My favorite healing story in Mark’s Gospel is the curing of the blind man at Bethsaida. This morning I got confirmation of this fact because the lone bookmark in my study bible was found in Mark 8:22-26. I placed that bookmark over 2 years ago!
Like most of the healing stories in Mark, the curing of the blind man is short. Here is the text,
22When they arrived at Bethsaida, they brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. 23He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. Putting spittle on his eyes he laid his hands on him and asked, “Do you see anything?”g 24Looking up he replied, “I see people looking like trees and walking.” 25Then he laid hands on his eyes a second time and he saw clearly; his sight was restored and he could see everything distinctly. 26Then he sent him home and said, “Do not even go into the village.” (Mark 8:22-26 New American Bible)
I call this Jesus’ “apparent failed miracle” mostly because he has to cure the blind man in stages—the cure does not happen instantaneously. When I first read this passage the man’s statement of, “I see people looking like trees and walking”, was probably the oddest sentence ever uttered in the New Testament. It took me a long time to realize the purpose of this story. I give two reasons for why Mark 8:22-26 is the turning point in Jesus’ ministry.
- The healing happened in stages: This healing stands unique against Jesus’ other healings because Jesus does not heal the blind man right away. St. Jerome in Homily 79 viewed this passage allegorically to signify mankind’s gradual increase in wisdom. In other words, God’s revelation of truth throughout the Old Testament, New Testament, and current in the age of the Church is incremental.
- Peter’s declaration happens immediately after this healing: I previously mentioned the significance of having a contextual reading of the Bible as a whole. Most people tend to see this as reading books in the context of other biblical books. Yet, in the case of Mark 8:22-26 a contextual reading to draw out this passage’s meaning can occur within the gospel itself. Peter declares Jesus to be the Christ in Mark 8:30. I do not think this was a coincidence on the part of the evangelist. I believe that Mark intended to have the healing of the blind man at Bethsaida proceed Peter’s revelation to further the point that God’s truth is revealed gradually. From this point of the gospel until the end Jesus starts to ramp up his predictions of his Death and Resurrection and his identify starts to become revealed more and more.
I challenge you all to reflect upon this healing story and ask yourself these questions: At what stage am I at in my faith journey? Do I truly recognize Jesus to be the Christ as Peter proclaims, or am I still partially blind in my faith and seeing “theological trees”?