22 They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. 23 He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?”
24 He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.”
25 Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. 26 Jesus sent him home, saying, “Don’t even go into the village.”
(Mark 8:22-26 NIV)
In our last passage, we saw Jesus and His disciples in a boat, leaving Dalmanutha after an encounter with the Pharisees. The disciples were complaining about not having anything but a small loaf of bread to eat. Jesus confronts their discussion and questions their perspective. After all, have they forgotten that Jesus fed thousands with a child’s lunch? Have they learned nothing?
In today’s passage, we see Jesus and His disciples arrive at Bethsaida, on the northeastern corner of Lake Genessaret (the Sea of Galilee). The crowds recognize Jesus and bring a blind man to Him, hoping that Jesus can restore the man’s sight.
Jesus takes the man outside the village and begins to work with him privately. Here, Mark gives us a glimpse of Jesus as the Great Physician – not just of His healing powers, but for His deep care and concern for His patients. Jesus knows of the sensory overload would be too much for this man when his sight is restored, so He takes the man out to a quiet place where the man can adjust and adapt to his restored sight.
Jesus begins by applying spit to the man’s eyes. In Jesus’ day, people believed in the healing power of a person’s spit. While this sounds strange in our modern day, it’s really not. Before you get grossed out and declare this practice barbaric and unsanitary, consider this scenario. When you get a paper cut on your finger, what is the first thing you instinctively do? You stick your finger in your mouth to ease the pain, don’t you? Maybe there is something to the ancients’ wisdom and practices after all?
In nearly all other instances of Jesus’ healings, the restoration of function (sight, hearing, ability to walk, etc.) has been complete and immediate. In this story, the man’s sight is restored gradually. Jesus asks the man if he can see; the man replies that everything is out of focus and that people look like trees walking around. Jesus then touches the man’s eyes a second time, and the man reports that everything is in focus and he can see clearly (implying that the man can see clearly both near and far).
Jesus then orders the man to return to his home, and not to go back into the village. Again, Jesus has multiple reasons for His instructions to this man. Like others that Jesus has healed, Jesus does not want to be known as the rabbi that heals people. His ministry is so much more than that. Also, as the man’s Physician, Jesus knows the heart and mind of this man. He knows that the man needs time to adjust to his newly-restored sight and reacquaint himself with his surroundings. Going back into town would be overwhelming; the man would shut down with sensory overload.
As we look back, we see Mark artfully weaving these stories into his narrative. We see the first bookend of Jesus healing the deaf man in 7:31-37. We see the second bookend of Jesus restoring the sight of the man in today’s passage. In between, we see Jesus interacting with the Pharisees and with His disciples, both groups seeing, but blind to what Jesus is showing them; hearing, but deaf to what Jesus is telling them.
But all this is about to change in our next passage.
Today’s story of the man gradually regaining his sight is symbolic – truly a living parable.
- This story is true for the blind man in the physical sense.
- The story is true for the disciples in the spiritual sense.
- The story is true for us in every sense.
No one becomes instantly spiritually mature when they come to Christ. Spiritual maturity takes a lifetime of learning to see with new eyes and hear with new ears. What we see often looks out of focus to us. What we hear often sounds muffled or unintelligible.
Paul describes this growth process in his great treatise on love. Listen to Paul as he summarizes his (and our) growth process in all areas of our lives:
11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
(1 Corinthians 13:11-12 ESV)
May we press on to maturity until He calls us home.