“Do you see anything?”
He looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like walking trees.”
No, this isn’t a scene from Tolkien’s The Two Towers where Merry and Pippin encounter Tree Beard. This scene is from the book of Mark.
Jesus had taken his disciples to Bethsaida, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and the people had brought a blind man and begged Jesus to heal him. Jesus took him by the hand and led him out of town. There he proceeded to spit in his eyes and put his hands on him. (Sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction.) Then Jesus asked him if he could see. After the man reported seeing people who look like walking trees, Jesus put his hands on the blind man again, looked at him intently and his eyesight was restored. That man could see everything clearly – it was better than laser surgery. Jesus gave him instructions not to go into town, and then quickly left town to take the boys to Caesarea Philippi.
I told you that truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. This is one of the most random stories in Scripture. Jesus lands on shore, partially heals a blind guy, finally heals him all the way and leaves town. It begs a few questions. Why the pit stop in Bethsaida? What’s up with Jesus messing up the healing? Was he just practicing, still learning how this whole miracle thing worked? It’s all just kind of weird. Unless you look at the context.
In one of the Bibles sitting on my desk there is a nice break before this passage and a header that says “The Healing of the Blind Man at Bethsaida”. Which indicates that this is a new story, not directly related with the previous stories in the chapter. Those stories are about “Jesus Feeds the Four Thousand” and “The Yeast of the Pharisees” So we read the chapter, but mentally break in up into a series of unrelated stories. We must remember that the headings, even the chapters and verses were not originally there. They were added much, much later. (I recommend you check out a resource called The Books of the Bible that actually removes the chapters, verses and headings. It makes the text more readable, and puts things back in the context of the whole.)
So, back to the story. Jesus had just feed the four thousand on the shore of Galilee somewhere in the area of the Decapolis. After the meal, the disciples collect seven basketfuls of leftovers. Then the get in the boat and set off for the area of Dalmanutha. There the Pharisees begin to question Jesus and ask for a sign. Jesus and the disciples get back in the boat and set off.
Once in the boat, the disciples realize they only brought one loaf of bread. As they are realizing this, Jesus warns them to be careful of the yeast of the Pharisees and Herod. The disciples began to discuss, questioning if Jesus said this because they forgot to being enough bread. Jesus hears them whispering, and asks,
“Why are you still talking about having no bread? Do you still not see and understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes, but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”
“Twelve”, they replied.
“And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many bucketfuls of pieces did you pick up?
“Seven”, they answered.
He said to them, “Do you still not understand?” NIV
And the boat was quiet as Jesus shifted course and landed on the shores of Bethsaida.
They land, get out of the boat, and silently follow Jesus into town. Once they find the blind man and lead him back out of town, Jesus begins his lesson. Spitting on the man’s eyes and touching him, Jesus asks, “Do you see anything?” And as the man replied, “I see people, but they look like walking trees.”
At that moment, I see a group of twelve disciples, palms hitting foreheads, uttering the Hebrew equivalent of “duh”. This healing wasn’t a practice round, it wasn’t even about the blind man. This lesson was for a group of disciples who had just participated in Jesus feeding four thousand people. Disciples who believed he could work miracles. They believed the facts, but were still debating why they didn’t have enough bread. They believed, but it didn’t really change their level of trust. This was an object lesson about having eyes, and not being able to see.
There are three things that strike me about this passage. The first is that we really miss out on some of Scripture because we don’t read it in context. Second, we often read Scripture or look at the world around us, and it feels like looking at walking trees. Be patient, Jesus has begun to restore our sight, but isn’t finished with us yet. Ask him again. The third is we simply aren’t given the perspective of the blind man. We rarely put ourselves in his place. What is he thinking and felling through all this? And while he encounters Jesus in a life changing way, the story ultimately isn’t about him, it’s about a lesson for the disciples, and he has no idea. Sometimes times things happen to us and though we ask why, we never get an answer. Perhaps, like the blind man, it wasn’t about us at all, but something God is using to teach someone else.
Have you ever experienced a time or situation where you felt all you could see were “walking trees”? Or, have you ever gone through something and considered that maybe it wasn’t about you, but about God teaching someone else?