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"I See Men Like Trees Walking"

February 16, 2011

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The cure of a blind man outside the township of Bethsaida is remarkable from more than one point of view. To start with, it’s a miracle in ‘slow motion’. In every other miracle, the healing takes place instantaneously. Here the blind man recovers his sight progressively. That's why he says, “I see men – they look like trees, but they are walking about.” In the previous chapter in Mark, chapter 7, a similar healing takes place, but of a deaf mute. There too, as in this miracle, Jesus cures by physical gesture: he spits on his eyes, lays his hands on the blind man, and heals him. Some scholars have wondered: are both these miracles really just one and the same? Probably not. In all likelihood Mark has placed two simple miracles in quick succession, with little editorial touches of his own, to illustrate the coming of the messianic age as described by the Prophet Isaiah, when he writes of the restoration of sight and hearing to those so impaired. There is a similarity between the gradual recovery of sight by the blind man, and the gradual recognition of Jesus’s messiahship by his disciples. So this cure is a prophetic gesture of Jesus symbolizing the opening of the disciples’ eyes to his messiahship. The cure of the blind man is a good example of how the Gospel texts always move on two levels: there is the obvious, physical level, of the miracle perceived by all; and there is the subtle, spiritual level, the level of faith in the Son of Man. This is not always perceived. It is often even argued over and disputed, or sometimes rejected outright by those around. But where accepted, as by those who are healed, it becomes the means of transforming their entire lives. Frequently they become disciples too.
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