I’ve been an avid reader since I was a very young child. There may be a lot that I take for granted when it comes to reading and enjoying reading. I was an English major in University with a strong focus on English Literature. Therefore, I know there can be a difference between reading for pleasure and reading for comprehension. This might raise the question, “Shouldn’t all reading grant comprehension?” Indeed, I believe all reading should be done with the desire to understand what we are reading. However, it is possible to read for pleasure and not necessarily gain the same comprehension as when you are reading with the desire to be instructed by what you are reading.

For example, “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” appears to be a simple sentence that tells us the story of a fox jumping over a dog. You could add almost any other activity as a follow-up to this sentence and not think anything more about it. For example, “The two of them go off and have tea at Ashridge House in Hertfordshire.” You might think it odd for a fox and dog to go have tea and think nothing more about the first sentence. However, if you were reading this for pleasure and comprehension sake, you might realize that the first sentence is a Pangram. Merriam-Webster defines a Pangram as:

  1. a short sentence containing all 26 letters of the English alphabet.

While you might not know what a Pangram is you could, by reading closely, notice from this first sentence that every letter from the English alphabet is represented. This type of internal understanding comes only from understanding what’s written in the text without having to know anything outside of the text to gain comprehension. That’s why it’s not important to know what a Pangram is when you read the first sentence. There’s a lot more you can glean from this first sentence other than it being a Pangram. The fox is brown and quick while the dog is lazy, for example.

When we read the second sentence closely, there’s not as much you can glean. If we removed the location, we could say the fox and the dog, presumably like tea. However, if we know that Hertfordshire is in England, we could surmise that the fox and the dog are English. However, to understand more about the drinking habits of the fox and the dog we would probably have to go outside of the text. This is an example of complex comprehension. Complex comprehension can consist of any number of metaphors, ideas, tropes, etc. that the text relies upon to gain comprehension. These can answer the question, “What is the author trying to tell us?” Here, in the second sentence, the author is telling us the fox and dog like tea and enjoy some quiet time outside of London in the countryside. In addition, they have good taste because Ashridge House is one of the best places to have afternoon tea near London.

When we read the Bible, there are many ways we can approach it. I always pray before reading and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal God’s word to me. Therefore, when we read the Bible, if we’ve asked the Holy Spirit to reveal it to us, we can rely upon it to tell us something. However, what is revealed to us can be determined by how we examine the text. Are we reading for pleasure or reading comprehension? If we’ve prayed and asked the Holy Spirit for comprehension, then I’d say we’re seeking to understand. Since the Bible is a book like no other we’re not likely going to read it one time and never again. This is a principle difference between the Bible and every other book that has, or will, exist.

Therefore, anyone who goes to read the Bible and reads the text more than one time falls into the category of reading for comprehension. It’s entirely possible, of course, to read for comprehension and pleasure. At University, I often took several literature classes at a time and read all of the assigned books, several times for pleasure and comprehension. For me, the more I understood, the greater the pleasure.

This leads me to the book of Mark and the healing of the blind man in Bethsaida. What follows is the text from Mark regarding this event.

They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?”
He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.”
Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything. Jesus sent him home, saying, “Don’t even go into the village.”

Mark 8:22-26 (NIV)

We can read this text and the most likely takeaway will be that Jesus healed a blind man. However, if we were to start asking questions about this event, we could gain a better understanding of it. A lot of people don’t like to ask questions for many reasons. We must realize, however, that it’s only by asking questions that we learn. We must also realize, that when we ask questions, and we learn, we may be able to teach someone else.

Whenever we’re reading the Bible there are things we notice and perhaps things we don’t notice. I find it a good practice to write down what I’ve noticed before I start asking questions.

What do you notice here in Mark 8:22-26?

  1. Some people brought the blind man to Jesus to heal him (like the paralyzed man in Mark 2:1-12).
  2. Jesus took the man out of the village to heal him.
  3. The healing wasn’t complete the first time.
  4. The man used to be able to see because he recognizes the things he partially sees.
  5. After he’s healed, Jesus tells him not to go back into the village (some versions also say not to tell anyone about it).

Since we’re examining a chapter in the book of Mark that’s contained within the book that is the Bible, we might consider any text within the Bible fair game for close reading, since we don’t need to go outside of the text (The Bible) to understand what we’ve read. However, for our purpose of what we’ve noticed, I’m only looking at the book of Mark. Hence, the note on the paralyzed man. The issue about the translation being slightly different in point 5 is from a footnote. Therefore, it too fits within the context of close reading. We could, if we wanted to, add the verses to each point for further clarification of when the event happened. For example, we read about the people who brought the man to Jesus (Point 1) in Mark 8:22. However, I’m not doing that in this article.

I don’t know about you, but I think those five points tell us a lot, and perhaps, raise some questions.

