Then our Lord spent a long time in the country which lies to the north and to the east of the land of the Jews. Several times he appeared unexpectedly in Jerusalem, on the great church days, and there spoke in public places where large companies heard him. But he never spent the night in town. He had a friend named Lazarus, who with two sisters, Mary and Martha, lived in Bethany, a little place near Jerusalem. It is likely that he was their guest. It was not safe for him to stay in the city, for the Jews sought to kill him.
jesus with mary and martha at bethany
On these occasions the people were much perplexed about him, not knowing what to think. We can even hear them talking among themselves, quite as the Romans talk in Shakespeare's play when Julius Cæsar rides in procession. As the Master speaks, First Citizen says to his neighbor, "Of a truth, this is the Prophet." Second Citizen answers, with emphasis, striking one hand upon the other, "This is the Christ." But Third Citizen rebukes them, crying, "He hath a devil and is mad; why hear ye him?" To which First Citizen and Second Citizen indeed reply, "These are not the words of him that hath a devil;" but they do not speak with much assurance, and by and by, at the urging of the authorities, all these citizens begin to look about in the road for stones to throw at him.
There were two parties in the state and in the church. Those who belonged to one party were called Sadducees; those who belonged to the other were called Pharisees. The priests of the temple and most of the officers of government were Sadducees; the ministers of the synagogues were Pharisees. The Sadducees carried on elaborate services; the Pharisees cared more for sermons. The Sadducees were a small party, confined almost entirely to Jerusalem; the Pharisees included in their party most of the good, earnest, religious people of the nation. It was the Pharisees who hated our Lord because he disregarded their customs. The Sadducees hated him because they were afraid that he would stir up a revolution. "The Romans will come," they said, "and take away our place and nation." One day the two parties united in sending the police to arrest our Lord, intending to shut him up in jail. But the officers came back empty-handed. "Why have ye not brought him?" cried the Sadducees and Pharisees. The officers answered, "Never man spake like this man." They had stood in the crowd, listening to him.
From these visits, as I said, our Lord returned to the lands where there were no Jews, or very few. One day he was in the city of Bethsaida. This was not the fishing town where some of the Twelve had lived, but a place at the head of the lake, mostly inhabited by Romans. There the signs in the shop windows were in Latin, and even the smallest boys and girls spoke Latin as they played together in the street. Our Lord was walking along, and there came to him a little group of men leading a blind man.
Now, the fact that one cannot see does not imply that he cannot speak. Indeed, this man did finally speak; but not at first. At first he said never a word, letting his friends do all the talking. Probably the man came to Jesus because he was persuaded by his friends. He had no desire to come. He had been to all the doctors, and not one had given him a ray of light. He had no faith in doctors. "But this is not a doctor," said his friends. "This is a man of God. When he speaks, even in Bethsaida, God hears in heaven and answers." So they persuaded him. "Very well," he said, "I will go to please you, but I don't believe in it. It is all folly and delusion. And I will not ask him to heal me. You may, if you choose, but not I." Thus he came into our Lord's presence, actually blind, and practically dumb.
Our Lord took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the town. He took him away alone, apart from all his friends. This he did partly that he might have a chance to talk to the man quietly and intimately, and partly that the blind man might have a chance to talk to him. For after the man had declared to his friends that he would not say a word, not a word was he likely to say so long as his friends were by to hear. Along they went, then, the Master and the man, down one street and up another, past the house, out into the green country. With every step, as our Lord held the man's hand and talked in his gentle and wonderful way, the man's mind began to change; he began to think that one who could speak in that way could do whatsoever he would. Indeed, the walk was a necessary part of the cure, for if the man continued in his indifference and unbelief, our Lord himself could not help him. Thus, one time in a certain place, our Lord could do no mighty work because of the unbelief of the people. The faith of the man himself was an essential part of the miracle. And on the way, the man's faith grew.
At last, they were quite out of the town, and our Lord stopped. He touched his fingers to his lips and placed them on the man's blind eyes. "Now," he said, as he took away his hand, "do you see anything?" The man looked up, and there was a strange new light before him, as if after a black night the sun were dimly rising far away. "Yes," the man cried, "I can see! I can see! Why, I see men walking about like trees!" What did he mean? He said that he could see trees and men coming hand in hand along the country road, looking like brothers. That, I suppose, is the way in which even now we see with our minds. We see God and great truths about him and ourselves in a dim, confused way, like the man who saw the procession of the trees. He was like one who walks in a fog. Sometimes in a fog it is hard to tell, at a little distance, which are trees and which are men. So we look about, ignorantly, in this wonderful world.
But after that, Jesus put his hands upon his eyes and made him look up; and he was restored, and saw every man clearly. That clear sight, we hope, will come sometime to us, and we shall understand the meaning of the words and works of God. Then our Lord sent the man away to his home, saying, "Do not go into the town, nor tell it to any in the town." For he did not wish to draw a crowd about him, nor about the man.