The following is one of the strangest stories in the Gospels and is found only in St Mark (8:22-25). Not only is this account not in the other Gospels, nothing even resembling it can be found. So it’s worth examining, to see what we can learn.
“Some people brought to [Jesus] a blind man and begged him to touch him. And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village. And when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, ‘Do you see anything?’ And he looked up and said, ‘I see men; but they look like trees, walking.’ Then again he laid his hands upon his eyes. And he looked intently and was restored and saw everything clearly.”
One detail we can clear up right away is that this man was not, as was the man in John 9, blind from birth. He must have lost his sight later in life. If, in his partially restored condition, he could say that he saw men, but they looked like trees, then he must already have known what both men and trees looked like. But this is not the point of the story.
The incredible and unique issue is that in this case only in all the Gospels, Jesus laid hands on someone to heal him, and he wasn’t completely healed! Was the Lord not feeling well that day, or did he forget his prayers that morning, or were his miraculous powers somehow defective or running out? No, of course not. There’s another unique detail in this account that makes it clear that Jesus knew exactly what He was doing. In all other healing miracles, Jesus either touches the sick person or addresses the person or the illness or the demon, without ever questioning them about the results. In this present case only, Jesus asked if he could see anything—which means He knew very well that his sight was not fully restored. He then laid his hands on the blind man again and completely healed him.
There’s still another detail that indicates Jesus deliberately wanted to handle this case differently from the others. In other healings crowds were present, or at least those who brought the person for healing. But here, once the people brought the blind man, Jesus took Him by the hand and led him out of the village. This was meant to be a personal encounter with Jesus and the blind man alone. What must it have been like for the man to walk hand in hand with the Son of God to a place where they could be alone together!
We may never know for sure why Jesus healed the man in two stages, and why the first stage was not only diminished sight, but distorted sight. The man didn’t see men that were merely blurred or out of focus; he saw men that looked like trees! We find nothing in the text of the Gospel to explain this; the narrative immediately moves on to another place and event and this healing is never referred to again. But I think the evangelist recounted this event to teach something to his readers.
It is clear from all the other healing accounts in the Gospels that Jesus has full authority and power to remove instantly and totally any illness or infirmity. But I think St Mark wanted to include this event in his Gospel so that we might understand why we aren’t always completely healed when we turn to the Lord. The likely reason is that there is some defect in us: an obstacle created by sin, lack of faith and trust, or perhaps an incapacity to receive what God wishes to grant—due to spiritual immaturity, lack of purity of heart or some other reason.
But it may also be that this is simply the way God wills it. Perhaps his gradual work of enlightenment or healing is a way of keeping us in constant reliance upon Him, constant dialogue with Him, which means being in constant relationship with Him. God didn’t become man merely to heal our illnesses or compensate for our defects. He came to take us to Himself, to deliver us from evil and to lead us to eternal life. Physical or other healings may indeed be a part of the process, but they are means and not ends.
We are also perhaps instructed by this account that a little enlightenment, like a little knowledge, can be a dangerous thing. How many people, having just begun to learn something about the Lord, think that they are already qualified to be teachers and then proceed to foist their own ideas and opinions on others as if they were the word of God? True, such people may no longer be as blind as they were; they have begun to see. But what they presently see is as far from the whole truth as trees walking are from men walking. The whole life of faith is a gradual enlightenment, and the Lord must repeatedly lay his hands upon the eyes of our souls to sharpen our perception and ensure that we see clearly what He wants us to see.
I think we ought to go to the Lord in prayer and ask Him for an evaluation of our spiritual vision. Maybe we think we see clearly while all the time there is some distortion. Maybe He needs to lay hands upon us yet again so that we can see things as they really are and thus be in a better position to do his will.
Let Jesus take you by the hand and lead you away from the crowds, that is, the busyness of daily life. Go with Him to a quiet place, you and Him alone. “Do you see anything?” Turn to the Lord, look intently, clear out all inner obstacles to the purity of heart which enables us to see God. And your sight will be fully restored.