Healing Our Spiritual Blindness
June 08, 2003
As Jesus went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"
"Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that God's works might be revealed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world." Having said this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man's eyes. "Go," he told him, "wash in the Pool of Siloam" (this word means "Sent"). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.
His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, "Isn't this the same man who used to sit and beg?" Some claimed that he was. Others said, "No, he only looks like him." But he himself insisted, "I am the man."
"How then were your eyes opened?" they demanded.
He replied, "The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see."
"Where is this man?" they asked him.
"I don't know," he said.
They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man's eyes was a Sabbath. Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. "He put mud on my eyes," the man replied, "and I washed, and now I see."
Some of the Pharisees said, "This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath." But others asked, "How can a sinner do such miraculous signs?" So they were divided. Finally they turned again to the blind man, "What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened."
The man replied, "He is a prophet." . . .
A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. "Give glory to God," they said. "We know this man is a sinner."
He replied, "Whether he is a sinner or not, I don't know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!"
Then they asked him, "What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?"
He answered, "I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?"
Then they hurled insults at him and said, "You are this fellow's disciple! We are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don't even know where he comes from."
The man answered, "Now that is remarkable! You don't know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing."
To this they replied, "You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!" And they threw him out.
Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?"
"Who is he, sir?" the man asked. "Tell me so that I may believe in him."
Jesus said, "You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you."
Then the man said, "Lord, I believe," and he worshiped him.
Jesus said, "For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind."
Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, "What? Are we blind too?"
Jesus said, "If you were blind, you would not have sin; but now that you say, 'We see,' your sin remains."
(John 9:1-17, 24-41)
As Jesus went along, he saw a man blind from birth. (John 9:1)
It is with these words that the longest account of any of the Lord's healing miracles begins. It is not the only record of his curing of blindness. From the other instances found in the Gospel, one might have expected that in this case--as in others--he would have spoken a word, or lightly touched the afflicted one's eyes, and an instantaneous cure would have been effected.
Instead we find him prescribing a rather detailed procedure to be followed. And before the story is told we find it involves not only the Lord and the blind man, but also his parents, the neighbors, and a group of Pharisees. The healing itself, though, is summed up in one verse. Jesus had just identified himself as "the light of the world." "Having said this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man's eyes. 'Go,' he told him, 'wash in the Pool of Siloam' (this word means 'Sent'). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing."
To say the least, this method of giving sight to that blind man was both unusual and fascinating. As we have noted, of the several instances on record of the Lord's having given sight to the blind, this is without question the most complex. Usually it was either by the touch of his hand or by his merely speaking a word. The only exception is that of the blind man of Bethsaida. In this case (recorded in Mark 8) Jesus used both saliva and the touch of his hands to effect the cure. But as in other cases, the role of the person being healed was entirely passive. In this text, however, the recipient of the gift of sight was required to be actively involved in the process. We'll come back to this fact later.
First let us deal with some other details. At least three questions need to be asked:
- Why the mud pack on the eyes, made by moistening the dirt with the Lord's saliva?
- Why the need to wash in the pool of Siloam?
- Why are we told so specifically--so cryptically--that the name Siloam means "sent"?
Surely we must look for some spiritual meaning rather than some natural explanation if we are to find satisfactory answers to these questions.
Let's think for a moment of this marvelous ability we have of seeing. The power of sight is surely one of God's greatest and most blessed gifts to us. But, how do we see? Well, we know quite a bit about the physics and the physiology of sight. We know there is the sun overhead. It sends forth incredible amounts of power, of energy--energy that streams down constantly through millions of miles of space. Those waves of energy (which we simply call sunshine) come in contact with the objects all around us, and are partially reflected so as to form tiny images in our eyes of the things in our fields of vision. These tiny images are carried by a complex series of physical processes to the appropriate brain cells. Then the nexus between the physical and the spiritual is somehow bridged, and--wonder of wonders--we see!
