and thrice a dove. Four times, which is either a testimony to Noah’s faith or his frustration at being cooped up with all those animals for forty days and forty nights!
Today the Church pairs Noah’s four tries with the curious account of the blind man at Bethsaida whose healing takes two tries before he is able to see. Two tries! You heard it. First Jesus spits on his fingers and anoints the blind man’s eyes, but it doesn't seem to work. The man reports seeing people who look like walking trees. So Jesus tries again, this time laying his hands on on the man's eyes, after which the no longer blind man sees “everything distinctly.”
Now that’s plain weird. Is this a testament to Jesus’ faith, that like Noah he kept on trying. That makes no sense, for Jesus is the Truth, the archetype and object of our faith. So why does it take two tries for the one through whom all things were made to remake the blind man's sight?
The answer lies a couple chapters later in Mark, when we contrast this healing with the giving of sight to Bartimaeus. You remember him: the beggar by the side of the road in Jericho, who keeps screaming at Jesus: “Son of David, have pity on me!” Then when Jesus stops, he jumps up, runs to him and says, “Rabbi, I want to see!” Jesus neither anoints his eyes nor imposes his hands. He just tells him that his faith has saved him and he is able to see perfectly.
Now contrast that to our poor man at Bethsaida. He does not approach Jesus on his own volition or say anything at all to him. Rather, we are told that certain people bring him to Jesus and they beg the Lord to heal him. There is no indication of the blind man’s faith, only the intercession of his friends. So the slow healing corresponds to his slow growth in faith. Or, as one commentator put it, “the rate of the growth of his faith settled the rate of the perfecting of Christ’s work on him.”
And the same is true in us. Christ, through whom I was made, is capable of bringing me to perfection in the twinkling of an eye. But he chooses not to. Rather, he gives me free will, that I might be able to love freely, like him. It is only when I am willing to see things with the eyes of faith, that I will see them distinctly.
In other words, ‘I will get as much of God as I want and no more and the measure of my desire is the measure of my capacity to receive God’s gift.’ We say it at every invitatory: Lord open my lips, and my mouth will proclaim your praise. Open your lips and your heart to him today and he will open your eyes that you might see his face.