“…and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands upon him, he said to him, ‘Do you see anything?’ And he looked up and said, ‘I see men; but they look like trees, waking.’ Then again laid his hands upon his eyes; and he looked intently and was restored, and saw everything clearly.” (Mark 8:23-25)
There are times when I am bowled over by the brilliance and beauty of the Bible and today is a perfect example of why. Mark has intentionally placed this story within the larger framework of his gospel to not only tell us about another of Jesus’ healings, but also open our eyes (no pun intended) to the deep spiritual reality underlying it, and it’s stunning.
As you may have noticed, Jesus’ cryptic saying explaining his use of parables makes a repeat appearance in this chapter. When faced with the inability of his disciples to understand one of his teachings, he responds with a series of questions in which we hear its refrain:
Why do you discuss the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear?”
The implication is clear: it’s not just the Pharisees whose hearts were hardened to Jesus. Even those who were (and are!) closest to him and had experienced the majority of his miracles failed to “see” and “hear” Him completely.
Mark then deepens this point by surrounding this discourse with two healings, almost as if they were bookends: that of the blind man in todays reading and that of a deaf-mute man in yesterday’s reading (7:31-37). Both are real-life miracles, but Mark has placed them in this context to reveal through them an even greater truth than the events they recount: that in order for faith to take root and grow in our hearts, our ears and our eyes must be opened to Jesus, by Jesus. We need him to help us both see and hear.
Wow that is beautiful.
And it is made even more beautiful by the fact that this is the only multiple-stage healing in all of the Gospels. Just as the blind man only regains his sight in stages, so too, our ability to see and receive Jesus is a process of continually deepening vision and understanding enabled by his touch in our lives. We cannot receive it all at once, but in His Grace He reveals that for which we are ready, constantly guiding us further along on the journey.
Caution, however: while the process may be gradual, it is rarely comfortable. Both of these healings entail a level of contact with Jesus that many of us would find disconcerting, to say the least. Jesus’ uses his spit to cure both men, a detail made all the more curious in consideration of the fact that he is able to heal with merely a word and even from afar. Though, gentle and humble of heart, Jesus is not interested in being limited to our comfort zones. He challenges them in order that our hearts may be expanded and our faith and personal experience of Him be constantly deepened.
This becomes even clearer in the story that follows. Peter’s bold and beautiful declaration of Jesus’ identity as the Messiah quickly goes south when Jesus predicts his necessary suffering and death. Peter is not ready for this revelation; his fears and attachments keep him from being able to fully receive it. Nonetheless, Jesus presents it to him because it is a truth he desperately needs in preparation for the road ahead. As terrifying as this revelation is to Peter, it is the means by which he will come to know and experience Christ and his love for Peter more intimately, particularly when Peter fails to stand up under that revelation (Mark 14:66-72).
Thus is the grace of God—a grace that will not leave in us in our blindness, but has come that our eyes might be continually opened to the love, beauty and mercy that are found in him.
What attachments or fears might be keeping you from seeing or hearing Him fully?
Lord, we believe. Help, Thou, our unbelief!