Like Trees Walking

By: Brian Robertson

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 men, 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.”

Mark 8:22-26 ESV

This little scene always puzzled me when I heard it as a child. Frankly, it seemed odd to me that Jesus couldn’t do the healing right off the bat. I suppose I envisioned Curley of the 3 Stooges doing his patented double-take, complete with quickly running his hands down his nearly bald head as he made that patented Curley-noise. Perhaps even the little dance. Then he set about the task again.

But the story stuck with me for so many years, hidden away in the back of my mind. I even recall the amazing bass voice of our minister, Rev. William “Billy” Baine, uttering those words from the pulpit of the Bellaire Presbyterian Church: “I see men, but they look like trees, walking.”

Now, vastly older, I see the story so differently. What strikes me is how vivid the scene is, how easy it is to picture it as it happens. We might ask, “Did miracles happen or is it just a story offering to make a kind of symbolic point?” Part of me says such things really don’t happen, but that is based on my own time and life where miracles do not seem to take this form in life. Part of me says yes, the healings were reported often and early enough in the oral traditions that it makes them very likely.

Maybe the answer lies in this: When I worked as a professional storyteller, kids would come up after a particularly exciting story (perhaps a ghost story) and ask, “Did that really happen?” My answer was always the same — “I don’t know if it happened or not, but it’s true.”

I am inclined to believe now that such events did happen, that Jesus’ closeness to God, his living from God, did produce these events. It was part and parcel of the uniqueness of the times, of the event of Jesus’ life. Having said that, one other thing is important — that either answer, that of being real or being the symbolic encounter with faith by the gospel writers and the community makes no difference. The underlying message is the same, and no one can or should be faulted for harboring differing opinions on the historical or metaphysical nature of such events.

But back to the man in Bethsaida. The blind man did not see all at once because we, as Christians and spiritual travelers, do not see all at once. From our spiritual blindness, somewhere in life we move to catching a glimpse as if through a glass darkly, and the ultimate truth becomes real and almost there, or, to use the illustration, we see men as trees walking. It is distorted enough not to be full understanding, but it is exciting enough to know God and to know the path on which we walk is correct, that such faith will lead from blindness to a fuzzy understanding to ultimate sight.

O Lord of Light, we come to you conscious, yet unconscious, of our own blindness. We come to you knowing that we are blind, yet still thinking that we see. Heal in us, O Lord, the blindness that we do not even know we have. Open the deeper realms of our spiritual sight, so that we may see wonders we could never before conceive of. Take our focus away from self and the world, and raise our minds and hearts up toward you. And as our vision deepens in your heavenly light, broaden our vision also, to include in its scope all the beings of your creation here on earth.



Rev. Brian Robertson