Tag: Healing

The double healing of a blind man (Mark 8:22-26)

by on Aug.08, 2010, under Sermon

Let me tell you about the second scariest day of my life. When I was 17, and newly arrived in Sydney to attend university, I awoke one morning to find that I could not open my eyes because any light brought me intense pain. The day before one eye had been very bloodshot, and I had gone to hospital to get treatment, but was sent home with some ointment, an eyepatch and the doctor’s advice that they couldn’t see a problem. But there was no ignoring it this time – I am reliably informed by a (female) optometrist that this kind of pain is of a comparable level with childbirth, except entirely concentrated in one eye!

I called my Dad, a GP, who drove 2 hours to reach me and take me to Sydney Eye Hospital. At this point I began to wonder whether the cure might not be worse than the problem. On the long list of things I hope never to hear again, the phrase, “Please hold still whilst I take a ‘sample’ from your eye with my spatula,” rates very close to the top! I am proud to say that I held rock steady whilst this went on (and quite possibly for some minutes afterwards) though I did plenty of trembling later.

Why was I so afraid? I think perhaps it was because since before I can remember I have been so dependent upon my eyes for everything I do. Whilst my eyesight is far from perfect, with a bit of assistance it suffices for most things that I would ever want to do. This dependence was brought home to me in the week that followed this particular incident, since both my eyes were kept completely dilated and I was not able to focus upon anything and so I couldn’t read, couldn’t see the friends who came to visit or do much of anything else that I wanted to do… I was reduced to listening(!) to television, and it doesn’t get much worse than that.

Imagine, then, the tragedy of a man born with sight that he later loses, such as Mark records for us. Whilst I was at risk of losing sight in one eye, this man had lost sight in both eyes. (We deduce that he had, at some time, had sight by the fact that he can recognise trees and people when he does see them.) This happened in a society lacking the blessings of guide dogs, braille, text-to-speech computers and so on – meaning that he thus became completely dependent upon others for everything.

Bring your friends to Jesus… and let them bring you!

We become aware of this dependence straight away: ‘some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him’ (v. 22). This man had friends who had obviously heard of Jesus, and the wonderful things he had done. This was in Bethsaida, Peter’s hometown,1 so perhaps they had even met Peter’s mother-in-law, whom Jesus had healed from a fever,2 or one of the many others that Jesus had previously healed there.3 In doing so, they acted in faith, believing that Jesus could heal their friend.

Do you bring your friends to Jesus? If you are a Christian, the best and most important thing you can do for your friends is to bring them to Jesus, making requests on their behalf if need be. I have a good friend who is overseas at the moment, and undergoing an intensely difficult period in his life. Throughout this, I have noticed something disturbing in myself: a frustration that, since he is on the other side of the world, ‘all’ I can do is pray for him, as though that weren’t sufficient. Yet this is the first and most important thing I can do. Were he here, I might run around doing other things, so-called ‘practical’ things, but if I do so at the expense of bringing him to Jesus in prayer then I would be doing him no favour at all.
There is no need that your friend be a Christian for you to bring them to Jesus. There is no indication in this account that the blind man asked to be brought to Jesus, and it is the friends who do the asking. In fact, it is your non-Christian friends who most need the healing that only Jesus can bring! Don’t be timid – these friends ‘begged’ Jesus to heal their friend. Here’s how the conversation didn’t go: “Um, Jesus, if you’re not too busy, could you please, if you don’t mind, give our friend back his sight, or at least some of it.” And it didn’t go like this either: “Oh Lord, who art the Great Physician and healer of all the earth, we humbly beseech the that thou shouldst turn thy healing hand to the restoration of our friend’s ocular faculties…” No, the request was at once both simple and profound: please heal our friend.

Equally important, though, do you have friends who will bring you to Jesus? One of my earliest experiences of the power of this was when I was 10. I had just come to Christ, as part of a Christian holiday camp. About a week later, I was picked up early from vacation care and told that we had to go to Sydney because I had been diagnosed with a life-threatening brain tumour. Whilst what followed should have been extremely traumatic for a 10-year-old, amongst my most precious memories from that period is the feeling of wonder I had at hearing that my church was holding special gatherings to pray for me and my family, and that others were praying for me throughout Australia (and a few in New Zealand). This brought with it a sense of great peace: I had friends – some of whom I had never met, yet friends nonetheless – who loved me enough to bring me to Jesus.

