Walking Trees in Bethsaida: A Healing

Walking Trees in Bethsaida: A Healing

Walking Trees in Bethsaida: A Healing.

Please read Mark 8:22-26. (There are no parallel passages in the Gospels).

CONTEXT. Sandwiched around this healing of the blind man were significant gospel events.

a. Jesus had just fed 4,000 people in the middle of nowhere, multiplying seven little loaves of bread and a handful of fish. (Mark 8:1-10). Shortly before that, Jesus had fed 5,000 people the same way. (Mark 6:35-43). These dramatic and unexpected miracles in front of large crowds will not be forgotten, and certainly didn’t help Jesus’ preference for keeping the “messianic secret.”

b. Right after this healing of the blind man near Bethsaida, the disciples and Jesus walked quite a distance, around a two-day journey, to the bustling city of Caesarea Philippi. This highly pagan city was known for its extreme devotion to Greek gods, with many temples and altars dominating the cityscape, many of them built to worship Pan, in particular. With all these gods so prominent, it’s logical for Jesus to ask the disciples, Well, with all these gods everywhere, who do people say I am? Then Jesus followed that up with a direct question to the disciples… And who do you think I am? Spokesman Peter declared without hesitation, “You are the Christ, the Messiah!” With this declaration, Simon Peter was the first disciple to be fully convinced enough to boldly confess Jesus as the Messiah. After Peter’s confession, Jesus asked His disciples to keep His status as Messiah their little secret for a while. He asked them to not even breathe a word about this to anyone. (Mark 8:30).

THE EDGE OF TOWN. a. After the feeding of the 4,000, Jesus and His disciples walked into the nearby town of Bethsaida. Some people from town brought a blind man to Jesus, expecting a miraculous healing. Jesus then guided this man by the hand to a more private spot outside the village. Why did Jesus do that? Perhaps He wanted this to be more of a private healing so the messianic secret could remain hidden. Jesus didn’t want the people to crown Him king and messiah in a premature Palm Sunday event, disrupting the divine timetable for His Passion and death and Resurrection. For the time being in His ministry, in certain situations, Jesus is keeping his messiah status quiet, evidently so the crowds don’t try to force something before its time. Also, Jesus undoubtedly avoided huge crowd acclaim in certain places, which might limit His freedom of movement or hinder His more personal mentoring ministry with His disciples. It remains puzzling why Jesus wasn’t afraid to multiply fish and bread in front of thousands of people, and yet still wants to maintain a messianic secret. God only knows.

b. Another possible reason Jesus led the blind man to a lonely spot outside the village was in deference to His earlier judgment on Bethsaida. (Matthew 11:20-22). Jesus had pronounced a judgment on the village for not repenting after He had done many miracles there. Perhaps Jesus didn’t want to do a healing in the village proper because of this word of judgment. But, naturally, He couldn’t pass up a chance to show mercy to individuals as He saw the need arise. So He took the blind man outside of town to perform the healing.

c. After He healed the blind man, Jesus told him to avoid the village when he returned home. Walk around the village, not through it, He said. He wanted to maintain the messianic secret? He deferred to His earlier judgment? We just don’t know.

THE HEALING. This was an unusual miracle, in that this blind man was healed in stages. The first stage of the healing involved Jesus spitting on and then touching the man’s eyes. Jesus then asked the man if he could see clearly. The man honestly shared that his sight was better, but not very clear as yet. The man told Jesus that people looked like trees walking around. The second stage of the healing occurred when Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes once again. This second time completed the healing. His sight was fully restored.

