Question: When Jesus healed the blind man and asked him if he could see, why was his vision not clear and people appeared as walking trees, prompting Jesus to lay hands on him a second time? Why wouldn’t he have been completely healed with the first laying on of hands?
The miracle in question is recorded in Mark 8:22-26:
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.”
Let’s look at the context of this passage. In Mark 8:1-9, Jesus feeds the 4,000 with seven loaves of bread. In Mark 8:10-13, the Pharisees argue with Jesus and seek a sign from him: “And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, ‘Why does this generation seek a sign?'” In Mark 8:14-21, Jesus warns about the “leaven of the Pharisees,” but the disciples think of actual leaven and begin discussing how they are down to one loaf of bread. Mark 8:17-21 records Jesus’ response:
And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.” “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”
This brings us to the passage in question (Mark 8:22-26), where Jesus heals the blind man in two stages. Besides John 9, this is the only place in the Bible where a miracle is performed with two treatments.
Following the passage in question, Jesus asks his disciples, “‘who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Christ'” (Mk. 8:27-30). As Bible readers, we are refreshed: Finally, someone gets it! But then, Jesus plainly teaches his disciples that he must suffer and die (i.e., on the cross), and “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man'” (Mk. 8:31-33). Peter could see that Jesus was the Christ, but he could not see that the Christ had to die to provide salvation.
By considering Mark 8:22-26 in its context, we learn that the story of Jesus healing the blind man is sandwiched between two passages where his disciples demonstrate a lack of spiritual insight. Jesus had revealed his identity to them and taught them about the kingdom of heaven. They should have been able to think clearly about spiritual things. But instead, they lacked faith and were preoccupied with earthly matters. Jesus likens them to a man who has eyes but cannot see clearly: “Having eyes do you not see?”
This brings us back to the passage in question, where Jesus “tries” to restore the sight of a blind man; instead, the man is unable to see clearly and misinterprets the world around him.
My proposed interpretation is that Jesus is using this physical healing to teach his disciples: You are like this man. I’ve tried to open your eyes, but your spiritual vision is still blurry. You need to allow me to open your eyes fully so that you are able to see things the way they really are.
This seems plausible and is consistent with the spiritual eyesight metaphor used throughout the Bible. Consider Ephesians 1. Since the Ephesians were saved (Eph. 1:1), we know that their eyes were already opened (cf. Acts 26:18); thus, we sing, “Amazing grace…I once was blind, but now I see.” But Paul prays “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened” (Eph. 1:18). It is possible for one’s spiritual eyes to be open but to have “cataracts” of varying degrees.