Brothers and sisters, bring your friends and family to Jesus as your first and highest priority – and allow them to do the same for you. The Lord may well have a plan for actioning your prayer that involves you acting, but he is waiting for you to first bring it to him before he reveals what that is. On the other hand, his plan may not involve you at all, as was the case with these friends. Their only contribution was to bring their friend to Jesus. Pray first, then act if necessary – but trust Jesus for the how.

Trust Jesus for the how

What do I mean by ‘trust Jesus for the how’? Consider the specific request these friends made: ‘some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him’ (8:22). They had probably heard stories of people being healed with a touch, and wanted the same for their friend. But when the touch comes, it is not at first a healing touch: ‘He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village’ (8:23).

There may have been a number of reasons for leading the man outside the village. Mark consistently shows Jesus avoiding misguided veneration from crowds.4 His mission was to preach the kingdom of God, and healing the sick was secondary to that; and public healings sometimes made it impossible to preach.5 This is confirmed at the end of this story where ‘Jesus sent him home, saying, “Don’t go into the village.”‘ (8:26)
In this case, however, I believe the reason is a little deeper. Jesus touches the man in order to enter into the man’s blind world in a personal way, for where sight is absent sound and touch become more important. He leads the man by the hand in order to engender trust, for a blind man must implicitly trust the one leading him. Up until this point, the blind man has been entirely passive; Jesus is encouraging him to engage his faith and trust in Jesus.6 To do this, he must leave the crowds (some of whom, no doubt, hoped themselves to be healed), and so we get a little bit of an insight into Jesus, the Good Shepherd who is willing to leave the 99 sheep for the sake of the 1.7

Then Jesus spits on the man. This is, to our minds, strange at best and disgusting and degrading at worst. In truth, it wouldn’t have been much less strange in that culture,8 although this is the second time in Mark’s gospel where Jesus employs saliva in a healing.9 This is almost certainly not what the blind man or his friends had expected when they approached Jesus for healing. They could have taken offence as Naaman did when Elisha told him to bathe in the Jordan to cure his leprosy.10 But to do so would have been to miss out on the blessing that Jesus had in store for this man.

We don’t get to dictate terms to God. To do so is a form of idolatry, since we make an idol of whatever it is that we want, and we ask God to serve that idol. Instead, we need to bring our needs to God and leave it up to him to decide how to meet those needs. This means that sometimes the results will be very different to what we might have hoped for.

One of the great joys of being a Dad is that I have a legitimate excuse for reading kids’ books. Many are trivial or mundane, as might be expected, but every now and then you come across one that is beautiful and thought-provoking in its very simplicity. Such a book is Claudia the Caterpillar.11 Claudia the Caterpillar looked out at the butterflies and thought, ‘That’s the life for me – I was born to fly.’ After two failed attempts at flying, she brings her problem to God who leads her to the top of the tall tree she had been trying to fly from, and instructs her to climb into the chrysalis he has prepared. Claudia, dismayed, says to God, ‘If you make me go in there I’ll die.’ She had asked God for wings to fly, and the answer was a closer confinement than she currently experienced. It wasn’t what she wanted, but it was the necessary first step to get there. God knew what was needed, and Claudia had to trust him.

This lesson was brought home to me a couple of years ago. A dear friend of mine had been battling against cancer for some years. One particular day, many of us gathered to pray on her behalf – to bring her to Jesus for healing just as the friends in this story did. Late that night I was reading the scriptures prescribed for that day in my reading plan, which included James 5. I read these words: ‘Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up’ (James 5:14–15). Once again I felt compelled to pray that prayer on behalf of my prayer and did so. After some time, I was overwhelmed by a sense of peace like I have rarely felt before or since; I went to bed rejoicing, convinced that she had been completely healed. The next morning I found out that she had indeed been healed… but not at all in the way I had hoped and prayed for. Instead, the Lord had called her home.

Was the Lord playing some kind of cruel joke on me? Of course he was not, any more than he was taunting Claudia the caterpillar by confining her in a cocoon when all she wanted was freedom to fly, or being callous towards Naaman the leper by sending him to wash in the Jordan, or offending the blind man by healing him with saliva. God doesn’t owe us any explanations for how and why he does what he does; instead we owe him our faith and trust because he is a God who cares for us and works all things for his glory and our good.12

Brothers and sisters, bring your friends to Jesus (and let them bring you too!), but trust Jesus for the how. And when you do, watch closely, because lives will be transformed.

