Jesus does not quit halfway
Jesus’ healing of a blind man in Bethsaida was an unusual and often misunderstood miracle. Before healing the man, Jesus took him by the hand and led him out of the village, then He spit on the man’s eyes, put His hands on the man, and asked him, “Do you see anything?” The man looked up and replied, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.” Jesus put His hands on the man a second time, then the man began to see clearly.
What’s going on here? On no other occasion did Jesus ask whether the miracle worked. On no other occasion did Jesus have to complete a miracle with a second attempt.
Was Jesus’ power slipping? Is that why He led the man away from the village, so that no one would see His slipping power? Did doubt on the part of the blind man get in the way of him being healed in one try? Was the man’s focus too much on people and too little on God? Is that why it didn’t quite take the first time? (These are the questions—or accusations—raised by people who have studied this passage.)
My understanding of this passage is shaped by Dr. Paul Brand & Philip Yancey’s book, In His Image. They described work that has been done with individuals who were born without sight but had surgery to receive sight. What these formerly blind people discovered is that it is not enough just to fix the eyes so that they can take in vision; radical transformation had to take place in the brain as well so as to make sense of what they see.
Brand and Yancey write, “Once these patients could see, a bewildering world of size and perspective confronted them. Previously they had a firm conception of size: an orange was about the size of a cupped hand, a face two hand-widths. In a shocking reversal, after surgery none of these rules applied. ‘How big is your mother?’ a researcher asked a sixteen-year-old girl. The girl held her index fingers a few inches apart, the same distance she had estimated for the size of a book. Her mother, standing across the room, took up about that much of her field of vision. And the sun? Obviously, it was about the size of a dime—who could believe the sun was larger than the earth?
“Gradually, over a period of months these patients had to learn the meaning of space, distance, and perspective. Vertical distances remained unfathomable for a long time, for the newly sighted had no prior conception of space beyond what they could feel by touch. Skyscrapers and trees loomed high, but how could they gauge height over ten feet, the height reachable with a cane? One patient, observing some interesting activity on the street below, stepped off the balcony of a tall apartment building and was killed….
“One young girl played with a pet cat for twenty-one days, four hours each day. Then, upon seeing a hen in a garden she squealed with delight, ‘My cat!’ After all, the thing was small and somewhat gray and it moved…. The simplest sights provoked great alarm in her: a black coat on the floor looked like the mouth of a well, a column of smoke from the chimney appeared to crack the sky in two, and the spots on her dog Muffy seemed like holes through him….
“Virtually all patients muddled through such despondent periods for a time. They were being asked to relearn the world, like persons abruptly deposited on another planet where the laws of physics do not apply.” (pp. 153-156)
No wonder Jesus led the man away from the confusing bustle of the village before healing him! And no wonder Jesus took the time with the man to heal him in two sections—first for his vision, then for comprehension of what he saw. And no wonder Jesus paused to ask the man what he saw. And no wonder the man replied that people seemed to him as trees walking around.
This two-part miracle reveals to me that Jesus doesn’t do anything half-way. He didn’t heal just the man’s sight but also brought about the transformation of his mind to make sense out of what he saw.
This miracle reminds me that Jesus wants to do something similar in me. He wants to bring me spiritual salvation, and He wants to do the further miracle of transforming me so that I can begin to live in a way that matches with the Loving God living in me!