One of the passages I find most interesting in the Gospel of Mark is found in chapter 8:22-26.
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 go into the village. ” (Mark 8:22-26 NIV)
Years ago when I was a young man, I read this passage and had some rather conflicted thoughts. “If Jesus is God, and He can do anything, why did it take two tries for Him to heal this blind man? Did He do something wrong the first time?”
It is an interesting passage, isn’t it? Jesus was known for healing many people of various illnesses and diseases. In fact, the very first chapter of Mark includes accounts of Jesus healing many people. In chapter 5, he even raised a young girl from the dead! So what is going on here?
Understanding the context of the Gospel according to Mark is very important when it comes to appreciating a particular text. Mark’s Gospel account, in effect, asks a very important question: Do you see who Jesus is? The miracles of Jesus point to His identity as God. Do you see who He is? He teaches with authority, like no one else. Do you see who Jesus is? He forgives sins. Do you see who Jesus is?
Chapter 8 of Mark brings this question to the forefront, and is the “turn” of the Gospel. Note these words in Mark 8:
Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” “Twelve,” they replied. 20 “And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” They answered, “Seven.” 21 He said to them, “Do you still not understand?” (Mark 8:18-21 NIV)
The disciples were having problems “seeing” Jesus, understanding and believing who He was. Even though they had seen Him twice miraculously feed enormous crowds, they didn’t seem to get it. They didn’t see who He was. So Jesus asks them, “Do you still not understand?”
It is immediately after these words that we read about Jesus and the blind man. Jesus is showing the disciples (and us) how He works with His followers. Even as the blind man was not capable of seeing without the touch of Jesus, we cannot believe in Him on our own strength or by our own reason. We are so slow to understand and believe. But lovingly, with compassion, Jesus continues to open the eyes of people that they might see Him for who He really is, believe in Him, and have life!
So Jesus used the blind man as a “visual” aid for the disciples and for us. He is not going to stop teaching us, guiding us, and opening our eyes to who He is. He will not give up at the first sign of difficulty. He knows that we are spiritually blind without him (John 9:40-41, 1 Corinthians 2:14). He continues to give His Word and send the Holy Spirit, that we might believe, that we might see Him as our Savior.
Then, like Peter and the other disciples, we can say answer with confidence:
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Peter answered, “You are the Christ.”
(Mark 8:29 NIV)