The healing of the blind man of Bethsaida, one of the few incidents unique to Mark’s gospel, must be the oddest of Jesus’ miracles. It says that when he got to Bethsaida, the townspeople brought a blind man to him and begged him to heal him. Begged? It’s almost as if he seemed unwilling at first.
Then, Jesus took the man by the hand and led him out of town. And at first, the healing seemed not to work. The man could see, but not clearly. Jesus had to try again.
Did Jesus have an “oops” moment? Or did he have a reason for performing a two-step healing? And for that matter, why did he tell the man not to return to the village?
The cluelessness of the disciples
As always, context suggests answers. The healing is recorded in Mark 8:22-26. Earlier in the chapter, Jesus fed a crowd of 4,000, his second feeding miracle. The disciples obviously didn’t remember the first. They still wondered how he expected them to feed so many people.
Jesus and his disciples left that region and arrived at Dalmanutha, where Pharisees accosted him and demanded a sign. Jesus told his disciples to beware of the yeast of the Pharisees. Mark doesn’t say how long they stayed there, but he does say that Jesus made that comment after he had gotten in the boat to cross the sea again.
And no one had thought to buy bread. The disciples thought it’s what Jesus meant with his warning.
He responded with exasperation. He asked them how many baskets of broken pieces they had picked up after the two feeding miracles. After Jesus fed 5,000 with five loaves, they picked up twelve baskets, and after he fed 4,000 with seven loaves, they picked up seven baskets.
The lack of bread wasn’t an issue. Their hardness of heart kept them from understanding what they had experienced.
The blind man of blind Bethsaida
When Jesus and the disciples reached Bethsaida, townspeople brought a blind man to him and begged him to heal him. Jesus did not do so immediately. Instead, he first led the man out of the village. After Jesus healed him, he gave the man strict orders not to enter the village.
The gospel writers are very economical in their choice of details. And so it matters that Jesus took the man out of the village only after the townspeople had to beg him to heal, even though Mark offers no word of explanation. When we look for other references to Bethsaida, a reason appears.
- In Mark 1, Jesus went to Peter’s house in Bethsaida. There, he healed Peter’s mother-in-law and many other townspeople.
- The people of Bethsaida loved Jesus the miracle worker. Probably everyone in town had a testimony of some extraordinary miracle he had done.
- But they did not respond to his teaching. When he spoke of salvation and repentance, they listened politely until an opportune time to ask for another miracle.
- In Matthew 11:12 and Luke 10:13, Jesus denounced Bethsaida and other nearby villages. They had seen his miracles and did not repent, where the people of Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom would have.
Jesus took the man away from that selfish unbelief and told him not to go back. And if you want anything from Jesus, avoid churches that appeal to spiritual greed and ignore his teaching. Don’t look for what you can get from Jesus without first looking for what he wants you to believe and do.
In fact, this entire healing is so different from what anyone could have expected that the blind man of Bethsaida had his own choice. Would he trust Jesus through the entire process or get offended and lose his miracle?
The blind man of Bethsaida as an object lesson for the disciples
The townspeople did not witness this healing. The disciples did. After leading the man out of town, Jesus spit on his eyes and asked him what he saw. He said, “I see people. They look like trees walking around.”
Despite his best efforts, Jesus’ disciples didn’t see any better than that. I can just see him glaring at them when the man said he could see, but not well. They had recently taken part in two mass feedings and couldn’t see well, either.
Then, Jesus lay his hands on the man’s eyes. After that, he could see clearly. And maybe the truth began to dawn on the disciples.
They walked to another village immediately after the healing of the blind man of Bethsaida. Along the way, Jesus asked them about his reputation. Then he asked them who they thought he was. Peter declared that he was the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Jesus told him that he had received that knowledge by revelation from the Holy Spirit and that he could not have learned it any other way.
Peter had received a profound insight, but he still didn’t see clearly enough. He still expected a martial Messiah who would drive out the Romans and restore David’s kingdom. When Jesus started to lay out the plan of salvation, which involved his death and resurrection, Peter took him aside and rebuked him. Jesus rebuked Peter in full hearing of the others.
Who among us receives revelation knowledge and acceptance of counterintuitive consequences any more quickly than Peter?
Don’t we too often look at kingdom promises and see only trees walking? The blind man of Bethsaida received his sight the second time around. It often takes even more repetition before we receive ours. Fortunately Jesus has patience to work with us until we finally do.