Jesus and his disciples 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.’
Jesus asked the blind man: Can you see anything?
Of all the wondrous works of healing that Jesus performed throughout his earthly ministry, this is possibly the most intriguing. Unlike most of the accounts of Jesus healing people, the healing of the blind man at Bethsaida contains a remarkable amount of detail about how that miracle was achieved. It also contains an account of Jesus having to persist and back up his first actions with a second plan. In response to Jesus’ question: Can you see anything? it becomes clear that things are still confused and confusing. Rather than seeing people clearly, he sees what looks like trees, walking. Then we read of Jesus laying his hands on the man’s eyes again. It is only after this second laying on of hands that the man’s sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. So, why does this moment in Bethsaida intrigue me? Because of the man’s faith, Jesus’ willingness to offer healing, the man’s not engaging fully with what Jesus was offering him, and Jesus persisting until the healing was brought about.
In the 13th chapter of Matthew’s gospel Jesus speaks of those who see but do not perceive, and those who hear but do not listen. Sometimes the blindingly obvious evades us because it does not fit with the answer we have constructed for ourselves. I used to work with someone whose eyesight as a child was extremely poor. She constructed a strategy for daily life that meant that no one really understood how bad her eyesight was until she was eight years old. Then, having had her eyesight properly tested and corrected with spectacles she suddenly realised that trees were not massive green blobs, but that they had individual leaves upon them. The blind man at Bethsaida is very like my one-time colleague. He had constructed a view of the world for himself, a view that took persistence on Jesus’ part to correct.
Too often we are like the blind man at Bethsaida. Too often we live within a framework we have constructed for ourselves, a framework that leaves no room for the reality of God’s presence in this world. Today we are being called to set aside the world as we would have it be, and to step into the reality of God’s world. Today we are being encouraged to accept that God’s world is so much more wonderful than the limited and tainted realities we create for ourselves. Today we are being urged to step into God’s world and share the amazing vision he gives us of just how wonderful his creation really is.
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