Jesus was widely known during his life for his teaching and for his healing. Most places Jesus went, word that he was coming spread in front of him even though we were 2000 or so years from cell phones, internet,and even technology such as the telegraph. People would flock to where Jesus was headed to see and hear from him and receive the healing, they knew only he could offer. At one point in time (Mark 8:22-6), Jesus is heading to Bethsaida when a group hears of his travels and brings a blind man to see Jesus. Upon their requests and pleas for Jesus to make him well, Jesus puts saliva on the man’s eyes and asks him if he sees. The man replies yea, but it is kind of blurry and everything looks like trees. Then Jesus touches him again and the man is fully healed.
What exactly is going on here? Just a little bit later in Mark 10, Jesus heals Bartimaeus on the first try. Does Jesus improve his vision-repair healing abilities? Does he accidentally mess up on this attempt? I would argue that Jesus intentionally heals this man partially to begin with before healing him completely for two reasons.
1) Jesus is showing that he is the Messiah, the son of God and is far more powerful than any earthly superstition.
Pay attention to Jesus’ “attempt” to heal the blind man in Mark 8. The group who brought the man simply desired that he would be allowed to be touched by Jesus. Instead, Jesus rubs saliva on the man’s eyes and it does not quite work. So, the question we must ask as we are trying to figure out what is going on in this passage is why saliva? It was widely believed in ancient cultures that saliva had the ability to heal. I believe Jesus is attempting to show that his simple touch that completely heals the man is superior to any superstition believed in that day. One of my college professors loved this story and liked to imagine Jesus snickering as he rubbed the saliva on the guys eyes. This image helps us remember Jesus is fully human and is laughing at the idea that they believed this would work. Ultimately,this is not included in the text and therefore is cannot be held up to high, but there is a truth to be seen here. Jesus is the supreme healer because he is the son of God.
2) Jesus is showing us the dangers of not seeing him clearly for who he is.
This is an ongoing thing which Jesus is teaching, but the author of Mark does a great job in his organization to further this emphasis. If you would, imagine the two healing stories of blind men as book ends and the stories in between are being expanded on by their placement in between. In Mark 8 and Mark 10 two blind men are healed and ultimately in the story of Bartimaeus you have the beautiful revelation by a blind man of Jesus’ identity- the Son of David. In Mark 8, Peter attempts to reveal Jesus’ identity and rightly calls him the Messiah. However, like the double healing story in Mark 8, Peter and the other disciples have an impaired and blurry vision of who Jesus is. Just as the blind man in Mark 8 can only partly see, the disciples and many of those following Jesus only partly see the truth of who Jesus is.
So, what is our takeaway for this? We must let Jesus identify who he is for us. Peter rightly identified Jesus as the Messiah, but his understanding of who the Messiah was still was being influenced by his Jewish upbringing. For the rest of the gospel of Mark, Peter is wrestling with this picture and when Jesus is arrested, Peter pulls out a sword to try to fight because he still believes the Messiah will usher in an earthly kingdom. Yet Jesus has ushered in a kingdom but is not a traditional one of power that we think of. Rather, we should be more like Bartimaeus who identifies Jesus even deeper than Peter ironically, since he is blind. But we “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7, NRSV).
Allow Jesus to define who he is, not who others say he is.
There are many facets to who Jesus is. Jesus reveals himself to each of us and we lean into certain aspects of Jesus more than others. Often the views others share of Jesus with us are not wrong, but they are only partial. Rather, we spend time with Jesus in prayer and in his Word and he will reveal himself to us in ways we never could have imagined. But we must let Jesus define who he is. We must see Jesus clearly, and not in a partial,blurred, or distorted view.
Regardless, we will only see in part until we meet Jesus face to face. As Paul says, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully,even as I have been fully known” (1 Cor 13:12). Still, strive to know him more. Let Jesus define who he is and give you a clear picture of himself.