All four gospels attest to that Jesus performed physical healings. But the evangelists are also interested in the deeper meaning of those physical healings. They also symbolize spiritual healing. This is especially easy to understand in the case of healings from blindness. In the episode immediately preceding the healing of the blind man of Bethsaida, where Jesus is portrayed as scolding the disciples for their failure to understand his reference to “the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of the Herodians,” he asks, “Do you still not understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes and not see?” Clearly, he is not referring to physical blindness here. He is using sight metaphorically, the way we do when we ask, “Do you see what I’m saying?” It is the seeing of understanding.
Once we make that connection, we can see why Mark placed the odd two-stage healing of the blind man of Bethsaida right before Jesus asks the disciples about who people think he is. The healing parallels exactly the situation of Peter. When Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter gets it half right. That is, he correctly identifies Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah, but he fails to understand what Messiah means in Jesus’ case. When Jesus mentions rejection and death, Peter rebukes him. In other words, Peter shows that he “sees” half way. Indeed, throughout the next two chapters of Mark all the of disciples show that they are, to a great extent, spiritually blind. The second time Jesus predicts his passion and death, they argue about which of them is “the greatest.” And the third time he makes the same prediction, James and John ask for the top spots when Jesus comes into his kingdom (10:35-37). After each of these misunderstandings, Jesus teaches them what it means to truly follow him (to bear one’s own cross, to serve one another). But they remain clueless. Finally, we come to the second healing from blindness in Mark, the healing of Bartimaeus (10:46-52). Jesus asks him the same question he had asked James and John, “What do you want me to do for you?” Unlike the disciples, this man knows he is blind. He says, “Master, I want to see.” “Go your way,” Jesus tells him. “Your faith has saved you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way.
Mark has framed this whole section about training the disciples with the healings from blindness for two reasons: (1) to show how the disciples needed to be healed from their blindness regarding the true nature of Jesus’ Messiaship, and consequently about what it means to be Jesus’ follower; (2) Mark expects his audience (including us) to identify with the blind disciples and to face the fact that we, too, may need to be healed from our own blindness regarding who Jesus is and what it means to follow him. Now take some time today and read Mark 8 through 10 and see if you come to see Jesus and yourself in a fresh way.
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