22 Jesus and his disciples came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to Jesus and begged him to touch and heal him. 23 Taking the blind man’s hand, Jesus led him out of the village. After spitting on his eyes and laying his hands on the man, he asked him, “Do you see anything?”
24 The man looked up and said, “I see people. They look like trees, only they are walking around.”
25 Then Jesus placed his hands on the man’s eyes again. He looked with his eyes wide open, his sight was restored, and he could see everything clearly. 26 Then Jesus sent him home, saying, “Don’t go into the village!”
This passage has always baffled me. I’ve often wondered why it took two tries for Jesus to heal the man. Why was it necessary to spit on him? And why is the (formerly) blind man ordered to stay away from the village?
I notice that in the gospels, Jesus’ healing miracles are often accompanied by concrete acts – making mud, or spit, or physical touch. Except in very rare cases, Jesus is with those he heals – he seldom performs the miracle from a distance. Matthew 8:5-13, the healing of a centurion’s servant, is a notable outlier. There, he praises the soldier’s faith when he says to Jesus, “Just say the word and my servant will be healed.”
These two stories tell me something about how faith works. Of course, I believe God can do anything. But most of us seem to have a much easier time tapping into that power when we are together. There is comfort in the power of human presence and human touch. Jesus knew this, and so he practiced it. I’m convinced that the spit and the touch were just ways to prepare the recipient’s spirit for what would come next. They were ways of saying, “God’s doing something here.”
Jesus also knew the difference between a community and a crowd. So he led the man out of the village to perform the miracle. For Jesus, especially in Mark, healings are never about drawing a crowd – that’s why he tells the man not to go back to the village. Crowds represent distractions and noise. They’re fickle and dangerous. But smaller groups – like the twelve – or even the two who are central to this healing story, represent community and connection. Crowds are often the place where we see the worst of humanity – where we see the enemy do his work. But community is where we experience the best of humanity – where God works in the spaces between us to lift people up and restore them to wholeness.
by Joe Monahan
For Pondering & Prayer
Why do you think it may have taken two tries for Jesus to heal the man?
Prayer: God, we thank you for the gift of community and the way that you work in the space between people to heal and make whole. Today, we pray that we might help create that space for someone to experience your love and power. Amen.