1 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. 2 “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?”
3 “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him. 4 We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us. The night is coming, and then no one can work. 5 But while I am here in the world, I am the light of the world.”
6 Then he spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and spread the mud over the blind man’s eyes. 7 He told him, “Please go wash yourself in the pool of Siloam” (Siloam means “sent one, apostle, or missionary”). So the man went and washed and came back seeing!
8 His neighbors and others who knew him as a blind beggar asked each other, “Isn’t this the man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some said he was, and others said, “No, he just looks like him!”
But the beggar kept saying, “Yes, I am the same one!”
10 They asked, “Who healed you? What happened?”
11 He told them, “The man they call Jesus made mud and spread it over my eyes and told me, ‘Go to the pool of Siloam and wash yourself.’ So I went and washed, and now I can see!”
12 “Where is he now?” they asked.
“I don’t know,” he replied.
We’re going to spend a few days with this story, as it covers all of chapter 9, telling of two trajectories: the blind man toward trusting Jesus and the religious leaders away from trusting Jesus. For today there a few things we should catch. First, Jesus notices the blind man. We are used to this by now. Over three and a half Gospels in, we have seen this over and over. Jesus noticed those in need, cast off by society, suffering. Jesus is a hurting people magnet. True then, now, always.
Second, did you see how the disciples responded to this man’s need? They automatically assumed it was someone’s fault and that the most important thing, the thing to figure out first, was whose fault it was. The Hebrew Scriptures devotes an entire book, Job, to this issue, where people who think themselves godly presume to diagnose the sinful causes behind other people’s suffering. Jesus tells them to stop it and warns them they (we) don’t have time for such pointless discussions. We have a lot of work to do and a short time frame to do it in. No time for debates, do the work.
And really, even if there had been a sinful cause, how in the world could they determine the causality and even if they did, so what? Does figuring it out make the man less blind? Does it bring grace or love into the situation in any way? No. Yes, sometimes suffering is the result of sin, but tracing causes and effects is complicated and not very often helpful in bringing about healing. Even when Jesus brought healing to the woman at the well by showing that he knew her story, he did not go into cause and effect, he only showed that he noticed her, that her suffering had not gone unnoticed. Paying attention to suffering and working to heal it seem a lot more important to Jesus than running diagnostics on it.
Third, we should pay attention to what the blind man does not say. He doesn’t ask to to be healed and he does not express (at this point) any faith-trust in Jesus. Jesus does not heal him because he believed or even because he asked. Jesus does this freely, without prompting. Jesus notices him and takes action. The man does go and wash, but if someone smeared spit mud on your eyes, you would do the same, right? The blind man is going to (spoiler alert) express faith in Jesus at the end of chapter 9 (we will get there Monday), but at this point he doesn’t even know who Jesus is. He didn’t get to see Jesus (since he was still blind) and Jesus never hung around after he healed someone (remember the not-seeking-glory from yesterday).
What is really interesting to me is that early Christians understood his washing to be baptism. There are catacomb drawings that depict this, even though, 1. he hadn’t expressed faith in Jesus yet, and 2. he washed himself. How can a person who doesn’t believe in Jesus yet baptize themselves?? That wrecks so much of our theology and liturgical practice. I think this only makes sense within a centered-set understanding of faith, where what matters is the movement toward or away from Jesus, not crossing some imaginary boundary line between “in” and “out of” faith.
Jesus initiates the blind man’s healing and instructs him to self-baptize as a way of drawing him into a trust relationship. That is what faith names and this method is what Jesus used repeatedly in the Gospels. It is also the work he calls his followers to be doing. Don’t miss that in today’s reading. Jesus says we have to work while we can, while he is with us. John is giving us some foreshadowing here, later Jesus explains that through the Holy Spirit, he will remain with us so we can keep working. The point here is the urgency. There needs to be urgency in our work, not to catalog people’s sins, but to bring healing, grace, and love into their lives, to notice hurting people and get them moving toward Jesus, the source of their healing.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.