04 Sep 2011

Two Gospel Episodes That Always Puzzled Me

Religious 12 Comments

I recently read over these passages, and remembered that they had always puzzled me (for different reasons). First we have Jesus healing a blind man, as is His wont (Mk 8: 22-26):

22 Then He came to Bethsaida; and they brought a blind man to Him, and begged Him to touch him. 23 So He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the town. And when He had spit on his eyes and put His hands on him, He asked him if he saw anything.
24 And he looked up and said, “I see men like trees, walking.”
25 Then He put His hands on his eyes again and made him look up. And he was restored and saw everyone clearly. 26 Then He sent him away to his house, saying, “Neither go into the town, nor tell anyone in the town.”

Do I need to spell it out? Isn’t that an odd story for an omnipotent, omniscient God? It reminds me of going to the optometrist, when he keeps flipping the lenses to figure out your prescription. “Better or worse? Better or worse? Better or worse?”

There are plenty of stories where Jesus draws out the healing, but there is usually an obvious reason He’s doing it (for the purpose of teaching a lesson). Yet I don’t see what the purpose of the intermediate step is here. Any theories?

A little bit later there is another odd one (Mk 9: 14-29):

14 And when He came to the disciples, He saw a great multitude around them, and scribes disputing with them. 15 Immediately, when they saw Him, all the people were greatly amazed, and running to Him, greeted Him. 16 And He asked the scribes, “What are you discussing with them?”
17 Then one of the crowd answered and said, “Teacher, I brought You my son, who has a mute spirit. 18 And wherever it seizes him, it throws him down; he foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth, and becomes rigid. So I spoke to Your disciples, that they should cast it out, but they could not.”
19 He answered him and said, “O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him to Me.” 20 Then they brought him to Him. And when he saw Him, immediately the spirit convulsed him, and he fell on the ground and wallowed, foaming at the mouth.
21 So He asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?”
And he said, “From childhood. 22 And often he has thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”
23 Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.”
24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”
25 When Jesus saw that the people came running together, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “Deaf and dumb spirit, I command you, come out of him and enter him no more!” 26 Then the spirit cried out, convulsed him greatly, and came out of him. And he became as one dead, so that many said, “He is dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose.
28 And when He had come into the house, His disciples asked Him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?”
29 So He said to them, “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.”

What’s going on in this one? What does He mean by “this kind”? Is there a hierarchy of demonic spirits?

Also, what does Jesus mean when He says it can only come out by prayer and fasting? Throughout the gospel, Jesus tells people that they just need to have faith–in fact He says it in verse 23 in this very story. And indeed when He first hears that his disciples couldn’t perform this task, His conclusion is that they are a “faithless generation.” (I’m assuming He’s talking about the disciples who couldn’t heal the boy, right?)

So what is the story with His declaration in verse 29? Obviously Jesus didn’t engage in prayer and fasting to cure the boy.

12 Responses to “Two Gospel Episodes That Always Puzzled Me”

  1. joshua says:

    Regarding the first incident, one interesting theory is that Jesus did not operate under the omniscience or omnipotence of God while on earth “as a man,” but relied on his relationship with the Father as the source of his power, as an example to his followers of how they were to operate. This is usually supported by Jesus’ statement about his followers doing “greater things than these.” I have heard many personal stories of healings that were immediately followed by prayer, but I have also heard many personal stories of healings that were not immediate, but revealed a gradual progress that increased the faith of those involved as they continued to “fight” for the healing. I do not wish to insert myself into the debate over the theologies of such concepts, but simply to present some empirical evidence for that particular theory.

  2. Daniel Kuehn says:

    The obvious one that comes to mind is that he has some healer’s remedy he’s using (perhaps chewing some herb before spitting on his eyes), but he does not have divine power. He might not have wanted him to go around proclaiming he was healed because it may only have temporary effects.

    And the second one might have a similar explanation – no divine healing power, just a healer, and the healing didn’t work on this boy – so he asserted that the spirit couldn’t be driven out that way.

    I think the bigger question is why he even bothered speaking to a “deaf and dumb” spirit… no wonder the spirit didn’t respond!!!

