read Mark 8. Here is why Marion Dougherty, the casting director who was looking for someone to play Edith in “All in the Family”, recommended Jean Stapleton: “I had not heard of Jean Stapleton. She came in and I loved her because you could believe that she could love blindly, love Archie.” NY Times Obituaries, Dec. 8, 2011, p. A36.
There’s something so moving about that kind of blind love for a racist, cruel, belligerent man. Is it because none of us feel capable of that kind of love? Or is it because, deep down, we wonder if we’re not so different from Archie Bunker, and we want the impossible – we want someone to have that kind of blind love for us? We know intellectually that God has that kind of love for us. But how do we drive that knowledge home? How do we believe that God is the Jean Stapleton to our inner Archie Bunker?
I think the answer lies in seeing details from God’s point of view. How do we do this? The seemingly strange details of the eighth chapter of Mark suggest that God has to break into our world. The details seem strange because God’s world is strange to us. God has to literally break us, in order to break in. Here’s what I mean.
Let’s start, as the chapter does, with the feeding of the 4,000. Why are there two miracle feeding stories? As children, we are often told about the feeding of the 5,000. But in fact Jesus feeds 4,000, after having fed the 5,000. What’s the significance of the second story? The disciples ask Jesus how they are supposed to find enough food to feed the people “out here in the wilderness?” v. 4. Jesus finds food in the wilderness. The people eat “as much as they want.” Then Jesus “sent them home.” The second story is not so very different than the first one. God can feed us in the wilderness. God can take what little we have to give and transform it so that it makes us full. When we have nothing, God can give us everything. These are beautiful details. These are encouraging details. But we learned all this from the feeding of the 5,000. Why does it happen again?
Right after the feeding of the 4,000, the Pharisees ask Jesus for a sign “to prove his authority”, and Jesus refuses. Why? He’s just given 4,000 people a miracle. Why not the Pharisees? The disciples saw the miracle of both feedings, and yet Jesus asks why their hearts are “too hard” to take it in. The disciples saw a sign but didn’t seem to understand. So apparently understanding the miracle is not the primary reason for having it happen. If a miracle, then, is not to give faith, perhaps its purpose is simply this: God miraculously feeds us because we are hungry. Miracles occur when we are so hungry we follow Him into the wilderness just to be with Him.
Conflating these two stories – the feeding of the 4,000 and the refusal to give the Pharisees a sign – teaches us something about God’s point of view: unlike us, he doesn’t do things just to prove Himself. He doesn’t need to. He’s God. He knows He’s God. He does things for other reasons. He gives out of his abundance. He gives out of compassion. Here’s why Jesus said he feeds the 4,000: “I feel sorry for these people.” Compassion, then, not proving anything, is the reason to give.
Jesus then heals a blind man in two stages. The first time he spits on the blind man’s eyes and lays his hand on him, the man can see people that “look like trees walking around.” This is strange, because there are presumably no people around; Jesus has led the man out of the village. Who or what are these trees walking? Are they angels? Are they indeed trees? Do trees walk, if we could only see from God’s eyes? Has the first healing enabled the man to see from God’s point of view? Is this a viewpoint that would not enable the man to function in this world? Is the second healing, the one that enabled him to “see everything clearly”, the one that brings him to our viewpoint?
Jesus then asks the disciples two questions. The first is: who do people say that I am? The second is: who do you say I am? Again, we see two contrasting viewpoints: the world’s and God’s. God wants us to see past what other people say about Him, and see into the only viewpoint that matters. Because in order to see from God’s viewpoint, we have to let go of what other people say. We have to be willing to travel with God into our own hearts. God cares about what we think – perhaps more than we do. In order to see from God’s viewpoint then, we have to be willing to accept that the person whose heart we have to worry about is no one else’s, but our own.
Jesus then gives a lot of extreme statements about how we are supposed to see from God’s point of view, not a human one. He says we have to banish Satan. We can take this command literally. Throughout the day, whenever we feel arrogance, pride, jealousy, irritability, and condemnation enter our hearts or speech, we can say, out loud if necessary: “get thee behind me, Satan.” Jesus says we have to turn from our selfish ways, take up our cross, and follow Christ. Following Christ means being willing to lose everything. It means being willing to give up everything. It means losing the whole world, if necessary, without shame, in order to find our soul. These are Jesus’ famous and strong words.
So how do we do that? I think the answer lies in the details of all these stories. We need to follow Christ into the wilderness. We must sit when he says sit. We must eat when he says to eat. We must go home when he says to go home. We must leave the village when he says to. We must return home by a different way when he says to. With the simplicity of a child, we must not fret when we find ourselves with nothing. Childlike trust is the only way to see from God’s perspective.
So forget the human viewpoint that says we have to be worthy to receive a miracle. Don’t worry if you’re feeling as grumpy, irritable, unloving and unlovely as Archie Bunker. See from God’s viewpoint where the only requirement for feeding is our hunger. Believe that God can love, blindly love, even you. Especially you.
So when you feel like you have nothing, rejoice. You’re now in a place to have everything. Don’t fret. Just trust that trials can make you sweeter, kinder and more humble, if you are not impatient. They are just one of God’s ways of breaking in. They are one of the ways God breaks us. And if God is God, He is everything. So when you have nothing, you can have Him. And you will see men like trees walking. What are these trees walking? I don’t yet know. But I know this. One day, we will know. And if we can see from God’s perspective, maybe the next time you go for a walk, even the trees will come out to meet you.
posted by Caroline Coleman in carolinecolemanbooks.com on December 8, 2011