Blindness VI

In the Gospels, Jesus is recorded as having healed four blind men. Two were healed individually and two were healed together. Here is the first story. In context, the healing takes place after Jesus miraculously fed a crowd of 4,000, after which he and the disciples sailed in a boat to the district of Dalmanutha, where…

 The Pharisees came out and began to argue with Him, seeking from Him a sign from heaven, to test Him. Sighing deeply in His spirit, He said, “Why does this generation seek for a sign? Truly I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.” Leaving them, He again embarked and went away to the other side.
 And they had forgotten to take bread, and did not have more than one loaf in the boat with them. And He was giving orders to them, saying, “Watch out! Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” They began to discuss with one another the fact that they had no bread. And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you discuss the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet see or understand? Do you have a hardened heart? Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember, when I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces you picked up?” They said to Him, “Twelve.” “When I broke the seven for the four thousand, how many large baskets full of broken pieces did you pick up?” And they said to Him, “Seven.” And He was saying to them, “Do you not yet understand?”

[It is apparent that the disciples still cannot see, that they do not understand either the message or the mission of Jesus. They are anticipating that He will be crowned king of the Jews and that they will be given places as ministers in His kingdom. Jesus Himself, however, is preparing for humiliation and death.]

 And they came to Bethsaida. And they brought a blind man to Jesus and implored Him to touch him. Taking the blind man by the hand, He brought him out of the village; and after spitting on his eyes and laying His hands on him, He asked him, “Do you see anything?” And he looked up and said, “I see men, for I see them like trees, walking around.” Then again He laid His hands on his eyes; and he looked intently and was restored, and began to see everything clearly. And He sent him to his home, saying, “Do not even enter the village.”
 Jesus went out, along with His disciples, to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way He questioned His disciples, saying to them, “Who do people say that I am?” They told Him, saying, “John the Baptist; and others say Elijah; but others, one of the prophets.” And He continued by questioning them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered and said to Him, “You are the Christ.” And He warned them to tell no one about Him. (Mark 8:11-30)
There are two unusual and important aspects to this story. First, the spitting in the eyes, and second, the two-stage healing process (first spitting in the eyes, then laying hands on the eyes). This is the only phased miracle in the Gospels and is one of three times in which Jesus applies his spittle in order to heal.

It was as much an insult then as it is today to spit into someone’s face. For example, a widow whose brother-in-law refuses to marry her is entitled…

…to come to him in the sight of the elders, and pull his sandal off his foot and spit in his face; and she shall declare, ‘Thus it is done to the man who does not build up his brother’s house.’ (Deuteronomy 25:9)

(Spitting is also mentioned as an insult in Numbers 12:14, Job 17:6, Job 30:10, and Isaiah 50:6)

Jesus, however, turned the curse into a blessing. Jesus touched the dead, the leprous, the menstruating woman (held to be “unclean” in those days) but was not contaminated by them, and in His divine spittle was a healing balm, not a contaminating toxin.

Spittle is rich in the enzyme amylase which starts the process of digestion as we chew food in the mouth. The enzyme that Jesus passes on is not physically nutritious but spiritually nutritious. By parable and by illustration, Jesus repeatedly turns insult and humiliation into spiritual insight. But just as physical nutrition is partial and only starts in the mouth (it does not end there), the insight gained by the blind man is only partial. As Paul said, it is like seeing through a glass darkly.

Notice that here, as in nearly every instance where God speaks, it is in the form of a question: “Do you see anything?” He asks the blind man after healing him. The question is also directed at the bystanders, to those who brought the blind man to Jesus, to the disciples, to the Pharisees,… to all of us. It is a vital question. He asks the disciples: “Who do people say that I am?” “Who do you say that I am?” which is another way of saying “What do you see about Me?” He had already asked them “Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember,…? (Mark 8:18)

The blind man’s response is telling, too. At first he sees only shadows, outlines, tree-like shapes. Our spiritual insight is similarly deficient. There is more to the process of physical digestion than just chewing in the mouth. It involves swallowing and internalization through gastric enzymes, the microbiome and the entire gastrointestinal tract.

Jesus completed the miracles by placing his hands on the blind man’s eyes, after which he could see clearly. Hands are usually laid on a person in order to confer a blessing, not to heal. God’s touch brings life, regeneration. The blind man represents all of us who are spiritually blind.

Jesus told the blind man not to enter his village after he was cured, and He told the disciples not to tell anyone about it.

What lessons are we to learn from all this?

Jay: Blind people need some help, some physical intervention, from other people. Words alone are not enough. Perhaps Jesus was emphasizing this point by laying hands on the blind man.

Donald: Sight seems to be the primary sense. We can tell by color alone if some things are hot—we know a red stove top is hot without needing to touch it to be sure. Other senses may confirm what we see through our eyes, but the eyes seem to have it as the most important sense. The words “see” and “understand” are often used synonymously.

