January 5, 2015
Dear brothers and sisters,
It’s been a busy holiday season! Today’s good news is from Mark 8:22-26.
When they arrived at Bethsaida, they brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. Putting spittle on his eyes he laid his hands on him and asked, “Do you see anything?” Looking up he replied, “I see people looking like trees and walking.” Then he laid hands on his eyes a second time and he saw clearly; his sight was restored and he could see everything distinctly. Then he sent him home and said, “Do not even go into the village.”
What is Matthew trying to tell me in this story? Why did Jesus take the man outside of the village? It’s the only healing or miracle I can think of that took Jesus two tries. It was a gradual process, not producing the immediate cure that is described in other healings. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary speculates that Matthew used this story to symbolize the disciples’ gradual and imperfect understanding of Jesus’ impending death and resurrection. This passage immediately follows the scene where the disciples had forgotten to bring bread with them on the boat as they were crossing to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus asked them, “Do you not yet understand or comprehend? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes and not see, ears and not hear? And do you not remember, when I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many wicker baskets full of fragments you picked up?”
So, does this gradual healing expose Jesus’ limitations or the blind man’s or both? Another way of asking that question is whether my limited sight or understanding is Jesus’ fault or mine? Then the answer seems clear — it is my limitations.
I am struck first that Jesus took the man by the hand and led him. I love that image! I just finished writing a presentation that I’ll be giving on God’s Word at the upcoming men’s retreat at Benedictine Abbey. I used that image of God leading me by the hand to His Son Jesus. What a personal, inviting thing for Jesus to do —to take the man’s hand and lead him. And the blind man trusted Jesus to lead him, trusted him to heal his blindness. It requires both elements — Jesus leading and the blind man trusting. So it has been for me — Jesus through the Holy Spirit leading me and my willingness to trust with the expectation of being healed, of being made whole.
Jesus took the man outside of the village, away from distractions, forcing him to give up his comfort within familiar surroundings. That’s what I need as well — to be taken out of my comfort zone, my usual way of living and being. That’s why I’m so looking forward to this retreat in a few weeks. For most of the last year I feel like I’m being called to meditate. I have good intentions, but I haven’t done it so far. Franciscan Richard Rohr among many others strongly advocates meditation, silence, as a way of opening oneself to the Holy Spirit, of being one with God. So, it doesn’t require a retreat to free myself of the distractions in my life, of my busyness. It just takes a few minutes every day to just rest in God, to recognize Him and His love for me in the depth of my being. And yet I still resist in the face of a laundry list of other things to do that I somehow think are more important — the same thing I’m inclined to do in my human love relationships.
This healing took place in stages. So does mine. Every time I read the gospels or talk with God or try to comprehend Him I come closer to Him. I am healed, made whole, a little bit each time. For me it’s a very gradual process. Obviously, it’s not God’s limitation. I am an evolving, developing human being. At every step I deepen my understanding of my self, of other, and of God. It’s a natural progression; there aren’t any shortcuts. But sometimes I do harden my heart like the disciples. Sometimes, in spite of what I’ve experienced of God’s love, it seems I’ve forgotten all those experiences and lessons. I fail to trust Him and fall back into the habit of trying take control, to fix myself and others, to fool myself into thinking that I’m God, that I’m perfect!
But then He reaches out His hand to lead me once again outside the village and once again effect a miracle, healing me of my sin, of my stubbornness and disobedience, of my selfishness and hardness of heart. It’s a gradual process, a lifelong project! But that’s the way it’s supposed to be. However, He warns me not to go back to where I was, not to relapse but to go forward. Always moving closer to union with Him, to new life. That’s what this story tells me. It’s very encouraging.