When People Look Like Trees
The man looked around. “Yes,” he said, “I see people, but I can’t see them very clearly. They look like trees walking around.”
Time and again throughout the Gospel of Mark, Jesus healed people with a simple word or touch. These healings were instantaneous, sure evidence of the power of God working through Jesus. But in Mark 8:22-26, we come upon an exceptional case. After people brought a blind man to Jesus, he took him out of the village, spit on the man’s eyes, and then laid his hands on him. This is odd, to be sure, though reminiscent of Jesus’ unusual healing of the deaf man (Mark 7:33). But what is truly startling about this story in Mark 8 is the response of the blind man to Jesus’ question: “Can you see anything now?” (8:23). “Yes,” he said, “I see people, but I can’t see them very clearly. They look like trees walking around” (8:24). Presumably, this man had been able to see earlier in life, so he had some idea what people and trees looked like. He knew that what he was seeing wasn’t quite right. (And, no, we have no evidence that the blind man was aware of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Ents!)
It’s striking that Jesus’ first attempt at healing the man appeared to have fallen short of the goal. The man was healed, but only partly. He could see, but not clearly. It took a second touch of Jesus for the man to be fully restored (8:25). We must wonder what was happening here. Why did Jesus not heal the man in the first place?
Though we cannot know for sure what motivated Jesus, it’s like he was using this healing as a kind of parable for the way Jesus’ followers “saw” him. Like the half-healed blind man, they could see Jesus, but with distorted vision. They understood him, but inadequately. Like the blind man, they would need still more grace in order to see Jesus clearly. This grace would come, to be sure, but only after the resurrection.
I wonder how much we are like the blind man in this story, or like the first disciples of Jesus. We who know Jesus through the Scriptures and have put our trust in him do see him. But all too often, our vision is blurred by the lenses through which we see Jesus. We tend to see him in light of our cultural and personal limitations. We want so much for Jesus to be what we’d like him to be that we can’t quite see him clearly. Yet, as we continue to study the Gospels, and as we surrender our agendas to God, we will grow in a right and full understanding of Jesus.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: Have you ever had an experience like that of the blind man, when you were aware that your partial vision of Jesus all of a sudden became clearer? What helps you to grow in a truthful relationship with Jesus?
PRAYER: O Lord, I so easily see myself in this story. I am like that blind man, in that your grace has touched me. You have enabled me to “see” you and have relationship with you through faith. This is, indeed, a miracle.
But I’m quite sure I don’t see you altogether clearly. My “stuff” gets in the way, rather like a lens that distorts my vision. So I ask you to help me know you more truly. As I study the Gospels, indeed, as I read your whole Word, may I come to know you as you are, not as I would like you to be. Help me to see you clearly so that I might serve you more completely in every part of my life. Amen.
Image of the oak tree is courtesy of Laity Lodge, one of our sister programs in The H. E. Butt Family Foundation. This particular image is from their 1968 summer brochure. Thank God for their good work for more than half a century!