Watch as lives are transformed

It is at this point that the story gets a little bit strange. Because, having spit and laid hands on the blind man, Jesus asks him what he sees and it becomes clear that the healing is only partial. The man can see, but people look like trees. Has something gone wrong?
The unusual nature of this healing has led many commentators to believe that Jesus is here acting out a parable. If true, this would be in the tradition of many of the prophets who God called to perform specific actions as a means of prophecy. For example, God told Hosea to marry a prostitute13 and Ezekiel to lie on his left side for 390 days followed by 40 days on his right side in order to make a point.14 In this case, the likely target is the disciples, who would likely have been present at the healing, suggesting that they were spiritually blind, have now been given some measure of sight, but will require further intervention from Jesus before they see everything clearly. There is some justification for this as Jesus has just rebuked the disciples for their lack of understanding,15 and this healing and the healing of blind Bartimaeus form a matched pair framing the journey of Jesus and the disciples to Jerusalem during which he seems to focus on teaching them. However, it is not clear what event the completion of the healing is supposed to refer to: is it Peter’s confession of Jesus as Messiah in the next section? Christ’s death? Resurrection? Second coming? And so I don’t really think that this interpretation really helps us to understand this healing much better than if we take its plain meaning.

The truth is, I don’t know exactly why this healing took place in two parts. As I said earlier, God doesn’t owe us any explanations for what he does; instead we owe him our faith and trust. What is important to note, however, is Jesus’ patience. He could have sent the man away with his imperfect vision; after all, he is a good deal better off than when he came to Jesus. But Jesus persists, with the result that the man ends up with perfect vision. Mark is at pains to emphasise how well he saw: ‘Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly’ (8:25).
This healing occurred in two stages – and we’re all agreed that it was a miracle. The man couldn’t see, and then he could. But would it still have been a miracle if it took three stages? Or four? What about if it took a day? Or a week? Or a month? The man was blind, right… no matter how long it takes, the result is what counts here! This is an encouragement for us, because whilst some of us may have experienced miraculous healing, chances are most of us will be healed in more ‘ordinary’ fashion… yet does that make it any less miraculous when we are healed? Some of us may be converted to faith in an instant, but most of us awaken to faith gradually… yet does that make it any less miraculous?
Contact with Jesus results in more than just minor course corrections; he does not settle for half-results. His goal is complete transformation. Claudia the Caterpillar asked for her current life to be augmented; God responded by transforming her very nature. This series is about Jesus the life-changer, and we will see the same pattern over and again. Where there is blindness, he brings sight, perfect sight. Where there is darkness, he gives light, light that no darkness can overcome. Where there is death he brings life, and life to the full, life that lasts forever. When he calls, people follow; when he speaks, people are changed; when he touches, nothing can remain the same. He does it in his own time and his own way, but he does it!
Friends, bring your friends to Jesus (and let them bring you too!), trust him for the how, and watch closely as lives are transformed.

Bibliography

Keener, Craig S. The Ivp Bible Background Commentary : New Testament. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1993.
Lane, William L. The Gospel According to Mark; the English Text with Introduction, Exposition, and Notes. Grand Rapids,: Eerdmans, 1974.
McDonough, Andrew. Claudia the Caterpillar, Lost Sheep Series 2. Unley, S.Aust.: Lost Sheep Resources, 2006.


Endnotes

  1. John 1:44.
  2. Mark 1:29-31.
  3. Mark 1:32-34.
  4. e.g. 1:35-39, 45; 3:7-9; 6:45.
  5. e.g. 1:45.
  6. William L. Lane, The Gospel According to Mark; the English Text with Introduction, Exposition, and Notes (Grand Rapids,: Eerdmans, 1974), 285.
  7. Matt 18:12-13.
  8. Craig S. Keener, The Ivp Bible Background Commentary : New Testament (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 156.
  9. cf. 7:32-37.
  10. 2 Kings 5:11.
  11. Andrew McDonough, Claudia the Caterpillar, Lost Sheep Series 2 (Unley, S.Aust.: Lost Sheep Resources, 2006).
  12. Rom 8:28.
  13. Hos 1.
  14. Ezek 4.
  15. Mark 8:21.
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