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Let me begin with a little story…
When little Helen was born, she was just like any baby girl anywhere. When she was six months old, she started to talk; and by her first birthday she had started to learn to walk. But, just short of her second birthday, little Helen got sick. She had a terrible fever. The doctors said she had “Brain Fever.”
Eventually, Helen began to recover. But her mother noticed that, when she rang the dinner bell, little Helen didn’t respond. She didn’t look around, or act like she heard it at all! In fact, when mother came to talk to her, she looked past her, as if she couldn’t see.
Poor little Helen was blind and deaf. She couldn’t talk to anyone; she couldn’t hear, and she couldn’t see. Oh, what a sad childhood she had! She couldn’t understand anyone—not even her parents. She became very unruly—day after day she would throw a temper tantrum.
She had only one little friend—little Martha Washington, who was the daughter of the family cook. Martha and Helen would play together, and they would try to communicate using some signs that they had invented. It was the best that they could do.
But little Helen’s parents wanted so badly for little Helen to learn to talk again—to learn to enjoy the world! And so they traveled to a special school for blind children, to see if they could possibly find a teach for Helen.
Finally, they found a teacher, Anne Sullivan, who was willing to come teach Helen. Anne had studied how to work with blind children, but could she teach a child who was both deaf and blind?
Anne got on a train and rode to the Keller home in Alabama. She had brought a present for little Helen: a baby doll.
When Anne arrived, as she met Helen and gave her the doll, she took Helen’s hand and spelled, using sign language: D-O-L-L.
At first, Helen was curious. “What was this little game that this lady is trying to play?” she thought. But she soon lost interest. Day after day, Anne Sullivan would work with Helen. But Helen couldn’t seem to make the connection between these words that Anne was signing into her hand, and the real-life objects and ideas she was trying to convey. It just seemed liked a game to her.
Helen kept throwing tantrums, because she was so frustrated at not being able to communicate. Her parents and Anne were at a loss to know how to help her, because she couldn’t see, and she couldn’t hear.
Anne was nearly ready to give up, but she had one more idea. You see, in the big house where she stayed, together with Helen and the whole family, there were so many distractions. Anne thought, “what if we were to move, just Helen and I, into the little cottage on the edge of the property? There, we would be away from all the commotion, and perhaps Helen would have a better chance to learn.”
So they did—the two of them moved into the little cottage. Just Anne Sullivan, and seven-year-old Helen.
One day, as Anne was trying again to get Helen to grasp some meaning in the words she was trying to communicate, she took Helen outside to the water pump. She held Helen’s hand under the faucet, and pumped the handle until the water flowed down over Helen’s small hand. Then, as the water flowed down, Anne spelled into Helen’s other hand, “W-A-T-E-R.” Water.
Suddenly, it was as if a light bulb turned on in little Helen’s mind. “WATER! That funny game that she’s playing in my hand—that’s the name for WATER!” She grabbed Anne’s hand and spelled back the word: “W-A-T-E-R.” Next Helen began pounding the ground, as if to say, “What is this called? What is it’s letter name?”
As soon as Anne Sullivan spelled this into her hand, Helen dragged her to the next object, and the next and the next. By the end of the day, Helen had learned over 30 words.
Over the next 49 years, Anne Sullivan would continue to be Helen’s teacher. From that day forward, Helen had a breakthrough. She began to learn. She went to school, and went on to college. It took 25 years before Helen would learn to speak clearly. But she did learn to speak, and she became a well-known author and speaker. She became one of the most well-known and influential women of the early 20th century.
Have you ever had a time when you felt like nothing was going your way? You felt like everything was against you, and you could never make anything of your life? Don’t be discouraged. Just like Helen Keller, you never know what God can do with your life!
Throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus was known for several things. He was known for coming close to the multitude—for taking up the cause of the poor and the outcast. He was known for opposing, and exposing, the hypocrisy of the scribes and pharisees. And, He was known for working miracles—not the least of which were his miracles of healing. Lepers were cleansed, demons were cast out; Paralytics were made to walk, the mute to speak. Even the dead were raised to life. And in a recurring theme that runs throughout the gospels, the sight of the blind was restored.
When the disciples of John came to see Jesus, while John was in prison, they witnessed the miracles that Jesus worked. He sent them back to John in Matthew 11:5, to tell what they had seen and heard: “The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them.”
What people will do in order to be able to see. The gift of sight. I think, too often, we fail to appreciate the blessings that we have. Perhaps the best way to appreciate something, is to go without it for a time, or to enter into the life of someone who can’t experience that gift in the same way we do. I shared with the children, the story of Helen Keller. Just before I left my employment at the Health Department last month, one of my co-workers shared with me his experience getting Lasik surgery. I was fascinated by his description. Now, you’d think it would be extremely painful, but he said it wasn’t really painful at all—just nerve-wracking! The whole process took less than a minute.
