One of my favorite stories of Jesus is found in Mark 8:22-26. It is the unusual healing of the blind man from Bethsaida. What makes this real life parable so amazing is the unique movement of Jesus and the blind man and what Jesus says at the end. (When I say real life parable, that doesn’t mean it did not happen…it simply points to this event as a teaching story…as Mark’s way of trying to point out how Jesus wanted all those who are blind to see…the physically blind, like this man…and the spiritually blind, like the disciples and us.)
Mark 8:22-23a, “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…”
Many years ago, Rev. Grace Imathiu who was born and raised in Kenya, shared with me that in Eastern and African cultures a village is more than a geographical location. A village is an identity, a culture, the people, the norms, the beliefs, and the worldviews. The village is made up of houses and boundaries, but it is much more than that. So when Jesus meets the man in Bethsaida, the first thing he does is take him out of the village – remove him from his defined identity. This is a powerful first step in healing. In his village, he was a blind man – beggar, doesn’t contribute to the whole, no family, no children, no productive work, no value. That is who the village says he is. In order to be healed, he has to be removed from those ‘village’ definitions. Jesus takes him by the hand and leads him out.
Mark 8:23b-24, “…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.”
A lot of people, including me, have struggled with this passage. It takes two attempts to heal the man. That really doesn’t happen in healing stories with Jesus. What’s going on? It seems there are two important lessons for us:
- Healing is a process that takes time. Anyone who needs healing of body, mind, spirit, or relationships knows that healing isn’t immediate. It takes time. Just about every other healing story in the New Testament is immediate. That causes a lot of people to ask, “Why doesn’t Jesus heal me completely and immediately?” This story reminds us of the process of healing.
- Healing also involves our participation. We have to participate in healing and wholeness. While Jesus’ healing powers are not limited, we can limit the effects of grace and mercy in our lives if we refuse to receive those gifts. In John 5, Jesus asks the paralytic by a pool in Jerusalem, “Do you want to be made well?” Seems like an odd question to a man who had his infirmity for 38 years, but it makes sense. Many of us find it hard to give up the brokenness that defines us. Letting go of our brokenness and pain means finding new ways to live free…that’s not easy for everyone. (And one other thing…when we are unwilling to be healed of anger, hatred, fear, and brokenness, we see others as enemy, monster, object…tree – not as a child of God we are called to pray for and love.)
Mark 8:25-26, “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.”
My favorite part of this passage is also the most difficult. Jesus heals the man and tells him to go home, but not return to the village. He lives in the village! Jesus means, “go home, but now that you are healed and can see, I do not want you to return to the pre-defined role the people in your village had of you. You are not longer that person…you are a new creation and you need a new definition.”
So, I guess the question for us all is, “Do we want to be made whole?” And if we do, are we willing to leave our “villages” and participate in the healing Jesus has for us?