I have had bad eyes my entire life.
I’ve been in glasses since age 5, contacts since age 16, and a combination of both since my 30’s. But, when COVID hit, I–like many around me–struggled to get an appointment to see my eye doctor. My usual 12 month hiatus between visits stretched into 16, 18, 20…
By that time, I was running out of contact lenses and my two year-old pair of glasses were scratched and foggy. And, in typical “me” fashion, I began to worry seriously about my eye health; no matter what I was wearing–glasses, contacts, or nothing at all–I simply felt as if I couldn’t see properly.
Of course, when I finally was able to get in to see the doctor, there was absolutely nothing wrong with my eyes. My prescription had merely shifted, and I needed to be assessed for a new one. As the doctor flipped back and forth between frames–“Which one is clearer? Number 1 or Number 2? Number 3 or Number 4?”–the clarity in my vision was astounding. I had known that I hadn’t been able to see properly for awhile, but it took the right level of prescription for me to realize just how bad it had gotten.
There are several instances of Jesus healing the blind in the Bible, and I’ve always been overwhelmed with these miracles. As someone who has struggled with vision her entire life, the feeling of slipping on a new pair of glasses or contacts and being able to see is an indescribable feeling. How much more so for these people who hadn’t been able to see at all, sometimes from birth, to have their vision fully restored (by the King of Kings, nonetheless!), a feat otherwise unattainable in the first century before optometrists and eyewear.
There is one story of the blind being healed, however, that stands out apart from all the rest. It is found only in the Book of Mark, and it deals with an episode that occurred in Bethsaida.
“They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. 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?’ He looked up and said, ‘I see people; they look like trees walking around.’ 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. Jesus sent him home saying, ‘Don’t go into the village.'” –Mark 8: 22-26
There are a couple interesting things about this narrative that make it so unique and unusual compared to other stories of healing. First, Jesus chose to use his spit to heal the man, when in other cases the restoration came through a touch or, even more powerful, a mere word. Secondly, the healing in progressive, rather than instant. At first glance, it seems as if Jesus was unable to heal the man on the first try, something that would contradict our notion of an all-powerful Savior.
The first thing to notice is that “some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him.” The man did not come of his own volition; he was brought. Perhaps he was unable because of his physical state. Another distinct possibility, however, is because he lacked the faith to believe Jesus could heal him. By this point in His ministry, rumors were flying about Jesus, about the teachings He gave and the miracles He performed, and perhaps this man still didn’t believe either in the stories themselves…or that the powers Jesus possessed held anything for him.
We may balk at the idea, but how many times do you see people walk away from Jesus because they don’t believe the stories they read in the Bible are true? Dismissing the Gospel as fables and fairy tales is the modern-day equivalent of ignoring the rumors around this traveling rabbi. What’s more, how often do people–even Christians–turn away from Jesus because, even though they think His miracles might be valid, they hold no particular sway over us?
Because, after all, why would God care about me?
The reason I believe the man’s faith in Jesus may have been lacking is because I think it offers an explanation for the very calculated methodology Jesus chose to heal him. Remember, Jesus was extremely purposeful in His actions; nothing was by chance, nothing was by mistake.
We can infer from later verses that the man had not been blind from birth; when his sight was partially restored, he mentioned “people” and “trees,” which means he obviously knew what these things looked like and could recognize them–something that could only be accounted for if he’d been able to see them before. Therefore, it is entirely possible that his blindness was caused by disease, injury, or wound, making it even more feasible his condition was a painful one.
Many commentators believe Jesus chose to use spit as a way to soothe the man’s pain. Remember, Jesus didn’t need to use spit. We’ve seen Him perform this exact same miracle in other Gospels without the use of saliva. And yet, in this particular instance, He chose to do this instead. In a time before modern-day pain relievers, the warmth of His saliva would have lessened the intensity of the man’s suffering.
Jesus knew He was going to heal the man. And yet He still had compassion on the man’s pain and chose to offer a relief from that first.
Jesus cares about our pain. He cares about our suffering. And He knows that sometimes, the very gateway to an increase in our faith is through the abatement of that pain even before complete healing has taken place. Much like the supernatural peace or release from discomfort we feel during times in which we, by all intents and purposes, shouldn’t possess, perhaps the physical relief the man felt at the touch of Jesus was the first step toward true belief in His powers.
The account goes on to recount: “When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, ‘Do you see anything?’ He looked up and said, ‘I see people; they look like trees walking around.’“
With a cursory glance, it would appear Jesus had failed. The man’s sight was restored but only partially. Was God not strong enough to heal him?
Once again, we must remember that all of Jesus actions were intentional and had purpose. Jesus is all-powerful and never makes mistakes. As such, we must assume there was a need for Jesus to perform the miracle in this manner.
And that reason, of course, is to grow the man’s faith. While Jesus absolutely cares for our physical well-being, His priority is always first and foremost our spiritual health–our faith in Him. Our physical bodies are subject to decay and death, but our souls have the opportunity to live forever with the one by Whom they were created; all it takes is faith in the Son He sent. It makes sense, then, that our faith–and therefore our pathway to the One who is the Way–would be His ultimate goal.
There is no doubt in my mind that the man was ecstatic over his partial healing. Going from a place of total blindness to a state of being able to see anything–no matter how blurry–was surely a momentous occasion to be celebrated.
And yet Jesus was not content to leave him a partially healed state, both physically and spiritually. No, the God who is the “perfector of our faith” (Hebrews 12:4) is not satisfied with half-grown healing…or half-grown faith. What the man didn’t realize is that he was standing in the presence of the One “who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20), and He wasn’t finished yet.
“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.“
From Complete restoration. Complete healing. Complete faith.
The God who “created [our] inmost being” (Psalm 139: 13) knows us intimately, and this includes the state of our faith and what needs to be done in order to grow it. He not only know where we are–in our mess, our brokenness, our sin–but He meets us there. We don’t have to fix everything first or climb some mountain before we start our faith journey. No, God Himself came down as man so He could take every dirty, messy step alongside us at the pace He knows is best. He doesn’t push us or force us into a sprint. Rather, He grows our faith gradually, in intentional and purposeful steps, tending our hurts and opening our eyes bit by bit. In doing so, He reveals more of Himself to us until we, like the blind man at Bethsaida, can see “everything clearly.”
A good optometrist would never leave a patient with scratchy lenses or an outdated prescription. How much more so will a good, loving, and perfect Father seek to open the eyes of our heart, never being content to settle with blurry, half-healed faith.
Because He is perfect. And “by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (Hebrews 10:14).
All it takes is faith.