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The Second Touch

When Pierre-Paul Thomas was growing up in Montreal, Canada in the 1940s he couldn’t play hockey with his brothers and it broke his heart. Thomas was born blind—long before a cure was available. So for most of his life he could only imagine the world that people often described to him. For years he walked with a white cane to avoid obstacles in front of him. But at the age of sixty-six, Thomas fell down the stairs in an apartment building and fractured the bones of his face. He was rushed to the hospital with severe swelling around his eyes. A team of doctors went to work to repair the bones. Months later he went to be examined by a plastic surgeon for a consultation about repairing his scalp.
The surgeon casually asked Thomas, “Oh, while we’re at it, do you want us to fix your eyes too?” Thomas did not understand. Nor did he know how to respond. Not long after that, Thomas had surgery and could truly see for the first time. 
Suddenly his world consisted of bright colors he had never fathomed before. He spoke of being awestruck by flowers blossoming and trees blooming. As beautiful as this story of a sixty-year-old man who was able to see for the first time is, there is a sad reality. He could have had the same surgery at a younger age and been able to see earlier. Thomas had assumed such a possibility was impossible and had resigned himself to a life of blindness when, in reality, he could have experienced the gift of sight decades earlier.[1]
That story makes me wonder: what might we be missing out on in life, simply because no one ever told us and we never realized all the possibilities? What might we be missing out on in our relationship with God, simply because we have settled for less?

Let’s read this story about Jesus from Mark 8:22-26 with minds and hearts open to all the fantastic possibilities that Jesus offers us….

They came to Bethsaida. Some people[a] brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him. 23 He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Can you see anything?” 24 And the man[b] looked up and said, “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.” 25 Then Jesus[c] laid his hands on his eyes again; and he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. 26 Then he sent him away to his home, saying, “Do not even go into the village.”

We have seen Jesus perform many healings and miracles of various sorts in Mark’s Gospel, but this story is unique. In fact, Mark is the only one of the four evangelists who records this miracle. This story teaches us at least three things about Jesus.

First, Jesus is considerate. Jesus took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village. Why did he do this?

Let’s think about this for a moment. If Jesus had cured this man of his blindness in the village, the first time this man opened his eyes he would be dazzled by seeing many people, buildings, and colors for the first time. Jesus knew that it would be better for this man to have his sight restored in a quieter, more isolated place, where the experience of seeing, perhaps for the first time, would not be too overwhelming.

William Barclay says,

Every great doctor and every great teacher has one outstanding characteristic. The great doctor is able to enter into the very mind and heart of his patient; he understands his fears and his hopes; he literally sympathises—suffers—with him. The great teacher enters into the very mind of his scholar. He sees his problems, his difficulties, his stumbling-blocks. That is why Jesus was so supremely great. He could enter into the mind and heart of the people whom he sought to help. He had the gift of considerateness, because he could think with their thoughts and feel with their feelings. God grant to us this Christlike gift.

Just for a moment, I want you to close your eyes and imagine that you are blind. Now, let’s complete a few basic tasks, like separating medications, using the right button on a microwave oven or knowing which side of the street to catch the bus. Think of all the questions you might have because you can’t see.
There’s a new non-profit app out that allows sighted people to “lend their eyes” to those with visual impairments through video chat. Simply put, it’s remarkable. The “Be My Eyes” app was developed by a visually impaired man in Denmark. It connects blind people to sighted volunteers through video chat. The volunteer can answer questions because they can see the blind person’s surroundings using their phone’s camera.
The other day, a “Be My Eyes” app user connected with a young man who wanted to know the expiration date of the milk in his refrigerator. The visually impaired man positioned his phone’s camera to the top shelf. Looking at the image of the milk carton on his phone, the app user said, “I wouldn’t drink that if I were you.”[2]
There is a great example of something that came about, something that human beings created, because of considerateness. The man who created that app knew what it was like to be blind, and he had the creativity to come up with a “work-around” that would help visually impaired people like himself.

The sighted people who use the app have a deep considerateness and are entering into the experience of blind people in such a way as to help them.

What creative helps might we come up with to ease the pain of someone else if we would just, for a single moment, consider what it feels like to walk in someone else’s shoes?

The second thing I see in this story about Jesus is that he used methods people could understand.

We learned through looking at one of the earlier stories in Mark’s Gospel that the ancient world believed in the healing power of saliva. This belief is not really that strange. Most of us have the same instinct. When we burn or cut a finger, often our first response is to put the finger in our mouth to ease the pain.

Thus, by using his own saliva to heal this man’s blindness, Jesus was using a method the man could relate to and believe in. Think about it, as we have seen through the other stories of Jesus healing people, he had any number of ways he could have performed this healing. But Jesus chose this method for a reason—to gain this blind man’s trust.

In some circles in our world today, unintelligibility is viewed as a virtue. I have seen this among academic people I have known. They often write and speak using one hundred dollar words when ten dollar words would do. They use technical language rather than every day words that everyone can understand. Why? They probably do it sometimes out of sheer bad habit. But other times this is done by people in order to add mystique, or a sense of value to their profession.

Jesus never did this. He told stories that the average person could understand. He did not use theological jargon when talking about God. He used language for God that even little children could understand. After all, he called God his Abba, or Daddy. And in the same way, when Jesus healed people, even though what he accomplished was extraordinary, he did it in seemingly ordinary ways. Jesus always put the cookies on the lower shelf where everyone could reach them.