Once they got his eye propped open, he said he saw a bright light, and then everything went black in that eye. During the procedure, the machine literally cut the top of his eyeball off with a laser and removed it. The laser then cut very precisely to make the necessary adjustments to correct his vision, and then just as quickly, re-attached the top of his eye. Once the procedure was done, he could see a bit through that eye. After a few days, he could see much better than before, and he had the procedure done on his other eye as well.
In Mark 8 we find the story of one of Jesus miracles of healing. But in many ways, this miracle is unique among the miracles of Jesus. The other gospels mention many times when Jesus healed the blind, but in Mark we find only two instances. This one, and the healing of blind Bartimaeus on the road to Jericho.
Then He came to Bethsaida; and they brought a blind man to Him, and begged Him to touch him. (Mark 8:22)
Now, Bethsaida is a small town on the western shore of the sea of Galilee. The name means, literally, the “house of fishing.” It was the hometown of Phillip, Andrew, and Peter, according to John 1:44.
Here in the gospel of Mark, Jesus had been teaching in Galilee, and had just worked the miracle of feeding the four thousand from seven loaves of bread and a few small fish. So, Jesus comes to the fishing village, with his disciples, and already people are there, waiting to be healed. This man’s friends lead him to Jesus, and start begging him—“please, just touch him, and he will be healed.”
By this time, people had gotten to know the routine. Bring someone to Jesus—He will touch them and instantly, they’re healed. Sometimes, he doesn’t even have to touch them—he can just speak the word! But usually, he will reach out his hand and touch them, and they are healed. And the blind man and his friends fully expect Jesus to heal him at once. But he doesn’t. Instead, he reaches down, and takes the blind man by the hand, and together, the two of them start walking away. Imagine the astonishment of the crowd, as they see Jesus, leading the blind man away—down the street and out of town!
So He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the town. And when He had spit on his eyes and put His hands on him, He asked him if he saw anything. (v. 23)
So, Jesus takes him out of town, and he does the strangest thing. It says he spit on his eyes! Now that would seem to be very insulting. But from my research, it seems the word form here in the Greek, is a different word form than the one used to describe the soldiers mocking and spitting on Jesus’ face. This word is a root word which means simply “to spit.” The word used to describe the soldier’s insulting behavior means “to spit upon.”
From the context described here, Jesus used his saliva, in a sense, to anoint this man’s eyes. This word form, in fact, is only used in 3 verses in the New Testament: here, and in the previous chapter in the healing of a deaf and mute man, and in John 9 when he heals a man born blind, by spitting on the ground and anointing the man’s eyes with mud from his saliva.
But what does it mean? There was an ancient tradition, well known to the Jews of this time, that might help us to understand what’s happening here. You see, in those days, it was very very important for a family know know who was the first-born son. The legitimate first-born would be the heir to twice the inheritance of his brothers. And occasionally, there would be disputes as to who was the legitimate first-born son.
Now of course, today, if there is any dispute as to who the father of a child is, we can do DNA testing. But such technology wasn’t available back in ancient times. According to an ancient tradition, the saliva of the legitimate first-born would have miraculous properties. This is documented in ancient Jewish literature. If there was ever a dispute, the first-born son could prove his legitimacy by working a miracle with his saliva. Or so the legend goes.
Perhaps that’s similar to a common bit of folklore in east Kentucky, where I live–that the seventh son of a seventh son, or a boy who has never met his father, has special healing powers. Supposedly, such a person can cure thrush by blowing in a baby’s mouth. In ancient times, people had similar beliefs about saliva.
Jesus, throughout his life, was considered by many to be an illegitimate son. Mary and Joseph openly said that Jesus was not Joseph’s son, and Jesus never claimed Joseph as his biological father. Jesus himself claimed to be the true first-born son of God, his Heavenly father. But was He?
Surely Jesus and his followers were aware of this ancient folk-lore, and I have to think that Jesus was using this as yet one more opportunity to proclaim, Yes, I am the true, legitimate first-born son of my Heavenly Father. You think you know who I am. You go around blackening my reputation because of the circumstances of my birth. But, can you really see? If you could see clearly, you would know Who my true Father is.
So he anoints this man’s eyes, and places his hands on him, and asks him, “Can you see?” You know, the thing that impresses me so much about this story, is the personal touch of Jesus—that He would take the time to labor over this man, to restore his sight. Could Jesus have healed this man with just a word? Of course! But, I believe this passage is here to remind us that not every miracle happens in an instant. Jesus labors over this man in love, and as he works for his healing, the blind man is soaking up the love of Jesus. So Jesus asks him, “Can you see?” And for the first time, he opens his eyes and he can make out some shapes:
And he looked up and said, “I see men like trees, walking.” (v. 24)
I can see, yes. It’s better than it was before. I mean, a little eyesight is far better than none at all. I could get around like this. I can even tell where people are, because I can see them moving. Thank you, Jesus! I’m ready to go home now… Wait, no. He doesn’t leave. Because he’s expecting more. He expects to be healed, not just partially, but fully.
