“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.“1 Corinthians 13:12
There is a weird story in the book of Mark where Jesus heals a blind man, but Jesus has to heal him twice for his sight to be fully restored. Jesus lays his hands on him and then asks if he can see anything. It’s almost like he had to check to make sure it worked. The man describes the people as trees walking around implying that his sight isn’t fully restored yet. Then Jesus does a second round of healing, and the man can now see everything clearly.
What happened? Was he not feeling it that day? Did the blind man not have enough faith? Isn’t Jesus God incarnate? Didn’t God will the universe into being?
The first thing I have to remind myself of when Jesus performs miracles is that he doesn’t perform miracles for no reason. His miracles are also signs that point to a larger reality and story happening. With that in mind, I can look at the larger context to understand what’s really happening here.
1) Jesus’ miracles are signs pointing us to something else.
The purpose of a sign is to point us to something. The sign itself isn’t as important as what the sign is meant to point us to. After Jesus gives the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, the people are astonished that Jesus spoke with so much authority.
After his sermon, in Matthew 8, Jesus cleanses a leper, heals many people of their sicknesses, calms a storm, and casts out demons. These are not random stories of the miracles of Jesus. He is proving his authority. When he touches the unclean, he doesn’t become unclean. The unclean person becomes clean. He shows he has authority over the physical realm through healing diseases and calming a storm. He shows he has authority over the spiritual realm by casting out demons.
At the beginning of Matthew 9, Jesus shows he has the power to forgive sins (making himself equal to God) through healing a paralyzed man. Jesus’ interaction with Peter after he partially and then fully heals the blind man helps us understand the truth that this miracle is pointing us to.
2) Like the blind man, Peter could only partially see.
After this weird healing interaction with the blind man, Jesus asks the disciples who they believe that he is. Peter replies by saying that Jesus is the Christ. In another account of this story, Jesus tells Peter that he is blessed and that flesh and blood didn’t reveal this to him.
However, in the next few verses, we see that Peter doesn’t understand fully what it means for Jesus to be the Christ. He doesn’t understand that Jesus is supposed to suffer and die and that his followers must also take up their crosses for the cause of Christ.
In the same way that the blind man’s sight was partially restored to him, Peter’s ability to acknowledge and trust that Jesus is the Christ was the result of a miracle. However, Peter still couldn’t see the fullness of who Jesus was as the Messiah or the Christ.
3) We also can’t yet fully see.
Many pastors like to say we are in the “already-not-yet” period in God’s story. On the one hand, Jesus has already won the war through his death and resurrection. On the other hand, we are still awaiting his return and final restoration.
We tend to look to the past to find hope in our future. We look forward to the second coming of Jesus by remembering his first during Advent and Christmas. We look back at Easter with anticipation and hope for our own, future resurrection.
When we see the slowness of the disciples to understand who Jesus is from this side of the cross, it’s easy to point out their stupidity.
However, we are no different. During Jesus’ life, the disciples had a fuller picture of who Jesus was than the people who had come before them and anticipated his arrival. And we have a fuller picture than those who came before us because we’ve seen the cross and resurrection. However, our picture of Jesus isn’t complete either until he finally returns and makes all things new.
Paul writes that right now we only see in a mirror dimly, but one day we will be face to face with truth and have a right understanding.
4) Faithfully following Jesus will lead to a better understanding of who He is.
Because our understanding is limited, following Jesus can be scary. We are often confronted with life circumstances and calls to die to self in ways that force us to learn about a new side of God that we had never known before.
Jesus told the disciples that he was going to die and that following him required them to die as well. Being great in his kingdom required them to forget about trying to be great and be a servant to everyone instead.
This went against everything they had believed the Messiah was supposed to be. He wasn’t conforming to their desires and agenda. He wasn’t freeing Israel from the oppression of the Romans.
Jesus doesn’t exist to conform to the disciples’ agendas and he doesn’t exist to conform to our agendas either. As we walk with Jesus and learn to trust him day by day, we learn more and more about who he is.
5) Jesus is patient and he is good.
Later, in the book of Mark, we find a man whose son is oppressed by a demon. When the man brings the boy to Jesus, he asks Jesus to do something if he can. Jesus replies by telling the man that all things are possible for those who believe. The man cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
Our belief is often mixed with unbelief and doubt. Calls from Jesus to take up our cross and follow him often bring about fear, doubt, and uncertainty of his goodness and intentions toward us. We believe enough to move forward in faith, but we doubt enough to do it with fear and trembling. Like the father in the story, we cry out for help in our unbelief.
The good news is that Jesus understands this. The faith he requires of us is simply that we know that we need him. He knows that we can’t yet see everything fully and clearly. All he requires is faith the size of a mustard seed, and where we lack faith, Jesus is faithful.
In our blindness, fear, and uncertainty, we can also rest in the fact that Jesus is good. He calls us to sacrifice because he knows where true life, fulfillment, and happiness are found.