This is the story of a man who was blind who was healed. It is a unique story, because it is the only story where Jesus does not heal the person in one go. There are two stages to the healing. After the first time the man looks up, sees people, but they look like trees. After the second time, he opens his eyes and he sees everything clearly.
So what is going on here?
Obviously, we are being told that Jesus is the Messiah, the one sent by God to be King in his world. He does the things of the Messiah. He is the one who fulfils Isaiah 35:5, ‘Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped’. In Mark 7:31-37 he has just healed a deaf person in very similar circumstances.
And we are also being told that Jesus heals. The friends bring someone who is blind to him, and Jesus heals him.
That is what we do when we pray: bring someone to Jesus. And although he does not always heal as we wish, he does heal.
[One of the very interesting things in Mark’s gospel is that in the first half of the gospel, Jesus does amazing things, but he commands people that they are not to tell anyone. He heals a leper (Mark 1:44) and says, ‘See you say nothing to anyone’. He commands the unclean spirits who are saying, ‘You are the Son of God’ (Mark 3:12) ‘not to make him known’. He raises Jairus’ daughter from the dead, and charges them ‘that no one should know this’ (Mark 5:43). He heals the deaf and mute man (Mark 7:31-35) and ‘charged them to tell no one’. And in the next few verses Peter declares that Jesus is the Christ: ‘And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him’ (Mark 8:30).
And in our passage, the man is told to go straight home, and not return into the village where he has been brought.
The secret to this secrecy is revealed in Mark 9:9. Jesus has gone up a mountain and been transfigured – he has shone like a lighthouse. And it says, ‘And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead’.
That is the last time that Jesus commands secrecy. The point is that who he is, and what he does (the casting out of evil, the healing of sick people, the raising of the dead) only makes sense after the resurrection. Before the resurrection they are simple wonderful acts – but we want to ask why didn’t he do more? There were many blind people. Why was this one alone healed? Why are some people wonderfully healed today and others not?
Without the resurrection, Jesus is an amazing wonder worker, but nothing more. But with the resurrection, these healings and raisings make sense. They are not normative but representative. They give us glimpses of a Kingdom that is present, but not fully present. They are a preview of the big film that is still to come. They show us what Jesus is going to do for all who turn to him in the resurrection, in the Kingdom of God.]
So please do pray for people – even for people when you think that they are beyond medical help. Bring them to Jesus. Jesus can heal. Jesus does heal. He loves us. He really does want the best for us in the long run, in the resurrection. And if the person is not healed, we don’t give up on God; we don’t accuse them of being at fault. We trust God that he knows best. We surrender to his good will, and we are patient, even if we don’t understand, and we continue to trust ourselves and the person for whom we are praying into his hands.
But we need to look deeper at this healing of the blind man. Something more is going on.
And the obvious thing is that Jesus is using the restoring of this man’s physical vision to show us how God restores spiritual vision.
In the last few verses Jesus has challenged the disciples: ‘Do you not yet perceive or understand? Having eyes do you not see?’ And now he goes on to restore sight to a blind man.
1. It is all of God
The man does nothing. He is blind. He is brought to Jesus.
We are spiritually blind. We have been blinded by sin, by our rebellion against God, by our desire to live independent God-denying lives. We are blinded by our self-centredness, our self-focus. Sin is spelt sIn. The I is in the middle. And we are blinded by our pride, envy, bitterness, fear, anxiety, need to impress, prejudice. We just can’t see.
That is why prayer is so hard. God seems unobvious. And it so much easier to do something, rather than to stop and pray about something. And when we pray, we don’t know what to pray for.
Isaiah 59:2 says: “It is not God who is helpless. It is not God who is deaf. The reason that he doesn’t hear you is because your rebellion against him has hidden his face from you; your sin has put up a massive barrier between God and yourself”.
And we are so blind that we do not even realise that we are blind. Most of us are walking about with our eyes closed, in a two dimensional universe, unaware that there is so much more.
In John 9, when Jesus has healed a blind man, he says to the religious leaders: ‘I came in order to help people see’. They challenge him, ‘Are you telling us that we are blind?’ Jesus says, ‘Because you say that you can see, you are in fact blind. Spiritually blind’. It is uncompromising stuff.
We are blind. We cannot open our own eyes. But it is Jesus who opens eyes.
So please pray. Pray that he will open our eyes. Love other people enough to pray for them. Pray that he will open their eyes. Be like the companions of this blind man – who brought him to Jesus. He couldn’t get to Jesus on his own. He was blind. But they cared enough for him to take a risk.
And because it is all of Jesus, if we do begin to see, there is no place for pride or a sense of superiority. If God is less unobvious than he was before, if prayer does begin to make sense, if you have a hunger to know him more, if his words in the bible start to speak to you, give great thanks – it is his work.
And equally please do not despair if nothing seems to be happening. Don’t assume that it will be a blinding light, and that if you haven’t had a blinding light, God is refusing to work with you. The very fact that you know that there is this thing called ‘faith’ and that you do not have ‘faith’, means that he is working in you. To be aware that we are spiritually blind is the beginning of Jesus’ opening of our eyes.
2. Jesus uses spit to heal the man’s eyes
This is very strange! Why, of all things, spit? Especially when in other places Jesus heals with a word, or with a word and a touch.
I don’t wish to make too much of this: but it does imply that although Jesus can heal with a word, often he chooses to work with stuff.
I have read in some places that spit was considered to have healing powers. I have read in other places, and we know that to spit on someone is a way of shaming them. What is clear is that Jesus uses spit to heal the man.
And Jesus will often use something to restore our spiritual vision. It might be something that we think has healing properties. It might be something that we despise.
He has commanded us to use water in baptism; bread and wine in communion; oil in healing.
And I guess that is also one way of understanding medicine and tablets. At the moment I am taking anti-malarial tablets. I could see them as a symbol of our human attempt to live without God – to rely on ourselves, so that we do not need God – or I can say that they are like Jesus’ spit. They are what he chooses to use to bring healing.
3. Restoration of spiritual vision is a process
There is a two stage healing here. The man begins to see, and then he fully sees.
There is a parallel with what happens to the disciples. Up to chapter 8 of Mark they are getting the first sight: they are beginning to understand who Jesus is. And then, having understood, they need the second sight, that Jesus Christ is the one who will die to save people – that the Christian way is not the way of the sword, but the way of the cross.
And actually that is how it works for us. The restoration of our spiritual vision is gradual.
Stage one: God works in us and we begin to become aware that we are blind. We come to Jesus and we begin to see – but only dimly. We look at other people and they are like trees. Now at least we notice them, but they are things.
Stage two (and three and four and five): as we continue to look at Jesus, our vision becomes clearer. We see him clearer; we see other people clearer.
Of course, this side of death, it will be like looking through frosted glass. But of the resurrection, Paul writes, ‘Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face’.
So as we come to communion, we come to receive from the one who is our Messiah, our ruler. We will use bread and wine, ‘stuff’ – because he has said that this ‘stuff’ is what he chooses to work with. And we ask him to open our eyes so that we can see him and see other people.