Conrad Gempf: 5th Sparrow

June 2003
A spit-in-your-eye miracle
Previous 5th Sparrows

Comment on this column JOHN'S GOSPEL emphasizes that the things Jesus did weren't always about what they seemed to be about. I mean, healing people seems pretty worthwhile in its own right, right? But for John, these things are "signs" – events that point past themselves to more important truths.

The other Gospels don't make this as painfully obvious as John does, but it's true for them, too.

At least I hope so, because it's the only way that I can make sense out of the crazy healing in Mark 8:22-26. This is the one where this blind man is brought before Jesus and, after spitting in his eyes, the guy can see again. Kinda. He sees things, but not clearly – he tells Jesus he sees people like trees, walking.

I'm reminded of my eye examinations, wearing those complicated eyeglass contraptions and the guy dropping different lenses in and out: "Which is clearer? Number one or number two? One? Or Two?"

Was Jesus testing out this blind man's new prescription? "Trees? Or people?"

But probably not. Probably this healing of literal blindness speaks to the disciples of their growing spiritual "sight". It's sandwiched in between two episodes that speak of their blindness. And in the very next story in Mark, Peter is going to express his regained but imperfect sight: he confesses Jesus as Messiah, but can't see clearly enough to perceive Messiah's role. Not yet.

His, too, will be a two-stage gift of sight. As the Bruce Cockburn song goes, "Lord, spit in our eyes that we might see."

Dr Conrad Gempf is a lecturer in New Testament at London Bible College. He also writes for and edits the monthly webzine there.

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