Beginning to Apprehend
“And he looked up, and said, I see men as trees, walking” (Mark 8:24).
Growing up in the 1970s there was an LP Record Album in my parents’ small record collection that I especially liked to listen to, “The Gospel Road Soundtrack.” At the time, the name Johnny Cash did not mean anything to me, but the song, “I See Men as Trees Walking,” had a profound effect on my perception of the story of Jesus healing a blind man.
Healing a Man Blind Since Birth
Perhaps this experience unfolded like this. In a quiet corner of a dusty old walled city street, a man sat on the lower steps of a stairway, his face pointed downward toward his hand as it slowly inched across the sandy step on which he was resting. As a group of men approached, the man lifted his head to face them, but did not make eye contact with them. His eyes did not focus on anyone in the group. His eyes looked up and then to either side, but never focused. This man had been blind since birth.
One of the approaching men asked another in the group, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither,” came the response. “This happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:2-3 NASB).
Hearing this, the blind man leaned up and toward the man speaking, facing him directly so that he could hear the words being spoken. The speaking man continued, “As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work.” As he crouched down near the blind man sitting on the stairs, the speaker added, “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (John 9:2-11 NASB).
Sensing that something was about to happen, the blind man began to take in deep breaths of anticipation. Then
something unexpected happened. The crouching man wet his fingers with saliva from his mouth and reached to the dust of the ground to create a crude clay paste on his fingertips.
As the crouching man placed his hand on the side of the blind man’s face, murmurs, voices and questions rose up from the group that was now gathered around the two. Placing his fingers with the clay paste on both of the blind
man’s eyelids, the crouching man simply said, “Go, wash in the Pool of Siloam.”
Hundreds of years before this miracle, a Prophet and his servant who were living in the ancient city of Dothan awoke one morning to find that enemy armies had surrounded their city (2 Kings 6). In the night, one of the enemy kings sent his army to capture the Prophet. The enemy king wanted to stop the Prophet from foretelling the future movement of his army and thus thwart his battle plans and surprise ambushes against Israel.
At the sight of the enemy’s vast number of chariots, shields, spears and men, the Prophet’s servant was filled with
fear. He knew that the army was coming to capture and make his master prisoner. He fearfully asked the Prophet,
“What do we do?” The Prophet confidently assured his servant, “Fear not, the Lord will protect us. Those who are with us are more than those who are with them” (2 Kings 6:8-23).
The servant looked puzzled and exclaimed, “I don’t understand, Master.” The Prophet then prayed and said, “O LORD, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” God opened the servant’s eyes and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around the Prophet. Indeed, the invisible forces of God protecting his Prophet were far more vast and powerful than the enemy army. “The angel of the LORD encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them” (Psalm 34:7).
All Born Spiritually Blind
Just as the Prophet’s servant was unaware of the spiritual forces that protected him and his master, we start out unaware of the spiritual world and the spiritual truth that exists. In a sense, we are blind before our spiritual birth. In this same sense, humanity is unaware of the spiritual truth and the spiritual forces that are working on mankind’s behalf.
Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Why speakest thou unto them in parables?” (Matthew 13:10). Jesus answered, “Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive” (Matthew 13:13,14).
Jesus equated spiritual eyesight with the ability to perceive the spiritual truths that his parables taught. Most of Jesus’ audience was not even able to perceive that a spiritual truth had been spoken. To them, the parables were merely nice stories — yarns for listening, a pastime — they did not perceive that spiritual truth s were spoken. This is still true today.
Blindness Indicates Heart Condition
“For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them” (Matthew 13:15).
Jesus was saying that the eyes of their perception were closed. They could not see the spiritual truths being spoken to them. Jesus made a distinction between the general listener of his parables and his disciples. He said inverse 16, “But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear.” His disciples were aware that the parables being spoken contained spiritual truth though they needed Jesus to reveal the truth to them. They could perceive the difference between these stories and the stories of someone simply recounting a myth or an epic poem.
The open eyes of Jesus’ disciples enabled them to take the next step of awakening their spiritual senses, the step of hearing in order to understand.
Blinded by the God of this World
The Apostle Paul described the general spiritual blindness in the world when he wrote, “In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine” (2 Corinthians 4:4).
The eyes of the unbeliever remain shut until a future time when the scriptures promise, “the eyes of the blind shall be opened.” Then, instead of a Narrow Way to life, a Highway of Holiness will be opened with no “lion” there— like the supernatural one that today deceives the nations. (Isaiah 35:5,9, 1 Peter 5:8).
At one time we were like the man “blind from birth.” We were blind to the spiritual things that God has in store for His people during the Gospel Age. The world of humankind is blind before their healing in the Kingdom of Christ when they will be given spiritual eyesight to guide them forward up the Highway of Holiness.
The man blind from birth resolved to listen to the man that crouched in front of him. The man that had rubbed clay on his eyes told him to go to wash his eyes in the Pool of Siloam. The blind man rose up and walked along the city street, feeling his way with his hands, finding the familiar cracks in the walls that bordered both sides of the city road. When he came to a corner and remembered that the Pool was to the left, he cautiously proceeded. He made his way slowly but steadily, anticipation rising in his heart that something wonderful was about to happen.
Just before gaining that spiritual eyesight, when we are shown the truth, and first perceive that there is something important before us that we must work to perceive, that moment can be like groping in the dark. It can be like feeling our way along the walls of a city road in darkness. The man blind from birth, in a sense, saw what it would be like to see, before he actually received his eyesight. He knew that in order to see he had to follow the instructions of the one who told him to wash in the Pool of Sil0am.
Receiving our Spiritual eyesight does not always happen in a sudden revelation, like the servant in Dothan who suddenly saw the armies of God encamped around him and his master, the Prophet Elisha.
