Summary: How do I see clearly? The same way that the man received full sight – he received Jesus’ touch.
We come to another familiar scene – Jesus healing someone. We know what to expect after all the other miracles, but be prepared – the Holy Spirit may bring the unexpected.
Jesus and his disciples come to the town of Bethsaida, which is at the northern edge of the Sea of Galilee. We have a scenario similar to that of the healing of the deaf and mute man: people bring a blind man and beg Jesus to touch him. Indeed, the two Greek sentences that speak of these scenes are almost identical. For those of you present when we considered that other scene in 7:31-37, you will note other similarities. For example, in each instance Jesus takes the man needing help away from the crowd. In the case of the deaf man, he takes him aside, away from the crowd (33). Here, he leads the blind man by the hand all the way outside the village. That village, by the way, had the governing structure of a town, but it was a sizable place, perhaps as many as 15,000 people. Other gospel writers refer to it as a city. So, Jesus goes out of his way to lead this man aside.
Another similarity is the spitting. I have been to eye doctors who have placed drops in my eyes, shot puffs of air on them, shined bright lights in them, and even perform laser surgery. So far no one has spit in them! Evidently, saliva was a widely used medicinal salve. The way that the Greek sentence presents the matter, it appears that Jesus directly spat into or onto the man’s eyes. I wonder if he prepared that man like the doctors usually do: “Now this might feel a bit uncomfortable.”
Just as he touched the deaf and dumb man’s ears and tongue, he then touches the blind man’s eyes. The next thing obviously to take place is the record of the man’s full restoration of sight. That is what happened to the deaf and dumb man, and it is what has happened in every recorded instance of Jesus’ healings. We noted this in the passage of the deaf and dumb man. Jesus not only healed everyone instantaneously; he also fully restored to them their abilities to function. There is no recovery period. Jesus’ hospital would not have a recovery room, and he would provide no work for physical therapists.
So, the very question that Jesus asks is strange: “Do you see anything?” Jesus did not ask the paralyzed man, “Do you think you can walk now?” He did not ask the woman healed of her bleeding, “Do you feel better?” And he did not ask the deaf man, “Can you hear me now?” He doesn’t need to, because each person immediately shows the signs of complete healing.
Here, though, he asks, and we receive the strange answer. 24 “I see people; they look like trees walking around.” Now, again, such an answer would seem expected in most medical situations and perhaps even with other so-called miracle workers. The doctor would have replied, “That’s to be expected; it will take some time for your eyes to completely recover.” But that is not a good enough answer for us, not after all the miraculous healings we have grown accustomed to.
Jesus does act quickly. 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. There! Jesus gets it right the second time and then gives a typical order for the man to go home and not spread the news around. 26 Jesus sent him home, saying, “Don’t go into the village.”
But we are left scratching our heads. What are we to understand? Is Mark telling us that this blindness was a particularly difficult case and that Jesus had to put more effort into it? That is hard to believe for a man who raises the dead, stills a raging storm, multiplies food, and heals every other type of illness.
Did Jesus slip up? It happens. Tiger Woods has missed a one-foot putt; I saw Michael Jordan miss a lay-up once. We have all embarrassed ourselves at one time or another by failing to perform a simple task that we have done thousands of times before without a mistake. Jesus, after all, was human. He may have been human, but not human in the sense that he made mistakes. He was, literally, the perfect human because he was also, literally, divine. Mark, as we have seen, has made this clear.
Well, then, why this two-stage healing process? Who knows? Who can get into the mind of Jesus? Mark provides too little information for anyone to form a confident conclusion. Some think the blind man’s faith was small and this was a means to build it up. Perhaps, but Mark doesn’t tell us enough about the man to really know. Some think Jesus wanted to assert his freedom to heal any way that he wanted to. He did not like the man’s friends telling him how he ought to heal. Maybe. Again, we are told too little.