The odd healing of the blind man of Bethsaida

In recent centuries, philosophers have doubted miracle stories. Some of them have asserted that only uneducated people who don’t know much about science could believe them, so the stories must have some time after Jesus’ live passed into the realm of legend.

Others have claimed that the biblical authors deliberately made up stories that couldn’t be true in order to gain a mass following among the unsophisticated and credulous.

One question, then: if someone made up a bunch of tall tales to make Jesus seem like more than just another teacher, why would they make up a story about a miracle that seemed not to work?

Walking trees

Walking trees

When Jesus healed a blind man from the village of Bethsaida, the man couldn’t see clearly at first. People looked like trees walking around. Jesus had to lay hands on him  a second time before his sight returned completely.

Did even Jesus have an “oops” moment? Or did he perform the only two-step healing recorded in Scripture for a reason? Only Mark records this miracle, and it comes at a pivotal point in his structure.

Earlier in the chapter, Jesus fed a crowd of 4,000, his second feeding miracle. Then  some Pharisees came and picked yet another fight with him. After that was over, he told his disciples, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of  Herod.”

When they started discussing among themselves the fact that they had no bread, Jesus was exasperated. He made them recall how many baskets of leftovers they had gathered after the feeding of the 5,000 and then after the feeding of the 4,000 and asked, “Do you still not understand.”

In the very first verse, Mark relates that they entered Bethsaida, where some people brought a blind man to Jesus for healing. After the man said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around,” I can just see Jesus glaring at his disciples. Despite his best efforts, they didn’t see any better than that.

As they walked to another village, Jesus asked them about his reputation. Then he asked who they thought he was. Peter declared that he was the Messiah. In other accounts, Jesus told Peter that he received that knowledge by revelation from God, that he could have learned it in no other way.

So after the two-part healing, Peter actually got the point, right? Well, not entirely. He knew that Jesus was the Messiah. In other accounts, he added that Jesus was the Son of the living God. That’s a profound insight. But he still had the traditional Jewish notion of the Messiah as the conqueror and liberator who would reestablish the Jewish state.

When Jesus started laying out the plan of salvation, which involved his death and resurrection, Peter demonstrated that he still didn’t get it. His remaining blind spot distorted his vision. He took Jesus aside and rebuked him for not talking like a proper Messiah should. Jesus rebuked Peter in full hearing and sight of the other disciples.

Who among us receives revelation knowledge and acceptance of counterintuitive consequences any more quickly than Peter did? Don’t we too often look at people of the kingdom and see only what might as well be trees?

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