Episode #38 Why did Jesus Spit on a Blind Man?!
Today’s passages features a Genesis episode (chapter 40) where Joseph gets out of jail because of his ability to interpret dreams. I ALMOST did that as the focus passage for the day in order to ask the question: Does God STILL speak to His people in dreams and visions? However, since Joseph interprets some more dreams in tomorrow’s Genesis passage, we will wait one more day to have that discussion. I erroneously told you yesterday that today’s Job 6 passage featured more of Eliphaz’s blather, but I was factually incorrect – it actually has Job’s reply, which is much more solid. In Romans 10, we are reading about the incredibly glorious truth of righteousness by faith alone, and Mark 10 sees Jesus teaching about marriage and divorce, as well as challenging the Rich Young Ruler to give it all away.
We do have a submitted question to cover today, and it actually came from two listeners! As mentioned yesterday, my old friend Cortney Johnson from Birmingham wrote in and said:
“I would love for you to expand, if possible, on Mark 8 :22-26. Verse 24 has always captured my attention. There are no mistakes by Jesus, or accidents. I would love your insights on what this means and why it is in the Bible. My wife Susan and I love this podcast!“
Cortney and Sudan were the parents of some wonderful teenagers in a youth-group I pastored in the 90s. Not my first ministry job, but my first real ministry job as an adult. They were some of the best parents, counselors and leaders I have every worked with – church people like them are worth their weight in inkjet ink, or platinum, or palladium, or plutonium, or whatever material is worth at least 100 times the value of gold. They have seen extreme suffering in this life – the kind of pain that nobody should ever had to walk through. I know it has crushed them many times over, but they have stayed faithful, and hundreds of people have seen that and rejoiced and been strengthened by their testimony. I look forward to the day that Jesus returns and wipes every tear from their eyes. Maranatha! One of the hardest things in ministry is leaving one church (and the amazing people there) and moving to another. God has blessed my family to give us incredible people in every church that we’ve served in, but leaving behind those incredible people to move onto the next assignment, or the next state, can be heart-rending. I’m glad we have eternity to look forward to in order to see those relationships reconnected and deepened.
Interestingly, our 8 year old daughter asked me the same exact question that Cortney did on the way home from cheer-leading tonight, so I am delighted to take a stab at an answer here. It is important for me to note that ‘a stab at an answer,’ is about as good as we can do here, because the Bible does not explain this unique situation to us at all. To review, here is the passage:
22 They came to Bethsaida. They brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him. 23 He took the blind man by the hand and brought him out of the village. Spitting on his eyes and laying his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?”24 He looked up and said, “I see people—they look like trees walking.”25 Again Jesus placed his hands on the man’s eyes. The man looked intently and his sight was restored and he saw everything clearly. 26 Then he sent him home, saying, “Don’t even go into the village.”Mark 8:22-26
The MOST curious thing to me is that Jesus SPIT in the man’s eyes! Nobody’s asked about that one, but the best answer I have heard for why Jesus would do this came from John Calvin, who suggested that Jesus healed people in a variety of ways in order to show that the power for healing was not from a specific METHOD but from Himself and His Father. The question Cortney asked, and the question that Phoebe asked, however boils down to this: Why did it take TWO times to heal this man’s eyes? It is an excellent question, because this is the only two-stage healing by Jesus in the entire Bible. There are two primary theories that seek to answer this question, and I favor the second one over the first.
Theory #1, put forward by pastor Ray Pritchard, and many others, is that the blind man needed two touches to demonstrate how important spiritual vision is, and how it takes some time (not instantly!) to attain it. Pritchard connects this episode to the episode above it in Mark 8 where the disciples believe that Jesus has warned them about the yeast/leaven of the pharisees because they forgot bread. If you will remember, Jesus is frustrated with the disciples’ lack of understanding and says to them, “having eyes, do you not see?!” Pritchard believes the two-stage healing is a demonstration of the way that spiritual vision develops in us. Click the link below for the whole article, but the gist is this:
It’s possible to have eyes and not see very clearly.https://www.keepbelieving.com/sermon/men-as-trees-walking/
And that’s precisely what Jesus was saying to his disciples. “Do you have eyes and yet not see what I am saying?” “Do you have eyes and yet not see clearly who I am?” Cloudy spiritual vision afflicts every Christian to some degree. None of us sees as clearly as we would like for now we see through a glass darkly. Or we see as if we are looking at a cloudy mirror. Eugene Peterson catches the meaning with this paraphrase: “We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist” (1 Corinthians 13:12 MSG). That applies to all of us.Squinting through a fog. Peering through a mist. That’s what this blind man experienced. When he was partially healed, he saw men as trees walking. No one sees life with perfect clarity. All of us have spiritual nearsightedness to one degree or another.
That is certainly a possible interpretation, and one that would be accurate and not contradicted by other passages. I tend to believe that Jesus or Mark, in writing this episode, would draw our attention to this a little more clearly, but this could definitely be your answer. My answer is somewhat more mundane, but also a bit more plausible. I think our big clue is in verse 23, “He took the blind man by the hand, and brought him out of the village,” Now that is a strange thing for Jesus to do – why did He do it?! My theory is that Bethsaida was very similar to Nazareth. If you will recall, Jesus traveled to Nazareth, His hometown, in the middle of His ministry. The people there mocked Him and rejected Him, and Mark closes the account of Jesus’ visit to Nazareth with this chilling passage:
4 Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown, among his relatives, and in his household.” 5 He was not able to do a miracle there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6 And he was amazed at their unbelief.Mark 6:4-6
The general unbelief and lack of faith in a particular area, like Nazareth, somehow prevented many miracles being done in that place. Interestingly, it appears that Bethsaida was a similarly dull spiritual place. Consider Jesus’ rebuke of Bethsaida in Matthew 11:
20 Then he proceeded to denounce the towns where most of his miracles were done, because they did not repent: 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented in sackcloth and ashes long ago.Matthew 11:20-21
I believe that Jesus took the man out of town before He healed him because of the lack of spiritual receptivity in Bethsaida. That two touches were needed before full healing happened seems to me to indicate that a Nazareth type dampening situation was occurring. A big objection here might be that I might be saying that there was something that Jesus could not do, and I suppose that is indeed what I am implying. Jesus was FULLY God and FULLY man while on earth – I believe in and absolutely affirm what theologians call the hypostatic union. I stand with Athanasius! That said, we know of at least two places in Scripture where there seem to be ….I struggle to get the right word here….limits? on the omnipotence of Jesus. The Mark 6:5 passage is one. “He was NOT able…” Jesus’ lack of knowing the exact date and hour of His return is another. (Only the Father knows, according to Jesus)
Take this answer with a salt-shaker or two. I love this question, and am quite comfortable speculating on questions like this, as long as we are clear that we are engaging in speculating. It is dangerous to confidently answer questions like this with our opinion, or with something that we have deduced from the Bible, or something like that. I love it when Sherlock puts the clues together and solves a mystery, but this is totally different. Questions like these, which begin with something like, ‘Why did God do X,” or “Why did Jesus do X,” must be answered with many disclaimers, because His ways are NOT our ways and His thoughts are NOT our thoughts. His ways are higher, and therefore we will NOT be able to effectively guess His motivations very well when we aren’t directly told why He did something. I hope that makes sense!