciples, there's a group and scribes arguing. They are all amazed to see Jesus (why?) and He wants to know their conflict. A man explains that the disciples could not drive out a demon from his son, a demon which makes him mute and something like epileptic, and tries to kill him. Jesus laments the unbelief at work (of the father? the people in general? the disciples?), elicits a confession of some real but insufficient belief from the father, and heals the boy Himself when He notices a crowd gathering. This is curious: was the unbelief the father's? Did Jesus mean to make him recognize his own limited faith and reckon in a crisis with what he was willing to attribute to Jesus? And why does Jesus seem to respond to the gathering crowd? Does He have a point to make? Is He transitioning to a more open and confrontational ministry?

Jesus mentions His impending death and resurrection again, and immediately afterwards the disciples are bickering over who is the greatest. Here they are still blind: they do not see that the path to glory is a low and humble one, that God in Christ's ministry is going to turn the world upside down, as it will later be said. Jesus quickly moves to highlight the stakes of the division at the heart of Israel now that the Messiah is here: those who are with Him may go maimed but make it through into life, while those who are against Him will be destroyed.

Jesus goes to Judea with a confrontational edge. He starts teaching and is challenged with a question about divorce. He takes a hard creational line against divorce, with the Mosaic ordinance treated as a concession. When children are brought to Him, He insists they be allowed since only those like them will receive the kingdom. The rich young ruler comes, quite unlike a child in his wealth and status and confidence in his righteousness, and goes away sorrowful when Jesus demands He give up His riches to become perfect. Jesus claims the rich, who often seem to be best situated with the Temple and offerings and purity and the like, will have a hard time being saved, and the disciples are astonished by what this seems to imply for everyone else. Yet Jesus deems that with God all is possible.

Peter, however, notes that the disciples have already left all they had to follow Jesus. Jesus promises that this nothing will be reversed to everything when all of the fortunes are reversed in the kingdom. Thus Jesus continues describing His impending death and resurrection, but they don't understand Him. James and John seem to get quite the opposite idea of what Jesus has been saying. They directly ask for His highest positions of honor to grant, but asks if they are willing to share His cup and baptism. They affirm they are, but He says they will experience this, but the Father alone can grant the positions they seek. Jesus takes the opportunity of the other discples' frustration with this request to reiterate the point He has been making for some time now: the path to victory, glory, greatness, and authority is not the overt and dominating. The arrival of the kingdom will reverse the order of the world, so it is the meek and the servant who will inherit these things, just as Jesus Himself will accomplish all He intends precisely by giving away His very life as a ransom for others.

Finally in this section, blind Bartimaeus calls out for healing. People try to hush him up, but he implores Jesus by the Messianic title "Son of David," Jesus calls him, he sprints across the way to Jesus (still blind!), and Jesus restores his sight after commenting on his faith. This whole section in question is bookended by the healing of two blind men, which seems to say something about the persistent blindness of the disciples in between.