    • joshua says:

      Note that in the story the spirit DID respond to Jesus’ rebuke. The question is not why Jesus was unable to heal the boy in that story, but why Jesus was able and the disciples weren’t. You don’t have to believe the story, but if you’re going to argue why the story goes the way it goes, don’t misrepresent the way that it goes.

      • Daniel Kuehn says:

        Do we know that he is healed? A kid with seizures got up.

        Look, if Jesus can’t actually heal people and the disciples can’t actually heal people and people who have symptoms occasionally don’t have symptoms I don’t think I’m “misrepresenting the story” if I’m simply saying that the disciples healing didn’t work and the explanation was “oh – well duh – it didn’t work THAT way – you need fasting”.

        Misrepresenting the story and not being credulous with regard to the story are two different things joshua.

        • joshua says:

          Fair enough. But saying that maybe the boy had symptoms with the disciples but no symptoms with Jesus is different than saying “the spirit didn’t respond!!!!” to Jesus, implying that the boy had symptoms in both instances.

  3. Yosef says:

    Why did Jesus ask the father if he has faith? I could understand it if Jesus asked the boy if he had faith, but why the father? Does it matter if the dad didn’t? Why should anyone’s faith but the boy matter?

    Put it this way. Suppose a devout Christian collapses on the street from a seizure. A man who happens to be near him on the street is rightfully concerned and shouts Help! Help! when suddenly Jesus walks by. “What’s all this?” Jesus asks, as concern for mankind fills his infinite heart. “This man has been possessed by a spirit” replies the man “can anyone help him?” Jesus sighs that he is still being questioned. “Have faith, and I will see this man healed” Jesus says calmly. “What?!” the man replies, “I don’t have faith, go run and get a doctor!”

    Would Jesus then leave the collapsed man?

    • Daniel Kuehn says:

      Could it be that a clear articulation of a doctrine of faith is only articulated and smoothed over after the fact by later theologians?

      • Driganx says:

        The reason the father is important is because the father *does* have a relationship with the son, just as the Father has a relationship with The Son. Interestingly, this answers Murphy’s questions as well; God does not choose to work ‘directly’ but rather through intermediaries. Christ was the perfect intermediary, we are then to be as Christ was and allow God’s power to be shown to the world through us. To do this, though, we must first make our wills completely subject to God through prayer and fasting. (There would be other things that could help, too, but prayer and fasting are prescribed by Jesus for this, so should obviously take pride of place.)

        God glorified a prophet by causing a dead man to be raised who touched the prophet’s bones; similarly God glorifies Holiness in living and dead people by allowing miracles to occur through the intercession of those Holy people.

        • Driganx says:

          blast, still getting used to the format of this website, I meant to respond to Yosef.

  4. John Law says:

    On the topic of why Christ had to heal the blind man twice, I was taught many years ago that perhaps what Christ was doing was healing him physically first then mentally. If the man was blind from birth (which I don’t think they mention) then not only would he need his eyes fixed but he would need the correct synapses in his brain connected because his brain has never learned how to interpret the visual data it receives. Hence the comment of how people looked like trees, he could see moving objects but couldn’t really tell the difference between them and the unmoving trees all around. Maybe no depth perception either. Anyways, it was an interesting explanation that seems to make sense.

  5. Cody S says:

    I’m with Daniel; it was one of those pastes medicine men make for blindness.

    You know; kava root here, violet extract there, chew it up, rub it directly on the eyes, and POOF. The almost annoyingly simple mechanism of human sight is repaired.

    Sometimes you really have to rub it on there, though. Like, extra hard. Really get it in there to work its …uhh, its …sophisticated native healing science …mojo.

    Those ancient native healers worked under a system of strict expert consensus. That is why they were always exactly right. Especially about things as simple and straightforward as eyesight.

  6. Raja K says:

    Assuming no error was made in writing these parables.

    1. The issue with double healing only arises if Jesus is considered a God. If he’s considered a holy person or a prophet or messenger of God then it’s not an issue. He tried once and had to try again to get the blind completely healed. In the case Jesus is considered equal to God the two-timing to heal puts credibility of that claim at risk.

    2. Degrees of faith may be the case in parable 2. Jesus has absolute faith while the disciples very faithful need to strengthen theirs by praying and fasting.