Of all the weird things Jesus did.
He spat on the ground and rubbed the mud into this fellow’s eye. Told him to wash it off and the guy was healed of his blindness (John 9).
That is strange, isn’t it?
For one thing, you expect –from all the other stories about Jesus- that he could simply snap his fingers and the job was done. Boom. Healed. But this suggests that the person is part of the story. I mean that it’s not something being done TO him, but something being done WITH him. He becomes an active participant in the story.
Of course, you see this sometimes in the accounts of the miracles, when Jesus said something along the lines of “Your faith has healed you.” It’s as if my own active, believing participation has made something astonishing happen. And –conversely- on one occasion, the writer said “Jesus could not do many miracles there, because of their unbelief” which is really interesting, suggesting that our lack of belief can actually hinder his work.
Some people were just healed without any participation. Others seemed to do all the running (like the woman in the crowd who reached out to touch his cloak). This particular story is somewhere in the middle. Jesus invites the blind guy into the process in order to teach something specific.
It’s part of a chapter-long discussion of blindness, considered as a metaphor for seeing the truth about God and the world. Do you see? Really see? It begins with a physical act of healing. Jesus and the disciples see this man, blind from birth and the disciples want to know whose fault his blindness is. Note the question they’re asking – was this his fault or the fault of his parents? That is to say: Doers God zap you with physical ailments because of your wrongdoing? (Answer: No).
So the disciples asking this question of Jesus begins a wider discussion. Jesus tells his listeners that neither the man nor his parents had caused his problem – meaning that their entire line of questioning was wrong. What He could have told them was, “It’s nobody’s fault. God didn’t make this man blind as a punishment. This particular blind man has come to us so that you can be made to see. Now open your eyes and watch this.”
Then we get the weird and wonderful interaction between Jesus and the blind man. Jesus spits in the dirt and creates mud to put on the man’s eyes – as if it were a poultice. It is this act – spitting in the dirt and rubbing mud on the man’s eyes that causes Jesus to run afoul of the Pharisees in this story. John tells us it was the Sabbath. And on the Sabbath one was allowed to do no work at all. It was the day of rest. Jesus’ mixing dirt and saliva and spreading it on the man’s eyelids was work
The Pharisees find out about what has happened and begin to question the man. They want him to tell them that Jesus is a sinner, or somehow has gotten his power from someplace other than God. But the man says, “I don’t know if he is a sinner. One thing I do know: that though I was blind, now I see.” Then the Pharisees invoke the name of Moses – the chief cornerstone of their faith – and tell the man that they have no idea where Jesus comes from, with the implication being, “but we’re pretty sure it’s not from Moses, like us.” So … who was blind?
The Pharisees, in this story and others, represent those blind to the new thing that was springing up in Jesus. They saw the miracles, they heard the teaching, but each time they looked, they saw nothing – they saw with the eyes of religious authority, not with the eyes of faith. Who’s blind?
Barbara Brown Taylor says that the Pharisees in this story, in their eternal hunt to root out sinfulness, committed the bigger sin. She says that this story points out a very important question for us to consider. “Not ‘what if it is not God and I believe that it is’ but ‘What if it is God and I believe that it is not?’ That is the one question the Pharisees forgot to ask. They were so sure of everything – that God did not work on Sundays, that Moses was God’s only spokesman, that anyone born blind had to be a sinner, and ditto for anyone who broke the Sabbath; that God did not work through sinners, that God did not work on sinners, and that furthermore no one could teach them anything.”
Thank God those Pharisees aren’t around today, hey? Those people who were faced with the signs and wonders of God Incarnate in their lives and yet couldn’t see who and what Jesus was. So clueless that they bordered on hopeless…. But then again ….
The fact is that we all have our blind spots, don’t we? I mean, if we really look into our hearts, we can see that this blindness affects us all. It’s OK. Go ahead and take a look at your own life. God already knows, so it’s a matter of allowing our own eyes to be open to our blind spots.
For instance, how about those folks who say, “We can’t do that here, because we’ve always done it this way?” Isn’t that resistance to any sort of change, in the name of purity of religious tradition exactly what we’re talking about? “What if it IS God and I don’t believe?” That’s a tough one for us to face. We’re good people. We try to follow the rules and get a handle on what it is God wants from us. We try and struggle to do the right things, so don’t tell us that some completely different thing might also be from God. And that’s the important thing here. Also – both/and – not either/or.
The Pharisees in this story weren’t wrong for being the teachers and protectors of Jewish law. Most of them were probably very good and devout men who spent a lifetime devoted to their faith and trying to keep it pure. BUT … when Jesus, this brand new picture of God in the world came along, they closed the eyes of their hearts – they figuratively plucked out their own eyes – rather than see that even as their faith went along, something new could also be happening in the interaction between God and humanity. “What if it IS God and I don’t believe?”
Who’s blind now?