Friday, July 27, 2007

Why did Jesus have to heal the Blind Man Twice in Mark 8?

In Mark 8:22-26, Jesus encounters a blind man in Bethsaida. To heal the man, Jesus spit on the man's eyes and laid his hands on him. The man opened his eyes and could see men, but they were blurry and looked like "trees walking around." Jesus repeated the process and then the man could see. The obvious question here is why it took Jesus two times to heal the blind man? Was Jesus just having a bad day? Was his healing power bar depleted? What theological purpose could there be in this multiphase healing?

It could have something to do with discipleship.

In Mk 6, Jesus feeds 5, 000 people with just 5 loaves and 2 fish. A little while later, in Mk 8, Jesus feeds 4, 000 people with just 7 loaves. These are incredible miracles and they clearly demonstrate that Jesus possesses the power of God. After this, Jesus has a confrontation with the Pharisees because they demand a 'sign'. You would think that feeding 4,000 people with next to nothing would be a sufficient sign! Following this confrontation, Jesus and his disciples get into a boat to go to the other side. In the boat, Jesus tells the disciples to “Watch out!" and "beware of the leaven of the Pharisees” (8:15). The disciples then conclude that Jesus said this because they only brought one loaf of bread on the boat with them! (8:14). Why, they wonder, did they not pack enough sandwiches for the trip to the other side? What were they thinking.

Bread is not a Problem for Jesus:
Jesus responds by asking why they are discussing their food problem (8:14-21): “Where have you guys been? Did you not remember when I fed 9, 000 people with 13 loaves of bread?” “How many baskets did you pick up after I fed the 5, 000?” Umm..., 12. And when I fed the 4,000 how many large baskets of broken pieces did you pick up? Umm..., it was 7. He was saying to them “Do You not yet understand? Bread is not a problem!” There is something here that they are failing to see...

What is important here is Jesus’ words in the midst of these questions. He says “Do you not yet see or understand? Having eyes do you not see? and having ears do you not hear? (8:17-18). Jesus is saying, Open your eyes and see what is right in front of you! His point is that, though they have physical eyes, they still are in some sense blind to who Jesus really is.

Seen in this context, Mark’s placement and record of this miracle is brilliant. They see a blind man, who Jesus then leads by the hand out of the city where Jesus heals him. The first time, the man can only see slightly, his vision is blurred. Then Jesus did it again, and the “man looked intently” and was healed and could then “see everything clearly”. This is essentially a parable that Jesus is acting out for his disciples. Was Jesus just having a bad day? Why did it take him two times to heal this blind man? I think it is obvious that Jesus could have healed him perfectly the first time, but he was teaching his disciples something as he gradually restored this man's sight. His point is that his disciples are blinded to who he really is though he is demonstrating his power to them day by day right in front of their eyes. Their understanding is coming, but it is coming in stages.

The passage following confirms Mark’s textual strategy. Right after this healing, Peter finally "sees" and confesses Jesus’ identity, that Jesus is “the Christ.” But then, Jesus begins to tell them that the Messiah must suffer, which they don’t fully understand. They see, but not clearly.

So, all that to say, that the reason that Jesus heals the blind men in two stages could be part of what Jesus was teaching his disciples. Also, from the way Mark has shaped his narrative, it seems clear that this is his intent, to highlight this theme (because he could have recorded these narratives differently, or not recorded that it took Jesus two times to heal the blind man). This passage along with its broader context give a glimpse into the nature of the discipleship of Jesus' closest followers.


It will take much study and submission to Scripture to avoid being counted as those who have eyes but do not see, and those who have ears but do not hear. Only by his grace . . .

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I sporadically blog at Canon Studies about (you guessed it), "Canon Studies."

I also occasionally post annotations that I make as I read Cormac McCarthy at "Reading Cormac McCarthy."

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Says Simpleton is (c) Ched Spellman
2006-15

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