I wonder—how many times do we come into Jesus’ presence—we pick up His Word, read a verse or two, then say a quick prayer. And yes, we feel refreshed—we start to feel that Jesus has said a word to us, so we rush into our day. We rush away from Jesus with only blurry vision—without taking the time to let Jesus give us clear vision.
Then He put His hands on his eyes again and made him look up. And he was restored and saw everyone clearly. (v. 25)
Before we come to Jesus, we are spiritually blind. The evidences of God can be all around us, and we can be oblivious to them.
But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14)
Without the spirit of God, we cannot discern spiritual things. But once we come to Jesus, our senses become perceptive.
Let us not be like those of whom Isaiah spoke:
Go, and tell this people:‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; Keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ (Isaiah 6:9)
When a new Christian has come to Jesus, he or she begins to be able to see. He or she begins to taste of Jesus’ healing power, but at first only partially. Just like this blind man, who was totally blind, but now he can see a little. He has blurry vision.
But the more time we spend with Jesus, the more our spiritual senses are awakened. We begin to see, not as the world sees, but as God sees. But it doesn’t happen in an instant.
For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. (1 Corinthians 13:12)
Like this man, most of us don’t reach our full potential overnight. It takes more than one encounter before our lives are transformed into His image – before we see Him clearly, and fully reflect His likeness.
Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. (1 John 3:2)
How does Peter describe these new Christians, who are just coming to Jesus for the first time?
Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby. (1 Peter 2:1-2)
Did you know, when a baby is first born, it can’t see real well? In fact, most babies tend to be very near-sighted when they’re first born. They can see mother’s face, if they’re lying in her arms, but it’s hard for them to recognize someone across the room. Sort of like the blind man, after the first time Jesus anointed his eyes—he could see, but men looked like trees, walking around. He couldn’t see clearly. I wonder if you or I know any near-sighed Christians…
The Apostle Paul knew what it was like to have poor eyesight. He doesn’t speak much of his physical affliction, but in his letter to the Galatians he speaks of how these believers ministered to him. He speaks of their care and affection for him—how if it was possible they would have plucked out their own eyes and given them to him. While He cared for their spiritual vision, they ministered to his struggle because of his physical eyesight.
What about us? How do we relate to those within our church, who see things differently? How do we treat those whose spiritual eyesight is not as clear as we think ours is? Jesus asked the question:
Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? (Matthew 7:3)
How is it that we can gain that spiritual eyesight? How can we remove those “planks” or “beams” from our eyes? How can we go from having blurred vision, to seeing clearly?
I believe in Jesus miracle of healing the blind man of Bethsaida, we can find the answer.
First, the blind man must realize that he is blind. So many of us, today, don’t realize how blind we are.
Like the Laodicean church described in Revelation, we say:
“I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing”–and do not know that [we] are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked… (Revelation 3:17)
The first step for this man to come to Jesus, was to realize that he was blind, and be willing to be led into His presence.
Next, the man allows his friends to lead him to Jesus, and then lets Jesus take him by the hand and lead him. May we, like this blind man, pray:
Show me Your ways, O LORD; Teach me Your paths. Lead me in Your truth and teach me, For You are the God of my salvation; On You I wait all the day. (Psalm 25:4-5 )
The key here is this: being willing to be led to Jesus, and being willing to be led by Jesus—not knowing where life may take us, but trusting that He knows best.
Where does Jesus lead him? To a quiet place out of town, where they can be alone together. Here is another lesson for us. How can we expect to learn from Jesus–how can we expect to gain His spiritual eyesight–if we are constantly distracted by the “busyness” of life? Even Jesus and his disciples had to take time to come away from the multitude and be alone.
And He said to them, “Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” For there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat. So they departed to a deserted place in the boat by themselves. (Mark 6:31-32)
In order to gain clear vision, we have come to a place where we can be alone with Jesus. Like young Helen Keller, who had to live alone with Anne Sullivan before she could begin to learn, sometimes we have to come away from the distractions of this world, in order to learn from Jesus.
Last but not least, Jesus will bring us to the place where he can anoint our eyes with His spiritual eye-salve, and restore our spiritual vision. It doesn’t happen in a moment, but through a constant relationship with Him, until our will is united with His will, and our eyes become open to see as He sees, as our hearts grow open to Love as He loves.
“I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.” (Revelation 3:18)
What is this eye-salve? How does one come to see as God sees? How does one learn to see with spiritual eyesight? How do we learn to “see” God?
No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. (1 John 4:12-13)
For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:12-13)
May my prayer be, in the words of this beautiful hymn:
Open mine eyes that I may see
glimpses of Truth Thou hast for me.
Place in my hand the wonderful key
That shall unclasp and set me free.
Silently now I wait for Thee,
ready my God Thy will to see.
Open mine eyes; illumine me,
Spirit divine. (Charles Scott)