Blindmen1Blind Men’s Christ

You’ve heard the story about three blind men and the elephant. Right?

One by one, three blind men were led into a room where an elephant was kept. None of them had any prior experience with elephants. They had no idea what an “elephant” was. And, because they were blind, they could not see the beast, could not grasp its enormity and power. They were asked to feel their way around the room, touch the elephant, and describe what they found.

As it turned out, each man described a very different creature.

The first blind man happened to catch the elephant by its tail.  “The elephant is like a snake,” he pronounced. The second blind man took hold of a leg and said, “The elephant is like a tree.” The third blind man put his hands on the flank of the elephant.  “The elephant is like a wall,” he proclaimed.

Each man based his description of the elephant on the particular piece of anatomy he grabbed. None knew more about the elephant than the part he happened to hold. They based their description on a piece of the elephant, not the whole animal. As a result, their “elephant” was a limited animal, a reduced creature. How—holding an elephant by the tail or leg—could anyone be expected to imagine the majesty and magnificence of the real thing? Yet each man was confident, assured, he understood the essence of the beast.

So it is with us as we try to see Jesus.

We are blind men, led into a room where Jesus is present. We feel our way around, grabbing onto this piece of Jesus … that piece of Jesus. We form an impression about Jesus based on whatever fragment of him we happen to seize. And then, with great confidence and certainty, we describe the man we think we’ve found.

We hardly stop to think that our understanding is so … constrained. We don’t realize that, in fact, we haven’t seen all of Jesus … not the whole of him. He’s larger than we imagine. He is more complex and multi-faceted than we can possibly comprehend. We could spend a life-time climbing his heights and plumbing his depths and still have only a partial appreciation of the essence of Jesus.

Ours is a limited Jesus, a reduced Jesus. Yet we are so confident we’ve figured him out … that we can describe him in detail … that our conceptions and words do justice to his wonder. “This is what Jesus is like,” we proclaim quite boldly and proceed to portray our fragments as his whole.

In Mark 3, four groups of people are led, like blind men, into the presence of Jesus.

“Who do you think I am?”

The crowds … the disciples … Jesus’ family … the religious authorities.

Each of these groups is a constant in the life of Jesus. He interacts with them regularly. Roman soldiers come and go in Jesus’ life. Gentiles make an occasional intrusion. But the crowds, the disciples, the family, and the religious authorities are present with Jesus on an almost daily basis.

Narratively, these “groups” function as individuals … as types. Mark doesn’t spend much time describing nuances and variations within the groups as they interact with Jesus. All members of a group respond to Jesus in a characteristic (and telling) way.

It is in the third chapter of his Gospel that Mark describes these responses. He brings each group, in turn, into the presence of Jesus and shows us that moment when they feel their way towards Jesus, grab hold of him, and form their opinions of him.

Like the blind men in the story above, each group grasps only a part of Jesus. Yet each is convinced it has the whole of him. They boldly announce what they think about Jesus. They form (and then act on) their opinions of him.

“This is what Jesus is like,” they are quick to say. They have a tiger-by-the-tail and don’t even know it.

So far, Mark has described a wildly popular Christ (1:14-45)—Jesus is powerful and attractive and compelling. But the attraction is not universal (2:1-3:6)—there are those who distrust Jesus and take exception to his every move. Now Mark tells us (3:7-4:20)—whether people are attracted or repulsed—no one understands the whole Jesus. All of us are blind to some extent when we walk into a room with Jesus.

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