“Give us a sign,” demanded the Pharisees. “Give us a miraculous sign from heaven to prove yourself.”(1)
Jesus sighed deeply. “Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to this generation.” And Jesus turned away and got into the boat with his disciples. But the disciples soon discovered they had forgotten to bring any food; there was only one loaf of bread with them in the boat. Knowing what his disciples were thinking, Jesus questioned them. “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive or understand?” It was a day of sighing.
“Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? And do you not remember?” he asked. “When I broke the five loaves of bread for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?”
“Twelve,” they replied.
“And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?”
“Seven,” they said.
Unlike Matthew and Luke, who each provide detailed information about the historical scene or genealogical lineage of Christ, Mark, the teller of this story, seems to hit the ground running in his storytelling. The shortest of the Gospel accounts, Mark proceeds with intensity—skipping introductions, delving into events, speaking with immediacy. In fact, he uses the Greek word euthus—meaning immediately, straight away, at once—42 times in 16 chapters. With a breathless pace, Mark’s utmost concern appears to be getting the story out and message across so that hearers hear and seers see the person before them. And yet ironically, in this Gospel of action and miracles and astonished crowds, he repeatedly takes note of the world of people who remain unseeing, a people forever demanding signs, forever missing the message. Sighing deeply, Jesus seems to ask repetitively: Do you still not see?
I fear how many times Jesus has asked of me this same question.
Yet with the words of Jesus still ringing in our ears, Mark wastes no time in getting to the next scene. Moving from the boat, Jesus is confronted by some people who ask him to touch their blind friend. Leading the man away from the crowd, Jesus put saliva on his eyes and placed his hands upon him. “Can you see anything?” rings the now familiar question. The man looked up and said, “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.” Putting his hands on the man’s eyes once more, Jesus restored the blind man’s sight. And he walked away seeing clearly.
Apparently, seeing takes time. Undoubtedly, we are all too often satisfied with walking trees. “Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?” It is the question Jesus placed before disciples and blind men, the very wise and the very wicked. What do you see? What do you hear? Do you understand? The blind man knew enough to know that what he saw was not as clear and coherent as eyes were intended to see. Though partial sight for him was itself a miracle, the one who touched his eyes was able to offer more.
That we might see, that we might see Christ, is the desire of God for every eye. What we see now may be like trees walking, though the Spirit is willing to open us up to further sight, and Christ remains to offer us more. As if pleased to answer his own question with lavish mystery, the divine reply comes again and again: No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.