Mark 8:23-24 recounts the story of Jesus healing a blind man: “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 upon him, he asked him, ‘Do you see anything?’ And he looked up and said, ‘I see men; but they look like trees, walking.’”
Truly, Jesus had performed a miracle: the man who was blind now saw something. But his vision was distorted; some difficulty remained. What was it? Other people whom Jesus cured were immediately healed. What was different with this man? Fathers of the Church and Catholic Biblical commentators over the years have offered various opinions, but some contend that the blind man seems to have had a problem of faith. Theophylact (cited by Saint Thomas Aquinas) writes: “But the reason why he did not see at once perfectly, but in part, was, that he had not perfect faith; for healing is bestowed in proportion to faith.” We might ask: Why would the man lack belief, even after Jesus cured him? We might be tempted to ask: In the eyes of the blind man, what did Jesus have to do to earn a powerful belief?
That’s a fair question and it’s worth asking the same of ourselves. In our own lives, Jesus has already worked many miracles, yet don’t we sometimes doubt that He can work another? Jesus has offered us His Sacred Heart, yet don’t we find it hard to believe that His Sacred Heart beats for us? Jesus has lifted us up and carried us over the tribulations of life, yet don’t we sometimes doubt the strength of His arms? Yes, we have some faith, and we can see a little—but each in our own way, we see men like trees walking.
Whenever we wonder whether Jesus has really forgiven the confessed sins of our past, we see men like trees walking. Whenever we doubt whether Jesus really hears our cries and sees the tears in our eyes, we see men like trees walking. Whenever we doubt whether Jesus will really send His Mother to be at our side at the hour of our death—just as she was at His side at the hour of His own death—we see men like trees walking.
What is the answer to all this? How can our spiritual nearsightedness be overcome? Part of the solution lies in the very next chapter of Mark. The father of a possessed son comes to Jesus with the hope that Jesus can cure his child. Yet, the father’s doubt lingers, and his doubt is evident even in the way that he asks Jesus to cure his son, saying: “But if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”
Jesus responds: “If you can?”
Whenever we implore God for help, we should always remember those words: “If you can?” Faith means recognizing that our Lord and Savior is not the God of ifs.
Jesus then continues speaking to the boy’s father: “All things are possible to him who believes.”
The father had brought his son to see Jesus that day in the hope that Jesus could cast the demon out of his son. Yet, when Jesus spoke these words, the father recognized that he needed to be healed as well. In a sense, the father sees men like trees walking. The father cries out, begging Jesus: “I do believe; help my unbelief!”
The humility in the father’s response is striking, and there is a lesson for us in his response. For some of us, it is the vice of pride that interferes with the virtue of faith. The father’s response illustrates that faith is a gift, but it is a gift that is often unwrapped only with humility.
To take proper effect, the gift of faith also involves our own free will. Faith is not always the sort of thing that one has or one does not. Faith can be a process; sometimes it burns brightly and sometimes it flickers. But our will—our desire—works with faith. Saint Augustine said that here on earth, our vision of God is very imperfect; it is as though we fallen sinners see God through a darkly lit mirror. But it takes humility to admit that sometimes God remains darkly lit by our own choice. Yet our own choice to trust the Light of the World can also illuminate our faith.
We should never lose hope that we can become persons of remarkable faith. As we know from these Scriptural accounts, Jesus can heal our unbelief. After the first miracle of Jesus, the man saw men like trees walking, so Jesus worked a second miracle for the blind man. As Mark 8:25 reads: “Then again he laid his hands upon his eyes; and he looked intently and was restored, and saw everything clearly.” May Jesus work a miracle of faith for us. As we approach the end of this Lenten season, let’s take a moment in front of the Blessed Sacrament to pray: “Lord, please heal me. I see men like trees walking. And I want to see things as they truly are. I want to see You.”