|Christ Healing the Blind Man of Bethsaida (14th. c.)
Mark’s gospel records a very odd healing. Some people in Bethsaida brought a blind man to Jesus and begged him to touch him. Usually in Scripture we see Jesus instantly moved to compassion, but these people had to beg him.
Then, instead of laying his hands on the man, he led him out of town, where the story becomes odder still.
Implicitly Jesus had challenging questions for the blind man, his disciples, and all of us: Do you believe me? Is trusting me still an option for you?
In Luke 10:13, Jesus pronounced woe to Bethsaida for its unbelief at the miracles performed there.
It makes sense that Jesus would take the blind man out of town so that the townspeople would not witness yet another miracle without trusting him. It makes sense to take him away from that unbelief.
Could the blind man have possibly understood? As Jesus made his friends beg before taking any action and then led him by the hand out of town, the man had to make a deliberate choice to believe Jesus for healing.
In another healing, Jesus spit on the ground, made clay, put it on a man’s eyes, and told him to go wash it off in a certain pool. There’s a bit of a yuck factor there. Here, Jesus spit directly on the man’s eyes before laying hands on him. Double yuck!
That challenged the blind man with yet another question: Do you mind if I heal you my way? After all, he could have gotten offended, and that would have stopped the healing entirely.
How many of us have gotten offended at Jesus because he didn’t seem to be answering our prayers, but subjecting us to more unpleasantness? But taking offense mixes unbelief with what ought to be whole hearted trusting. James reminds us that the double minded receive nothing. We’d all rather Jesus did it our way, but if he doesn’t, we must confess, “I will continue to believe you.”
So Jesus asked the man if he saw anything. In every similar story in Scripture, the person sees well immediately. This man saw people, but they looked like trees walking.
That raised still more challenges to the blind man’s faith: Do you still believe me even if what I have done for you doesn’t look quite right? Will you continue trusting me to complete my work?
Although this healing is unique in Scripture, being progressive rather than instantaneous, it is certainly the way in God ordinarily acts. Instant miracles happen, of course, but more often answers to prayer occur over time, often with setbacks and disappointments. When we are most tempted to let go is precisely the time that trusting Jesus becomes so crucial. Like the blind man, we must believe Jesus even when it makes no sense and keep trusting him to be faithful to complete what he started.
Jesus laid hands on the man a second time. This time, he could see everything clearly. He had passed all the tests and continued to believe that Jesus would restore his sight. He had passed up every opportunity to become offended. He kept trusting.
Jesus sent him home with orders not to go into the village. After a difficult struggle that had tested and proved his faith, the last thing he needed was the company of people whose unbelief could undermine it. And so with us. Building faith to the point where it changes things is always a difficult struggle. Let’s be careful of the company we keep; avoid scoffers, complainers, and others who would drag us back to where we started.