WHY IN STAGES? It’s interesting that Jesus has already proven through His earlier healings that He didn’t need to spit, and He didn’t need to make this a gradual healing. Is there a reason why this healing wasn’t instantaneous, as His other healings?

a. Very recently Jesus had told the disciples, “You have good eyes, yet you still don’t see.” (Mark 8:18). This observation was certainly fresh in the minds of the disciples, and Jesus’ comment was fully in line with the Hebrew tradition of using physical sight as a metaphor for spiritual understanding. “Look, a righteous king is coming! Then everyone who has eyes will be able to see the truth, and everyone who has ears will be able to hear it.” (Isaiah 32:1, 3). Bring all who claim me as their God, for I have made them for my glory. It was I who created them. Bring out the people who have eyes but are blind, who have ears but are deaf. Gather the nations together!” (Isaiah 43:7-8). “I entered this world to render judgment – to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they see that they are blind.” (John 9:39). Was this gradual healing a spiritual lesson aimed at His disciples? Perhaps Jesus was revealing the Hebraic idea that some truths are understood gradually, that clear sight sometimes comes step by step. Sometimes spiritual insights come to the mind in stages, and are not necessarily understood instantly. Spiritual vision comes to us gradually, just as physical sight came to this blind man.

b. Perhaps this gradual healing was another type of object lesson for the disciples. Jesus seems to be thinking a  lot about His status of Messiah around this time, and He even asked His disciples quite soon after the healing if the disciples recognized Him as the long expected, biblical Messiah. Maybe Jesus is directly referring to the deep truth He is mulling over, this spiritual insight that evidently has to come in stages. First the disciples need to recognize Him as Messiah. And the next stage would be that the disciples need to more fully understand what Jesus means by that term, to understand just what kind of Messiah Jesus is. This gradual healing of blindness could very well be intentional on Jesus’ part, a deliberate lesson that is on Jesus’ mind, that the light of understanding Jesus as Messiah comes in stages. And Jesus is here to walk them through it.

c. Was this gradual healing of benefit to the blind man in some way? Perhaps with this healing, the truth of the need for his on-going dependence on God sunk in. Maybe this tangible lesson of staying with Jesus each step of the way struck home to the man in a powerful way. How could it not? Jesus is telling this blind man… Be patient, you will be healed in due time, remain dependent on me and keep listening to me throughout your life, and your salvation and spiritual healing is assured. Just as your vision came in stages, Jesus is telling this man, so will your spiritual understanding in your faith walk. Stay with me!

d. Of course, the reasons for a gradual healing may be a heavenly secret. There may not be an earth-bound logic to healing in stages. For this particular blind man, this may have been the only way the healing could be completed. Jesus never explained this healing to the blind man or to the disciples. Jesus is keeping His reasons to Himself. This certainly is another example of Jesus being a rather unpredictable healer. “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways, and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9, NLT).

LIVING PROOF. According to the Hebrew Bible, one of the signs of the Messianic era would be that the Chosen One would open the eyes of the blind. “In that day the deaf shall hear the words of the Book, and the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity and out of darkness. The humble also shall increase their joy in the Lord, and the poor among men shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 29:18-19). “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.” (Isaiah 35:5). “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness, and will hold your hand… To open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the prison, those who sit in darkness.” (Isaiah 42:6-7).  Healing blindness was considered so extraordinary, so miraculous, that surely only the Messiah was able to it. So these healings of the blind were accomplished by Jesus to affirm that He indeed was the long-awaited Messiah. This truth was confirmed when Jesus had to prove to the imprisoned John the Baptist that He was the Messiah. How did Jesus prove it? “Jesus told John’s disciples, ‘Go back to John and tell him what you have seen and heard – the blind see, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.” (Luke 7:20-22). Jesus told John that He is fulfilling the prophetic words in the Hebrew Scriptures regarding the Sent One. And Jesus underlined that truth with His every healing of the blind.

OBEDIENT. It is significant that the blind man let Jesus have His way. Certainly being spit upon was unexpected, but the man willingly accepted Jesus’ rather unconventional road to healing. The blind man was honest with Jesus when answering Him after the first stage. The man didn’t deny or sugarcoat, or even exclaim, Yes, I can see! This man’s honesty allowed Jesus to complete the healing. Jesus expects no less from us now on our road to spiritual healing. Just be honest before Him, be transparent, and He will undoubtedly continue the healing process.

The Big Question: What did we learn about Jesus in this story?