Some gospel passages are easy for me to understand. Some passages are unclear, but their meaning is revealed after some meditation and thought. Other passages remain a mystery until someone helps cut a path to the heart of the meaning. And then, there are passages that are so peculiar that I just love to read them over and over, changing my mind about the meaning with each reading of the passage and its commentaries.
Mark 8:22-26 is one of these passages. Many strange things happen in this little story. Here is the text:
When they arrived at Bethsaida, they brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. Spitting on his eyes he laid his hands on him and asked, “Do you see anything?” Looking up he replied, ” I see people looking like trees and walking.” Then he laid hands on his eyes a second time and he saw clearly; his sight was restored and he could see everything distinctly. Then he sent him home and said, “Do not even go into the village.”
It is a very short miracle story and leaves me wanting to know more.
Who are the “they” who are bringing the blind man to Jesus? Why doesn’t the man ask for his own healing? Does he not trust Jesus? Does he even know who Jesus is? If not, why does he allow Jesus to take him by the hand and lead him out of town? Did Jesus and the blind man talk while they were walking? Did everyone else follow along?
As a person with a visual impairment, having recently temporarily lost my vision in one eye because of surgery, I can tell you that it takes trust to allow someone to guide you when you can’t see. I would not have taken the hand of just anyone and allowed him to lead me anywhere – much less out of the village to who knows where. This blind man, who seems merely compliant, is actually very brave and faith-filled to go with Jesus.
Then, Jesus SPITS on the man’s eyes. Why did Jesus have to spit on the man? Wouldn’t the laying on of hands have been enough?
As my vision was returning after my surgery, I really learned to relate to the “men looking like trees and walking” comment. Large shapes and movement were the first things I could identify as my eye began to relearn to focus.
Why is there a two-stage healing in this story? I have read several explanations, none of which satisfies me. Here are two of the most popular. The first is that it was a lack of faith on the part of the blind man. But I believe he showed faith just by going with Jesus. The second is that this was a learning experience for Jesus, that he hadn’t quite perfected his miraculous powers. But, Jesus had already performed miracles. He had cured the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter. He had just fed the crowd. His miracles did not need “work.”
For me, the most important thing about this peculiar miracle story is not the list of questions I am left to explore. The most important thing is what the story can teach me today – a visually impaired person in the 21st century. What are the lessons for me in this story?
First, I must follow those who are able to lead me to Jesus, to truth, to beauty, to healing. Just as we don’t know who the “they” are that lead the blind man to Jesus, I can never pre-judge who I might meet that will guide me where I need to go to meet the divine. Like the blind man, I must be compliant when being guided toward the light.
Second, I must be willing to be spit upon. Not every experience that will lead me to wholeness and perfection will be pleasant. God uses unorthodox methods to break my hard heart and turn it into a heart that can love. My miracles may not include healing of my eyesight, but any encounter with grace will probably include some spit, or some mud, or some other unpleasantness on the journey.
Third, miracles don’t always happen right away. Sometimes there is more than one stage. I may not understand WHY this blind man required a two stage miracle, but I can certainly see it as a lesson for my own faith journey. Growth takes time. The ability to “see” takes wisdom that does not always come all at once.
Fourth, I may not be able to go back into the village. Some paths that I will take, some grace that I will encounter, some miracles that I will experience, will change me so much that I will leave part of my old life, my old self, behind. I have to be ready to give up the comfortable for the glory that God is waiting to show me.
I can learn so many lessons from this short gospel healing story. Every time I read it, I gain a new understanding. When my miracles arrive, in whatever form grace might take, I want to be ready and have my eyes open to accepting it.