  1. Why did Jesus take the man out of the village?
  2. Why does Jesus tell the man to not return to the village?
  3. Why did the healing need to be done in two stages?
  4. What can we learn from what we have seen here?

What I find amazing about the brains God has given us is we usually skip the first step and go onto the questions. Nevertheless, when I want to gain understanding, I like to write down what I’ve noticed, so when I come back to it later, I can read through it for clarity.

Now, let’s take a short look at the questions here. The first question cannot be answered within the text of Mark, because the text doesn’t tell us why Jesus took the man out of the village. It can, however, be answered within the context of the Bible. We need only go to the Gospel of Matthew (or Luke).

“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.”

Matthew 11:21 (NIV)

Bethsaida didn’t accept or believe that Jesus was Christ because they didn’t repent and turn to Him. Although we went outside of Mark for this knowledge we can go back to Mark for, what I believe, is an even clearer understanding of why Jesus took the man outside of the village.

Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.

Mark 6:4-5 (NIV)

When I put these verses together I come to two conclusions.

  1. Bethsaida was a city Jesus had already been to that didn’t accept His message.
  2. The people in Bethsaida lacked the faith to allow for them to be healed.

After coming to these two conclusions (there could be more), I think I have an answer to both my first and second questions. (I do want to note that there’s other Scripture and reasoning that could develop into more complex answers. However, since I want to keep these short, I’m not going into those responses.) Jesus took the man out of the city because the people there lacked the faith to believe. Because they lacked the faith to believe, Jesus wanted to remove the man (and his friends), who did believe, from their presence. It occurs to me that this might not be the best answer for the second question, so I will add that Jesus told the man not to return because He had shaken the dust off of His feet and was leaving Bethsaida to be dealt with later. Hence, the woes from Matthew.

The third question has a lot of possible answers. As I was reading up on this today I found many different conclusions. Here are some of mine.

Jesus could have healed the blind man in one go. There’s no question of that. The man, and his friends, all believed Jesus could heal him so there’s not much question about faith. Or is there? We know Jesus had been in Bethsaida before and they didn’t believe in Him. The man and his friends had heard about Jesus because they went to Him for healing. The text tells us “they begged [Jesus] to touch him [the blind man]” (Mark 8:22 NIV). Since most of the different translations for this verse use some variation of “beg” to describe their action, I’m going to stick with begging and what I know about it.

When someone begs they believe at least two things.

  1. The person they are asking can do what they want.
  2. The person they are asking can decide not to do what they want.

We see evidence of this in the case of the man whose son is possessed by an evil spirit and throws him into the fire.

“It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

Mark 9:22-23 (NIV)

What I see here, and perhaps in the people who came from the unbelieving Bethsaida, is doubt. We might consider the doubt of the friends and the blind man and leave it at that. However, within the context of the text, we see other things going on. For instance, the disciples just had their infamous discussion about only having a single loaf of bread. In this discussion, it’s revealed that they still fail to understand the infinite power of Jesus as God. This is why Jesus puts the question to them, “Do you still not understand?” (Mark 8:14-21). There’s a lot that can still be said here about Jesus as God, His coming glorification, and the Second Coming. However, I don’t want to digress any further in that direction.

Therefore, let’s say that one reason why it took two attempts is to bolster the faith of those who might have been harboring some doubts. That would be the blind man and his friends. If I may, though, I think we can be included in that group.

We know God created the heavens and the earth by speaking them into being. We know He can heal, restore, and do anything instantly. However, we have an issue with waiting. We want it now. When we don’t see it now we might start to wonder about all sorts of things. Is God real? Will He do what He said? The list is endless. By healing the blind man in two stages we know that the promises of God will be fulfilled in His time and not ours.

As for the final question of what we can learn from these events. Well, I think that the process of answering the other questions has revealed to us a lot that we can learn without restating those answers here. I must say that we can learn nothing, however, without the guidance of the Holy Spirit to lead us into finding the answers we seek. Whether or not we’re reading the Bible, pondering the wonders of the Universe, or the location of our lost car keys, the Holy Spirit knows all things and is happy to reveal them to those who come to Him for help.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

Matthew 7:7 (NIV)

Do you know God? God knows you and He loves you. He sees you as significant because you are. No one is insignificant to Him. He’s with you today, right now, and He wants you to know Him. Jesus died for your sins and mine so we could be free of guilt, be freed from death, and live eternally with Him. Eternal salvation is just a prayer away.

Pray this prayer with me to accept the gift of salvation today:

Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for Your forgiveness. I believe You died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite You to come into my heart and life. I want to trust and follow You as my Lord and Savior. Amen.

If you prayed that prayer then congratulations! You are on the first step of a brand new life. Allow me to be the first to welcome you to my family, the family of God. There are abundant resources available online for new Christians. You can visit here for more information on what to do next. You can also leave me a comment, and I’ll do my best to help you on the next step of this incredible journey.