David Brooks writes about the 19th century English poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge who:
described how his own [son], then three-years-old, awoke in the night and called to his mother. “Touch me, only touch me with your finger,” the young boy pleaded. The child’s mother was astonished.
“Why?” she asked.
“I’m not here,” the boy cried. “Touch me, Mother, so I may be here.”
Donald Miller quoted this story and then observed, “Essentially, we are all calling out for God to touch us that we may know we are here, and yet he waits, and we go untouched and seek out the knowing we exist in a thousand other ways.”[3]
Oftentimes in this world we feel like we are in the dark, spiritually speaking. We feel like we are in a place where we cannot see ourselves, or anyone, or any purpose or meaning. If we will just ask him, Jesus will enter into our darkness and touch us in ways we can understand so that we will know who we are, so that we will know meaning and purpose.

The third thing I see about Jesus in this story is that he provides a second touch.

This is the only story like this that I can think of in all the Gospels where Jesus does not heal someone immediately, in a single go. In this story, Jesus puts saliva on the man’s eyes, then he lays his hands on him, and then Jesus asks the man, “Can you see anything?” At first, the man sees people but they look to him like trees walking. What a delightful description though it probably was not a delightful experience. Then Jesus lays his hands on the man’s eyes again, and with this second touch, his sight is fully restored.

It occurs to me that this story provides a beautiful picture of the Christian life. I suppose that if God wanted to, he could heal all of us instantly, and deliver us to heaven in a moment. But that is simply not the way God usually works. The way God usually works is that he shapes us, molds us, into the image of Christ over the course of a lifetime. God doesn’t just touch us once and zap us into shape. No, he touches us a second, a third, in fact countless times, just like a potter molding a piece of clay into the shape he or she wants it to be.

It seems to me that we can respond to that shaping process in at least one of two ways. Either we can get impatient with the process and demand that God make everything perfect in an instant. Or we can look at the process as an exciting journey—an adventure if you will.
At the age of 45, Michael May miraculously regained his sight. May was blinded at age three, and lived 42 years of his life without sight. Then, in 1999, he was given the possibility to see again through what was at that time a revolutionary transplant surgery.
Prior to May’s surgery, there were only about forty cases of sight restored to patients who had been either born blind or who had been blind for most of their life. Most of these patients followed a similar pattern. At first, they experienced euphoria as light rushed into their repaired eyes. They saw color and motion immediately. Everything was new and exciting. It was a miracle.
But then frustration set in. Learning to live with sight involved a huge learning curve. Most of the newly-sighted people still couldn’t perceive height, distance, depth, or three-dimensional shapes. They couldn’t read facial expressions and detect gender. Nor could they distinguish important information from the trivial. At times, the newly-sighted patients felt that they belonged neither to the world of those who see nor the world of those who can’t see. Family members, who had expected immediate change, were often crushed by the slow transformation.
But Michael May’s case was different. When the doctors finally removed the surgical bandages from his eyes, just like the other patients he couldn’t perceive space or see height, distance, depth, or three-dimensional shapes. The moon looked like a big streetlamp. He couldn’t read people’s faces. But unlike the other patients, May didn’t get discouraged by the long learning curve. Instead, he approached his new world with an attitude of adventure and childlike wonder.
May knew that learning to see again would involve not just one magical operation, but a lifelong quest to learn, grow, take risks, and change. Even as he left the hospital, May peppered his wife with questions: “What’s this? What’s that? Is that a step? Is that a flower? That’s a painting? Let me feel it. Can I touch that plant? Let me touch a car.” He rode elevators over and over again for the sheer pleasure of finding the hotel lobby after the ride. He played catch with his son, horribly missing many balls before he finally got the hang of it.
May continued to struggle with his transition to the reality of sight. His world often looked like a huge abstract painting. High-speed events, such as the passing of cars and bicycles, became frightening. Things often looked very close—frighteningly close. Previous patients had felt discouraged or even depressed by this long, slow transformation to the new reality of sight. But May told himself that this was part of the adventure, that the leap forward wasn’t really a leap at all if everything felt safe. As a result, every day and even every failure seemed like a new opportunity for May to learn, grow, and change.[4]
What a story! What an attitude! This story makes me want to say to God: “Help me to approach life, especially the hard stuff, with an attitude of expectation, joy, and wonder, knowing that even the hard stuff is all part of the adventure.” And this story of Jesus healing the blind man gives me hope. It gives me hope to know that when I stumble in my journey, Jesus will pick me up again. It gives me hope to know that I don’t have to settle for just one touch from Jesus—but that he provides a second touch, a third touch, as many touches as I need to be formed into his image.

[1] Adapted from Kyle Idleman, AHA: The God Moment That Changes Everything (David Cook, 2014), page 76; original source: Aaron Derfel, “Blind No More,” Montreal Gazette (7-27-13)
[2] Kim Komando, “10 Killer Apps You Shouldn’t Live Without,” Kim Komando blog (05-13-15); submitted by David Finch, Elk Grove, CA, to
[3] David Brooks, The Social Animal (Random House, 2011), p. 45; Donald Miller, “How the Fall Makes You Feel,” (5-12-11)
[4] Adapted from Robert Kurson, “Into the Light,” Esquire (June 2005)


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