19th February. Wednesday, Week Six
1st Reading: James 1:19-27
(Be doers of the word, not merely listeners. Humbly welcome the word with its power to save you.)
You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.
But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act – they will be blessed in their doing.
If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
Gospel: Mark 8:22-26
(Jesus cures the blind man in stages, with spittle and the touch of his hands.)
They came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him. 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?” And the man looked up and said, “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.” Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Then he sent him away to his home, saying, “Do not even go into the village.”
Maturing by Stages
The gospel suggests the long, gradual process by which we come to the light of truth and the persistence we need to follow the way of truth. Â James, offers a compressed dictionary of moral instructions, and we instinctively feel how much time is needed to comply such with a list.
The miracle story is told only by Mark; it was not repeated nor even adapted by Matthew and Luke, even though these evangelists relied heavily on Mark. This is also the only miracle which Jesus worked in stages. Jesus even uses such lowly human substance as spittle. His willingness to live on our human level offers great comfort. There is a sense of delicate consideration in the way he dealt with the blind man’s need. He first took his hand and with gentle compassion led him outside the village. Then, away from the crowd, he put spittle on his eyes and touching the closed eyelids with his fingers, Jesus bonded with the blind man. This poor man could not see the sorrow in Jesus’ eyes at the sight of this disability, but could feel the clasp of his hand and touch of his fingers. Jesus is not just conforming to common ritual practices but adapting himself to the human condition of need.
The stages of the miracle are noteworthy: first, people looked like walking trees; then, “he could see everything clearly.” These too are the stages of our growth in faith. At first, a new insight into God’s goodness and its expectation that we gently “look after orphans and widows in their distress” may appear like “walking trees,” really not a part of our real world. We argue that we do not have the time, nor the material or financial resources to help the poor, the needy and the hungry. Jesus, however, presses the bond of our human flesh and family, places spittle again over our eyelids, gently presses and strokes and to our amazement–to paraphrase the gospel words, “we can see perfectly; our sight is restored and we can see everything clearly.” We have the light to see our way for helping, for finding time and for locating resources to be of service to our fellow human beings.
The admonition of James no longer seems too difficult or too abrupt: “Strip away all that is filthy, every vicious excess. Humbly welcome the word that has taken root in you, with its power to save you. Act on this word. If all you do is listen to it, you are deceiving yourselves.” Jesus never deceived himself, he acted on the word that was his very life and so possessed the power to save.
We may be grateful to Mark for preserving the memory of Jesus’ respect for the stages of our life and its growth to sanctity. The steps to sanctity follow the path of human existence, only we cannot walk the path alone but must be like Jesus who took the blind man’s hand and led him outside the village. We take the hand of our neighbour in need, and to our surprise the hand that we clasp is leading us to our salvation, just as the blind man led Jesus into an episode that preached redemption to us today.