Apostle Paul’s Sudden Miraculous Eyesight
Indeed, this newly gained perception does not always happen as quickly as the flash of light that met Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus. The eyes of Saul of Tarsus were temporally blinded for three days after he saw the risen Lord in a vision of light shining down from heaven. The voice from heaven said “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he [Saul] replied, “Who are you, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”
Paul responded, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” Then the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do” (Acts 9:3-6 NASB).
Paradoxically, while Paul’s natural eyes were temporally blinded (never fully recovering), his spiritual eyesight was set wide open, leading him to great unprecedented spiritual truths (Galatians 6:11; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10).
The Apostle Paul recounted the entire experience. “For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake. And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the holy Spirit. And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized” (Acts 9:16-18).
Healing at the Pool of Siloam
On his quest to get to the Pool of Siloam, the blind man from birth descended down stairs that he recognized by touch and familiar sounds to be the stairs that led down to the pool. As he descended below street level he could feel the air cooled by the water and he knew that he was getting close. As his feet first touched the water he could feel the steps descending down underwater. He slowly walked in deeper unil he was about waist deep.
He could hear the voices and murmuring around him. He sensed many eyes fixed on him, watching what he would
do next. From under the water, the man blind from birth lifted up his hands and created a bowl of the cool water in his cupped hands. Splashing the water onto his face he cleaned off the clay that had been placed on his eyelids by the man that had crouched down beside him. He splashed the cool water once more on his eyes and then the blackness that had been with him since birth slowly started to melt away.
We can imagine those first images that this man saw who had been blind since birth, “men as trees walking,” just like another blind man (in Bethsaida) that was healed as described in Mark 8:24.
Connection Between Sight and the Mind
Science has determined that blind people who suddenly have their eyesight restored by an operation need to have their cerebral cortex (the vision part of the brain) relearn how to see. Normal brain development of vision occurs from birth to two years old. At this time, the brain learns what the eyes are capturing. This learning process takes time. When an adult receives eyesight after being blind for so long, the brain cannot correctly interpret what it is seeing.
Oliver Sacks, the professor of clinical neurology and celebrated writer of the books, Awakenings and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, wrote about a man named Virgil who was blind for 45 years but then received eyesight after an operation to remove cataracts on his eyes.
In his book, An Anthropologist on Mars, Sacks described what happened to Virgil after his eyesight was restored. “He saw, but what he saw had no coherence. His retina and optic nerve were active, transmitting impulses, but his brain could make no sense of them; he was, as neurologists say, agnostic [someone suffering from agnosia].”
Further, Sacks wrote, “Virgil’s behavior was certainly not that of a sighted man, but it was not that of a blind man either. It was, rather, the behavior of one mentally blind, or agnostic — able to see but not to decipher what he is seeing.” In the grocery store for the first time after receiving eyesight, Virgil looked at the shelves, fruit, cans, people, aisles, and carts and was frightened. He said; “Everything ran together.”
As Virgil navigated his house for the first time with his new eyesight, Sacks was reminded of “an infant moving his hand to and fro before his eyes, waggling his head, turning it this way and that, in his primal construction of the world.” Later, Virgil’s wife commented, “Virgil finally put a tree together — he now knows that the trunk and leaves go together to form a complete unit.” Virgil at first had perception, he could see objects, but he did not understand what he saw.
When the blind men that Jesus had healed could first see, they were still mentally blind. They could perceive the images, colors, and motion, but they could not understand them. Trees and men seemed to be the same thing. A newly healed man that had been blind since birth was not able to put together form and shape in his head. Neither did he have any depth perception. So it is when we first receive our spiritual eyesight. We perceive, but we do not understand. Jesus’ story of healing the blind man in Mark 8:22 illustrates this gradual development of spiritual eyesight and perception. At first we see the shapes, forms, and colors of truth. We know the spiritual truths are there, but we cannot yet fully comprehend their meaning.
Sight Equals Perception
The Apostle Paul links sight to perception beautifully. “For now we see through a glass [mirror], darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).
A council of Pharisees then questioned the man who received his sight. “What do you say about him, since he opened your eyes?” they asked. The man who was healed replied, “He is a prophet” (John 9:17 NASB).
After questioning his parents about their son’s blindness, the council questioned the healed man again, “Give glory to God; we know this man is a sinner” they said. Then they asked him, “So they said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered, I told you already and you did not listen; why do you want to hear it again? You do not want to become his disciples too, do you?” (John 9:24-27 NASB).
Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where He is from.” (John 9:28,29 NASB).
The man answered, “Well, here is an amazing thing, that you do not know where he is from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is God-fearing and does his will, he hears him. Since the beginning of time it has never been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing” (John 9:30-33 NASB).
To this they replied, “you were born entirely in sins, and are you teaching us?” (John 9:34 NASB). And they threw him out.
Blindness of the Traditions of Men
We need to take care that we do not fall into the role of the Pharisees, who were steeped in the traditions and the interpretations of men. We must keep our spiritual eyesight open to perceive the spiritual truths that are presented to us. When we perceive a spiritual truth, we should then open our other spiritual senses —
hearing, smell, touch and taste — to understand and discern what is true.
After being thrown out by the council of Pharisees, the newly healed blind man was approached by Jesus, the man who had crouched down to heal him. Jesus said to the blind man, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” (John 9:35 NASB).
Our Spiritual Eyesight
Let us be conscious of the importance of clear spiritual eyesight. Our perception of the spiritual truths around us will help us with the next step in our spiritual senses, the step of hearing in order to understand the things that our spiritual eyes perceive.
As Johnny Cash exclaimed at the end of that song, “And if all that be true, then I have just one more thing to say. ‘Jesus reach down now and touch me, Jesus reach down now and touch me, Jesus reach down now and touch me, I would like to see.’