Mark chapter 8 begins with a very frustrating and confusing story, the feeding of the four thousand. There is a part of me that has always wondered, why place this story in the Bible? Jesus has already fed five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish and when they were done there were twelve baskets of food left over. Here, Jesus only feeds four thousand with seven loaves of bread and a few fish and there are only seven baskets of food left over. Both miracles are impressive but one seems to be more impressive than the other. Still, Mark includes both stories.
The miracle, however, is not the frustrating part so much as what comes after it. Immediately after the miracle, the Pharisees are demanding a sign from Heaven. They want Jesus to prove that he is really from God. To prove that he has the authority to say and do the things he does. Jesus could have easily just said, “Hello, did you not see what I just did? I just fed four thousand people miraculously.” But instead, he simply shakes his head, trying to expose their wrong motives. Jesus is clearly frustrated that the crowds do not understand yet.
Jesus then gets in a boat with his disciples and tries to warn his disciples about “the yeast of the Pharisees,” or their practices and teachings. But the disciples are completely confused. They think he is upset because they forgot to bring bread. Again, Jesus is frustrated. The disciples should know by now that Jesus can feed them even without food. Jesus must be wondering will anyone ever understand.
A few verses the situation improved. Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do people say I am?” They answer with the typical responses. Some think John the Baptist or maybe Elijah. Others just say you’re either a prophet from long ago or some new prophet. But then Jesus looks at them and says, “But who do you say I am?” At this point Peter makes the great confession. Peter says, “You are the Messiah!” By this he means, you are the promised one, the anointed one, the one who is going to make all things right. You are the one we’ve been waiting for. You are going to usher in the Kingdom of God and sit on David’s throne. You are the Christ. It is the first time in scripture that anyone has recognized Jesus for who he really is, the Messiah sent from God. And it marks a turning point in the story as Jesus begins to tell them that he will soon travel to Jerusalem and die and rise from the grave and this is the way God will establish the Kingdom.
But Mark includes an interesting narrative in between the frustration with the bread and Peter’s confession, a sort of botched miracle story. Jesus encounters a blind man and chooses to heal him. He leads him outside the village and puts saliva on his eyes and asks, “can you see anything?” The blind man responds by saying, “I can see people but they look like trees walking around.” Jesus then lays his hands on the man again and completely restores his sight. It’s the mistake miracle. The one that sort of works but doesn’t quite take the first time. Jesus has to give it a second try to be successful.
Or it may be that Jesus heals the man this way for a purpose. This healing story serves as a transition. Jesus has been working among the people and with the disciples for a long time, but the results are not what he is hoping for. People are still demanding a sign, refusing to see what is before them. Even the disciples are confused and focused on the wrong things. The proper vision is not quite there. So Jesus half-way heals a man. But, soon, the disciples will begin to understand, they will make great confessions and be willing to follow Jesus to the end of the earth. They may not understand it all now, but soon they will see clearly who Jesus is and they will follow not just a great man, but the Messiah.
This story also serves as a reminder for us. God is always working, although we may not see it clearly. We may be confused or missing the signs. We sort of see, but everything is blurry. But a time is coming when we will see clearly. When we will understand that Jesus really is the Messiah. And we will gain clarity about what it means to follow the Messiah. That Messiah means dying for the sake of the world. And then, when we see clearly, we will take up our cross, and like the Messiah, die for the sake of the world.