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Beginning to See Clearly - January 2012

Who doesn’t love a quick fix? 

Our culture is often criticized for its impatient desire for instant gratification, yet ancient stories in the Bible are full of quick fixes.  Jesus’ miracles feed thousands, calm storms, heal severe diseases, exorcise demons, and even raise the dead in the space of just a few verses.  There’s nothing Jesus can’t handle in an instant, right?

That all sounds great … until you read Mark 8:22-26.  This story shows Jesus trying to heal a blind man – and failing!  Jesus spits on the guy’s eyes and touches him, then asks if he can see anything.  The man gives a very bizarre response about seeing people who look like trees walking around.  He obviously is not seeing clearly.  Jesus has to touch the man again to restore his sight.  Why did Jesus not heal him fully the first time?  The fact that this story is recorded in Mark and nowhere else is especially interesting.  Mark says things happen “immediately” nearly 40 times in his 16 short chapters, yet he alone tells a story where Jesus’ healing was not immediate.

Studying this story, I found a scholar who suggested that this non-instant account contains more historical detail than most miracle stories and should therefore inform our understanding of how Jesus’ other miracles occurred.  That is, most of the gospel narratives don’t detail how Jesus did his miracles; they tend to emphasize why he did them or the results they caused.  In Mark 8:22-26 we get a rare glimpse between the cause and the effect to see the process.

I was curious to see for myself if there are other miracle stories that indicate Jesus working through a non-instant process.  I found Luke 17:14-15, stating that 10 lepers were healed “as they went,” and one of them turned back “when he saw that he was healed.”  I found Luke 8:28-29 and their parallel Mark 5:7-8, which indicate an extended process of exorcism after Jesus had already commanded the demon to leave the man.  I found Mark 9:25-26 and the parallel Luke 9:42, which show a time of struggle during an exorcism (Matthew 17:18 tells the same story slightly differently, for an interesting comparison).  These are subtleties that I had not noticed before.  I had to look beneath the familiar surface to begin to see that some of these stories could involve healing by process.  I still have to read closely to search for similar clues in other stories.

Getting back to Mark 8:22-26, I wondered what the blind man must have felt like when he was not healed instantly.  Jesus had taken him aside and attempted to heal him, but without success.  I would understand if he felt frustrated, angry, or disappointed.  Such feelings could have caused him to walk away, doubting that Jesus had the ability to heal him fully.  Then I had a scarier thought – what if the man had been satisfied with his partial sight?  He could have been thankful for what (little) Jesus had done.  He could have been happy that his situation had improved and walked away, thinking that Jesus was done.  In this case the man’s attitude would be much better, but he still would have missed the fullness of what Jesus had for him.

I was scared by the second case because I fear that is the one that I enact in my own life.  I haven’t had many moments where I turned from God in anger or disappointment, but I have turned in premature thankfulness.  Complacency in me has masqueraded as thankfulness and caused me to be too easily satisfied.

Whether out of frustration or complacency, leaving God’s presence causes you to miss something great.  If things aren’t going well, don’t leave – stay in front of Jesus.  If things are going well, don’t leave – stay in front of Jesus!  Stay.  You don’t want to miss the full process he has for you.

To his credit, the man in Mark 8:22-26 stayed with Jesus.  To our great hope, Jesus stayed with him too.

And they come to Bethsaida.  And they bring to Jesus a vision-impaired man, and they urge Jesus so that he might touch the man.  And after seizing the hand of the vision-impaired man Jesus brought him out from the village, and after spitting in his eyes, Jesus placed his hands upon the man; he demanded of him, “Do you see anything?”  And after looking up the man said, “I see people . . . that are like trees . . . I perceive them walking about . . .”  After that Jesus again placed his hands upon the man’s eyes, and Jesus looked fixedly, and Jesus restored, and the man began to see all clearly.  And Jesus sent him to his house saying, “You may not go into the village.” – Mark 8:22-26