This passage initially reminds me of an event we run for older children at Easter, called Easter Cracked. It’s great fun, and a brilliant way of introducing the Easter story – as part of this event, I usually have to dress up as ‘Mr Easter Egghead’, which involves donning a ridiculous costume, complete with super-thick specs. The children all shout and laugh as I stagger up the aisle to ask them lots of questions – but truthfully I can’t do much else but stagger: the specs are so thick I can barely see! I feel like the chap in the middle of today’s passage: everyone just looks like trees wandering around. Less egghead, more egg-eyes – get the yolk?
Today’s miracle follows hot on the heels of several others, and bears closest comparison with Jesus’ healing of a deaf and mute man at the end of chapter 7. There’s more saliva involved: but before we get caught up with the yucky details, Mark has a deeper purpose here. This miracle is more than just a wonderful story of transformation, though it is that: it is a parable in itself. What happens to the blind man in Bethsaida mirrors what is happening in the disciples’ consciousness.
Like a good game of football, Mark is a gospel of two halves. In the first half, Mark encourages us to ask: who is Jesus? In the second half, the underlying question changes to: why did Jesus come? As we near the end of the first half, questions of identity have come to the fore. Jesus is rejected at Nazareth, demonstrates his divinely royal authority feeding the 5,000 and declares the Jewish food laws fulfilled (though we don’t know why yet). The pointers are all there….
….but still the disciples don’t get it. This is clear from the episode in the boat in the previous reflection. Jesus’ conversation with the disciples bears a whiff of exasperation: ‘Do you still not understand?’ (v21)
So, we come to today’s miracle: this is one of the very few miracles of Jesus which takes place in stages: the man’s sight is partially restored first, before being fully restored. Why is that? It’s not because Jesus was having an off day, and certainly not because his technique was ‘wrong’. No – this is really a parable of the disciples’ understanding of Jesus’ identity: they are starting to perceive, albeit a bit fuzzily… and then in the next passage (tomorrow) one of them finally gets it! ‘You are the Messiah.’ Bingo! Finally….
Let’s not be too hard on the disciples: they are so like us! For many of us, our understanding of who Jesus is came equally slowly, perhaps even more so. But let’s thank God that we (finally) got there – and let’s also pray to keep growing in understanding: for the more we know, the more we will love; and the more we love, the more we will live.