And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” And he looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.” Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. And he sent him to his home, saying, “Do not even enter the village.”
In a chapter titled “Seeing” in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard recounts the story of a young woman blinded from birth who was one of the first people to receive safe cataract surgery.
She was overwhelmed by the world’s brightness after the operation and kept her eyes shut for two weeks. When the woman finally opened her eyes again, “the more she now directed her gaze upon everything about her, the more it could be seen how an expression of gratitude and astonishment overspread her features; she repeatedly exclaimed: ‘Oh God! How beautiful!’” I wonder at this young woman’s experience of seeing for the first time and remember the blind man Jesus healed with the touch of his hand.
Jesus asks the man, “Do you see anything?” It is a question worth considering. The eyes, in the Biblical sense, are more than a complex system of optical nerves and tissue. They are mirrors of the heart, and seeing is a matter of what we most deeply believe to be true. It is possible to have 20/20 vision and remain spiritually blind.
There is more to Jesus’ two-step healing of the blind man than first meets the eye. The man is healed in part and then in full to point to the two-fold revealing of who Jesus really is. Peter rightly confesses Jesus as the Christ (Mark 8:29), but the Christ that Peter sees at first is different than the Christ who sees Him. Jesus on the cross and in the resurrection is the spiritual cataract surgery that opens our eyes to “see everything clearly.”
When the eyes of our hearts are baptized by the Spirit, we see our lives in the world with bi-focal vision. Christ has died; Christ is risen; and we live with joy and sorrow as witnesses to Christ who will come again. The already, “Oh God! How beautiful!” of Christ’s Kingdom is held together with the not-yet, “Oh God! Why?” We throw away old sin habits, and live vigorously with God by looking to Jesus, “the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross’ (Hebrews 12:2). Even as we see in a mirror dimly now, there is a coming day when we shall see face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12). “That is the heart of my hopes by day and my dreams by night,” George MacDonald writes, “to behold the face of Jesus seems to me the one thing to be desired.”