April 14, 2014
This year the gospel readings during Lent included John’s account of the incident when Jesus gave sight to the man who had been born blind.
Observing the man sitting by the path begging, the disciples raised the question frequently debated by the rabbis of that time.
“Whose fault is this?” the disciples asked Jesus (Hubbard paraphrase). “Who sinned here—the parents or the man himself?”
“Neither,” Jesus answered bluntly.
Then, as Jesus often did, He re-framed the issue. This man’s blindness has not occurred as evidence of wrong doing, Jesus explained. Rather this man’s blindness provides opportunity for God to reveal Himself, a situation in which God can make plain His power and love.
Then, demonstrating His point, Jesus spit on the ground, mixed His saliva with the dirt, and making a kind of poultice, placed the clay pack on the blind man’s eyes.
Jesus then told the man, “Go wash this off in the pool of Siloam.”
Siloam means ‘sent,’ John notes in passing. Given the controversy that swirled around Jesus’s identity, it is possible that in His instructions to the man Jesus was making in advance the very point which He knew His critics would raise when the miracle became public.
However that may be, the man obeyed the directions Jesus had given him. He came back, John reports tersely, “seeing.”
Uproar immediately erupted. The commotion consisted, for the most part, of surprise, disbelief, and angry criticism of Jesus and His action.
His critics leveled their furious reoccurring charge: this man is a sinner—He cannot be one who has come from God (i.e., sent from God) since He does not keep the Sabbath according to the rules. Do not pay attention to this man’s ability—and willingness—to give sight to the blind, unasked and undeserved. The significant thing to take into account is His refusal to live by the Sabbath rules as we understand them.
The story ends with the man insisting that Jesus had indeed healed him. The man refused to alter his story: he had been blind, and could now see. He continued to insist on the details as well: Jesus had made this happen by smearing spit-based mud on his eyes and sending him to the pool of Siloam, and the result was unarguable: when the man washed the mud off the miracle happened—he who had been blind could see.
When Jesus’s critics insisted that the man tell his story again (clearly seeking some kind of a loop hole), the man retorted that not only could he see the world around him, but that he could, additionally, see something those judging Jesus refused to face: that what Jesus had done established who He was—one who was indeed sent (Siloam) from God.
The authorities rewarded the man’s insistence on his story by ejecting him from the synagogue.
This is an amazing story: Immanuel, God with us, the Light of the World Who made the blind see.
But think with me about the details.
Here was Jesus, concerned about his disciples’ confusion, anticipating his critics, faced with the tragedy of the man’s life-long blindness, and what does He do?
He spit on the ground.
Then He mixed His spit and the earth His spit had landed on and made a mud pack for the blind man’s eyes.
Anyone thinking about this may, I think, be forgiven for raising an objection:
Now, really, Jesus. If you are trying to make the point that you are indeed Messiah, the One sent by God, what is this spit business all about? Besides—this isn’t the only time you’ve used your spit as a part of miracle-making. Couldn’t you do something a little more elegant—a little more “royal” or king-like, or at least something not quite so gross? Sent-from-God to put spit on people, particularly blind people who may not be clear about what’s happening to them—Jesus, the results can’t be argued—those who were blind see—but Your method?
When we read this story it is not difficult to understand the point. In His life on earth, Jesus answered the questions about who He was by what He did.
And I think one of the reasons John recorded this story for us is the way the healed man focused so clearly on this truth. Spit poultices or broken Sabbath rules are irrelevant, the man insisted impatiently. Here is the crucial fact: I know that this man Jesus is come from God—once I was blind and now I see.
In retrospect the issue seems quite plain, doesn’t it?
Nevertheless, I am slow to criticize Jesus’s critics too severely. If we are honest, most of us are aware that, like Jesus’s critics, we too can—and likely have—had times when we have been more concerned about spit and rule breaking than exchanging our blindness for the sight that Jesus can (and will) give.
Theology (systematic ways of thinking about God) is helpful, and carries a proper, respectable reputation. “Spit baths” may sound gross, but, inelegant as they sound (and are) many of us have received (and/or given) them under “emergency conditions” in which parents and grandparents found them the most readily available remedy for a dirty face or a stain on a shirt.
I need to learn to think properly about God, and to practice spiritual hygiene in a way that makes “spit baths” unnecessary. I need to learn to know God, and to practice personal purity. Rule-keeping and religiously approved solutions to human problems certainly have their place.
Thinking with you today, however, that I want my life to speak from the source of truth on which the blind man stood when he said, “There are lots of questions I can’t answer, but this one thing I know: once I was blind, and now I see.”
How’s your eye-sight?
See you next week.