There must have been diseases and conditions that were far more prevalent than blindness.

Don: The lack of assistive technology in those ancient days made the blind totally dependent on the help of others. Blindness was a life sentence.

Kiran: Do the stages of vision—at first vague and then clear—have any relation to the stages of faith?

Don: There seems to be significance in the staging, certainly. The question is why is it significant?

Donald: Do we see clearly enough to describe what is absolute? We want things to be more absolute, less demanding of interpretation. When we trust the vision of others it has a great deal of impact on our understanding of things, while making us blind to other things.

Jay: Asking the blind man “Can you see?” seems odd. Jesus surely did not doubt His own healing power. It suggests that the blindness is not physical, but a spiritual condition.

Don: God asks questions in order to convey spiritual meaning.

Donald: Is other people’s vision, their spiritual insight, something to rely on or something to help us reach our own understanding, as seems to be the case in this class? How beneficial is the influence, the assistance, of others with respect to our own spiritual insight? They cannot save us—we have to save ourselves.

David: I am reminded that Shakir told us that Moslems are not allowed to interpret the Qur’an. It means what it means in the mind of the individual reader, it cannot (legitimately) be interpreted by a medium. It is the individual in personal communication with God.

I am confused by this passage. Jesus refused to give the Pharisees a sign from heaven, which I take to mean a sign of His divinity, but He had just given one in feeding the 4,000 and a few hours later He gave another by healing a blind man—a healing which in those days could only be miraculous. It was as big a sign as could be given. And why does he tell the blind man not to go back into his village? The village would know he was cured because his former helpers would have gone back and related to the whole miraculous story, so it can’t have been to keep his cure a secret.

Kiran: Does the man’s progression from cloudy to clear vision reflect a progression from stage 2 faith to stage 4 faith? [See here for a discussion about the stages of faith—Ed.]

Linda: The blind man saw because somebody helped him, but it is up to us when we see or hear something to search the Scriptures for ourselves, to verify that what we see and understand is truth.

Donald: Some people are more dependent, less confident in their faith journey and in what is truth, than others.

David: If each of us gets a different picture of the truth, in our own mind and as reflected by the holy spirit inside it, then who are we to judge anyone else?

Donald: So it is OK to be confident in our understanding, but not OK to impose it on someone else?

Jeff: Can one will oneself into faith or do we need to rely on the help of others? Many of us struggle with that. It too seems very much personality-dependent.

Kiran: The Pharisees demanded a sign. The blind man did not. There is a difference in attitude. It relates to the question of whether salvation is by faith (the blind man) or by works (the Pharisees). It also indicates that God reaches out to people in need—they don’t need to look for Him.

Don: Does the spiritually blind man think he can see? Clearly?

Donald: Today’s “Thought for the Day” on my computer read: “If you openly declare that Jesus is the Lord and you believe in your heart that God raised from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9-10) That seem pretty unambiguous, yet we manage to interpret and add much to it. As a photographer I seek to simplify vision, to limit the stimuli. So I focus on one aspect of what I see. The challenge for people today is that we have too many stimuli. We can’t manage them all. Others have helped teach me how to lessen the noise and concentrate on what is important, but as human beings we only add to the confusion and risk obscuring the message.

Don: So why did Jesus heal the man in stages? Why not just leave him with incomplete vision? He would still have been much better off than before, surely? What was Jesus’ strategy?

Jim: Going through the stages is the Christian experience. The man knew he was missing something when he was in the village. Jesus took him out and gave him the experience of seeing as he had never seen before, incomplete as the vision was at first. With that, he accepted Jesus—he let Jesus touch him, and with that, his sight cleared totally. Until we let Jesus touch us, we cannot see clearly. He told him not to go back to the village because he would be distracted and return to his state of blindness.

David: There is no evidence that the blind man wanted to be cured. It was his friends who brought him to Jesus and asked for the cure on his behalf. We don’t know that he himself wanted or expected to see. The Pharisees expected a sign, and demanded it. They were demanding sight, in a sense: “Show us a sign from heaven!” Jesus said that’s not how you get to see the kingdom. You can’t force it. You have to let it come to you. In foretelling the exaltation of Jesus, God said:

Thus He [Jesus] will sprinkle many nations,
Kings will shut their mouths on account of Him;
For what had not been told them they will see,
And what they had not heard they will understand. (Isaiah 52:15)

The kings did not ask for anything and did not need to because Jesus would show them and tell them and give them insight and understanding. There is nothing to do but wait and have faith that it is coming. There will be no sign. It reflects the Do Nothing principle central to Daoism. Just follow the Way. It knows where it is going and will take us with it, but only if we trust it.

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