They came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Can you see anything?” And the man looked up and said, “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.” Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Then he sent him away to his home, saying, “Do not even go into the village.” –Mark 8:22-26
I love this little passage. I come back to it all the time. It’s visual and tactile, it’s relational, and it seems to be a moment to pay attention to in the sometimes overwhelming call to “Follow Jesus.” Earlier in the gospel Mark, Jesus heals people by showing his very “God on earth” power. He snaps his fingers, says it will be so, and it happens. For example, he rebukes the unclean spirit at the temple in 1:23-28 and he tells the paralyzed man he is forgiven in 2:5. These healings that only require Jesus’ words draw a crowd, indeed. But instead of love and faith, people react to him with fear and awe.
By Ch 8, Jesus has shifted his approach. His tactics have changed immensely. With this blind man, Jesus touches him- he takes him by the hand and leads him away from the crowds. This is not about the spectacle or showing off. This is about the man being able to see. Instead of just words, and even more intimate than a touch, Jesus uses his own spit to heal the man. This always makes me think of a loving mother using her own spit to wipe some spaghetti sauce of the chin of her child. It’s very intimate.
But Jesus’ divine spit doesn’t work the first time. And the man is brave enough to admit it to Jesus. Can you imagine this man, being taken by the hand of the one who is whispered about as the Messiah, and saying to him that he didn’t fully restore his sight? Seeing people look like trees is not enough. What works? Jesus looking at the man intently. It takes relationship. Time. Intention. It takes Jesus fully seeing the man for the man to be able to fully see.
This is a gem of a passage. It is so accessible to me that if I were to read it every morning, I know I would become a better person. In a society that values independence and anonymity, intimacy feels counter-cultural. Friends take the time to see each other clearly. We grow to love each other deeply. Jesus shows us that we have to put some skin in the game if we want to come out transformed. We can form life-long relationships with people human-made boundaries are separating us from. Maybe most importantly, if Jesus didn’t get it right the first time, it’s okay for us to keep working every day to look intently and really see people clearly.
Part of the work of the gospel, I think, in our paid and unpaid life, to follow Jesus by taking unexpected and vulnerable friends by the hand away from the crowds, looking at them intently, and seeking mutual healing. By searching for the humanity of another, may we more clearly see the world and find our own humanity as well.