15 February 2006: Wednesday of the 6th Week in Ordinary Time
Mark 8, 22-26 Gradual Healing
Saliva or spittle in ancient times was considered a medicine. It is not strange. Our instinct tells us that when we bruise or burn our fingers, we put our fingers in our mouth. Saliva has indeed cleaning properties that help reduce or eliminate bad breath caused by oral bacteria such as S. mutans, S. gordonii, Actinobacillus actinomycetemcomitans and L. salivarius. Thus a reduced production of saliva causes bad breath. However, all of saliva’s cleansing action is relegated to throat and mouth diseases such as strep troat, gum disease, plaque, or mouth and throat cancer. But nowhere in scientific study can you see saliva being used as medicine for blindness.
If this is so, why did Jesus used spittle to cure? I guess a great doctor begins from where people are. My mother who is a pharmacist told me that people prefer certain medicines over another because they believed it better than the rest. Medicine for common headache is a case in point. She said that a large component for healing is belief. The great doctor is able to enter into the mind and heart of his patient, to understand his fears, difficulties and stumbling blocks to cure. Jesus used a method for the blind man to understand. It is like explaining hard technical concepts in lay man’s terms.
However, the Gospel today is unique and teaches us an important lesson in life. This miracle is the only miracle in the Gospels that can be said to have happened gradually. The blind man first sees people like trees until they become clearer and clearer.
I believe this is particularly important. In an age where things are done efficiently quick and suddenly, like any instant brands, the truth about things happening gradually often makes us impatient. But indeed things develop slowly. Relationships grow little by little. Physical stamina increases periodically. Anyone who declares that Christ is the center of his life does not automatically make him a mature Christian: it comes with regular prayer and action. Scientific discoveries are incremental and cumulative, built on previous discoveries and theories. And thus healing also happens gradually. And patient waiting and constant medical cure is needed: for diabetics and hypertensive individuals like me, maintenance medicines are taken every day constantly. Virtues are built up habitually.
Thus there is no 360-degree change: change happens steadily and constantly. And the rise and fall that is part of life and of faith, as all of us experience the tides of sin and starting anew, rams into our very consciousness the lost Christian virtue of respect for process.
*picture by Neo Saicon SJ (in yellow shirt)