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They came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, ‘Can you see anything?’ And the man looked up and said, ‘I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.’ Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Then he sent him away to his home, saying, ‘Do not even go into the village.’
Mark 8:22-26 (NRSVA)
Today’s passage follows hot on the heals of Jesus’ lake-crossing warning about the ‘yeast of the Pharisees’ (8:15). The disciples – initially concerned about their lack of food – find themselves in a Jesus-initiated rebuke of their misunderstanding: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear?” (8:17-18).
On two occasions now, Jesus has multiplied their food. Both times they collected baskets full of uneaten scraps. Jesus is clearly not concerned about a lack of ‘bread’. He is concerned that they have not yet seen the danger posed by the religious leaders.
And immediately following this exposure of the disciple’s blindness is the account of the newly seeing blind man. It is, clearly, strategically placed so that we might recognise – and ponder – the parallels.
In so many ways, this is a very basic narrative. There is are no comments by the author as to the significance this healing. Mark offers no implication for the reader. It simply tells us what happened.
And what happened is remarkable. A blind man is led to Jesus in the earnest hope for healing. The group, it seems, begs Jesus for a touch. There is faith here.
Yet, I wonder if Jesus senses something other than a desire for this man’s healing. Do those who bring this blind man simply want to see a miracle? Is this man being used? Is Jesus concerned that the news of this healing will prevent his freedom for mission in this village as in others?
Whatever the reason, Jesus, before there is any healing, leads this man away from the gathered crowd and beyond the village borders. There we see two stages in the restoring of this man’s sight. Firstly, that off-putting – saliva soaked anointing that brings a partial healing: ‘I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.’
And then a second laying on of Jesus’ hands, perhaps more directly, on the eyes. Only then does see ‘everything clearly’.
There is something very personal about this miracle. Jesus’ sending him to his home without entering the village is something of an insistence that this is not for show. No doubt his newly acquired sight will, in time, prompt questions. For now, however, it is a miracle simply for him.
Yet, I suspect it is the disciples who are close enough to this miracle to ‘look like trees’. It seems important that they see this two-stage healing. They have been with Jesus for some time and yet Jesus just named their partial blindness. They do not yet see all that Jesus is is doing.
So perhaps this healing gives them hope. They have begun to recognise the kingdom among them. In time they too will see everything as clearly.
Where do you see God opening your eyes to new possibilities? When do you see this process clearly? Are there times that you recognise that your sight still blurred?
How do you respond to this miracle being done in private? Do you have experiences of God that remain a secret between God and you? To what extent is the fruit of these secret experiences a witness to others?
Are you hopeful that God is continually opening your eyes to see more of the kingdom? Are you ever impatient with this process?