THEN A SECOND TIME Jesus laid hands on his eyes, and he saw perfectly. That Jesus cured a blind man through his word and touch of his hand was one of numerous healings performed by our Lord in the course of his ministry. He had, on numerous occasions, not only preached to various groups of common people, in various areas of Israel. He cured many in towns and villages of his own province of Galilee, many near the large lake where Peter and John and other disciples had made their living by fishing. But we also find him in the lowlands of the Jordan valley. He cured a blind man one day near Jericho where he was accompanied, we are told, by a large crowd of enthusiastic followers. On that occasion the healing he brought was effected effortlessly, without employing any special rite, simply by the brief statement: “Recover your sight. Your faith has saved you.” Upon saying this, Saint Luke adds, “Then he immediately recovered his sight.” Luke uses the word parachrema in Greek, thus making the point that the miracle took place instantaneously and was all the more impressive for its being so dramatically immediate. (Luke 18: 43) Mark, who also recounts this miracle, emphasizes the same fact that rendered this healing of blindness all the more striking for the swiftness of the recovery of sight at the mere word of Jesus. Mark here uses the term euthus that can mean forthwith, without delay, or, when used in connection with the act of seeing, means to see straight..

And so it seems there is a special significance to the fact that in today’s Gospel text, Mark describes in detail another healing of a blind man of Bethsaida that differs notably in one respect from that of the same kind of miraculous recovery of sight that took place near Jericho. For in today’s healing account, the recovery is not at all immediate; the blind man does not see forthwith upon Jesus’ words and the rite of anointing the eyes with his saliva. This is the only occasion when our Lord encounters a certain resistance in the form of a gradual, delayed response of the disability to his efforts. At first, although there is an improvement of the condition, yet it is partial and inadequate. The Lord, however, is not troubled by this limited success; rather, he takes it in stride and returns to the patient without complaint or further comment. After simply placing his hands upon his eyes a second time, the man fully recovers his sight.

It is the context in which this account is embedded that suggests the unexpressed message conveyed by this particular, even unique, feature of a healing performed by our Lord. The gradual healing of this sufferer suggests the resistance of Peter and the other apostles to the message of the cross that they had so much difficulty in assimilating. Peter was able to understand that the attractive man at whose word he had left all to become his disciple was the chosen Messiah, deliverer of his people. However, he could not realize that this unique envoy of God was destined by the Father to effect his mission through rejection and by suffering a painful death.. He came to grasp this mysterious truth only after the resurrection. Only through a gradual process did Jesus make the true meaning of the cross understood even to his closest disciples. Only in steps did Peter come to realize that suffering was the way chosen by God to effect the fullness of light that characterizes the new life of those healed by Christ. Mark’s account of the gradual healing of the blind man of Bethsaida in a subtle way thus suggests the progressive assimilation of our Lord’s mission to effect salvation through death on the cross. 

This is a difficult teaching that we poor mortals like Peter, resist assimilating so as to live by this mystery of life through suffering and death, but our Lord does not abandon us in our blind resistance.  He continues to draw near and approach us with his healing word and by the touch of his Spirit. He continues his healing work today and in this place among us, in the words of his Gospel and in the Eucharist we offer trustingly at this altar. Confident that in his loving mercy, he will in the end, bestow on us the great gift of the eternal vision of the Trinity.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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