Several years ago, I met a fellow who held a leadership position in the corporation that employed him. He introduced himself and spoke to me about his vision for the corporation and his personal goals. A little later, another employee of the corporation asked my opinion of the corporate leader. I replied, “He’s not very smart, but he compensates for it by being irresponsible.” The employee laughed, but probably thought I was being very uncharitable (and was probably correct).
Saying about someone that “he’s dim but compensates by being irresponsible” is a very common use of language, and not only because it’s quite uncharitable. This statement is an example of the use of repetition for the purpose of emphasis or insight. Repetition for the purpose of emphasis or insight is used often in the Scriptures. You are probably familiar with the account in Matthew’s Gospel of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem prior to his arrest and death. The Gospel quotes the prophet Zechariah who said, “Behold, your king comes to you, meek and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.” (Mt. 21:5) The donkey and the colt in the prophecy are not two animals; rather, they are repetitions (for emphasis) of the theme of the Messiah’s humility.
Mark’s Gospel makes extensive use of repetition for emphasis and insight. Today’s Gospel reading is one of the many instances of repetition in Mark. The story of the healing of a blind man is a repetition of a previous story of healing a blind man. You probably recall the previous story because of a strange detail it contains. A blind man was brought to Jesus. Jesus laid hands on him, and the man said, “I see people, but they look like walking trees.” (Mk. 8:24) Jesus laid hands on him a second time, and the man could see clearly. The point of the story and the strange detail is neither that trees walk nor look like people. The point of the story is the repetition of Jesus’ act of healing. The repetition serves to emphasize and clarify the universal human need to be given clear vision about spiritual matters.
Anyone can pick up a Bible and read the Scriptures. A cursory reading of the Gospels will provide information about Jesus’ miracles and teachings; such information, however, is insufficient to understand Jesus adequately. Only a deeper look at Jesus’ life and death can reveal his true nature as God’s Servant sent to suffer for the unjust and undeserving. Mark’s Gospel repeats themes and events in order to invite readers to take a second look at Jesus’ life and death.
One might ask whether it is really necessary to take a second look at Jesus. After all, isn’t Jesus’ nature self-evident even to the casual observer? The many misunderstandings of Jesus’ teachings are sufficient evidence that a casual knowledge of Jesus is inadequate. The congregation for whom Mark’s Gospel was written held a lopsided understanding of Jesus; they believed that he was divine but refused to believe that he was truly human. The author of the Gospel makes a great effort to get his congregation to take a second look at Jesus, and to see him as so human that he cared deeply about people’s sufferings (like the sufferings of the two blind men).
Our contemporary society would do well to take a second look at Jesus. The divisions and factions in our society are not merely polarizing; they are calcifying. We engage in conflict with one another. We create a wider and wider gap of misunderstanding and resentment between groups and individuals. We complain about the breakdown of social harmony, and we compensate for our unhappiness by contributing to what makes us unhappy. The one act that could heal our many sins and divisions is the one act we avoid assiduously.
Jesus offered healing and reconciliation through his obedience to God and his humble compassion for all people. Our society can, in fact, be healed and restored. Healing and reconciliation are possible to all who embrace the humility practiced by Jesus.
At this juncture, it might be helpful for me provide some deeper insight into humility. Humility is not merely the opposite of pride; humility is the opposite of injustice. If you lament injustice in your life or are grieved by injustice in the world, perhaps Jesus’ humility deserves a second look.