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 upon him, he asked him, "Do you see anything?" And he looked up and said, "I see men; but they look like trees, walking." Then again he laid his hands upon his eyes; and he looked intently and was restored, and saw everything clearly. And he sent him away to his home, saying, "Do not even enter the village" (Mark 8:22–26).
Right before this peculiar miracle of Jesus healing the man in stages, Jesus chides his disciples for having eyes [but] not seeing, and having ears [but] not hearing (8:18). They follow him, they watch him, they hear him, but they see and hear only obscurely, not yet trusting him with all their heart, not yet hoping in him beyond expectation, not yet loving him completely. Do you not yet understand? (8:21) is the last thing he says to them, and then they witness this peculiar miracle.
In and through his own body – his spittle, his hands – Jesus works on the blind man. He touches the man's sick eyes directly, and the cure sets in. Watching this, the disciples see the power of Jesus' body, perceiving how his spittle and flesh touching another's body brings about healing. But they don't see the healing happen all at once; they see it occur in stages. And so by watching this blind man receive the gift of sight in stages, they gaze upon a mirror of themselves: they who see but do not see fully, they who hear but do not hear well.
Right afterwards, Peter sees what he didn't see before – "You are the Christ" (8:29) – but he immediately reveals just how blurry his vision still is – And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him (8:32). He's seen but does not see and he's heard but has not listened – not with all his heart, all his mind, all his strength. He's and the other disciples are being cured, in stages, to the extent that they are able, or rather willing.
For those who have become blind and deaf to the Messiah given to us in the flesh, moving out of our old ways and customs and preconceived notions is never immediate. We are healed in stages. We must first be broken from what we clung to before, then we must learn what is true, and then we shall come to delight in this new gift. In the mystical tradition, these are called the stages of purgation, illumination, and perfection. In sum, this is how we grow accustomed to Jesus' touch, for it is the power of God that is communicated to us in and through his body.
We resist that power because it changes us, and change is hard, just like being healed is often hard and tiring. But once the cure has set in, we start to see something new and hope grows. The way forward to the fullness of health opens wider, and yet it will require more change, and more change is daunting.
It's tempting to turn back, as Peter did, to the old ways. Jesus knows this, which is why he commands that once blind man: "Do not even enter the village" (8:26). The disciples hear this, too. They know something of their own bad habits: the things they watch, the things they hear, and the things they do that make them sick, leaving them blind and deaf and unreceptive to this new gift in Jesus, whom they trust and follow and love, but not yet all the way. So Jesus tells them to stay away from what makes them sick in the first place; instead, cling to me, in the flesh.
Prayer: Divine Healer, don't let go of me. Keep me close to you. Heal me.