Now suppose we were to close our eyes for a moment. Immediately we cut off the stream of images, and although we may still be aware of a sort of vague or general light (unless we cover our eyes tightly with something opaque) we are for the moment, for all practical purposes, blind. The light from the sun is still there. The objects are still there all around us; but no light-formed images are entering the eyes. We can, for the moment, see nothing.
Next, let us suppose that some disorder or disease temporarily affects our eyes so that they are unable to receive and transmit images to the brain. Again, we are blind; this time, as long as the disordered condition continues.
Finally, let us try to imagine what it would be like to be born blind. To be born blind would mean that the light of the sun had never been carried to our brain in the form of reflected images. In terms of the role sunlight plays in helping us to see the world around us, it would be the same as though the sun had never existed. So much for physical blindness.
Let us next try to elevate our thoughts to the corresponding spiritual condition. To do so we need to think, not of the sun of the natural world, but of the source of all light and power: the "sun of righteousness" (Malachi 4:2). Perhaps it will help if we think of that part of the description of the holy city New Jerusalem where it says, "The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp" (Revelation 21:23).
However we picture it, we again think of a great stream of power, of energy, emanating from the Lord, descending through the heavens, coming to rest on the minds of men and women everywhere--a great influx of divine energy coming forth from the mind of God. And for what purpose? To enlighten the minds of us, his children: you, and me, and all men and women. We could call it the light of God's own wisdom accommodated to our minds, to enable us to see things of spiritual beauty and worth.
What, then, can we say about spiritual blindness? The parallel between it and physical blindness is perfect. There is always the going forth of divine power from the Lord in the form of truth, just as there is always the streaming forth of power from the sun in the form of light. Never for a moment does either of these forces cease. Again the parallel is clear: in the case of spiritual blindness, somehow the power to see the light of truth is cut off; our inner eye is unable to function, just as the physical eye does not function when there is physical blindness. Again, the result is the same: there is spiritual vagueness and darkness in the mind--spiritual blindness. For instance, in our spiritual blindness we are unable to see the Lord working in our misfortunes, nor do we see the good in people we don't happen to like.
Now let us ask: What sorts of things cause this dysfunction? What causes this inability to see spiritual things--to see life from a spiritual point of view? Again, there are degrees of blindness, and several possible causes. The most common of all causes, we are told, is selfishness. We may not have thought of it in this context before, even though we may have suffered in many other ways, directly or indirectly, from the consequences of selfishness--ours or someone else's. But the fact is that self-love (and all the attendant evil and corrupt desires and purposes that follow in its train) has the power to paralyze our spiritual optic nerve--to blind our minds to the nature of spiritual realities.
We have not been left in the dark on this matter. Recall the words of the Lord found in the Gospel: "The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness" (Matthew 6:22, 23). We immediately sense that Jesus was not talking about the physical body; that he was talking about the mind, the real inner self. Notice that he identified the "light" in the mind of an evil person as being "darkness." At first hearing this seems to be a contradiction of terms: how can light be darkness? Under the laws of physics it cannot be; but under the laws of the spirit, it is quite possible.
It is, for example, characteristic of those who are spiritually blind--that is, blind to spiritual realities--to think that they are unusually keen-sighted. It is not at all unusual for such persons to think that they know much better than others what is worth striving for in life. Such people tend to size up life, to evaluate its possibilities, and--not being hampered or restricted by such things as moral laws or religious principles--to set out full steam ahead to carry out their plans without any regard for God or humanity. This sort of blindness may be typical of corporate managers or money people--those of them who set up fame, wealth, or prestige as the only goals in life worth striving for.
In the mind of the person intent only on personal gain and gratification without any regard for the rights and feelings of others, "light" or "enlightenment" is what favors worldly interests and leads to temporal, self-centered gains. (Someone once called this "enlightened self-interest"--a strange illogical inconsistency. Self-interest is always blind.) This same person sees as "darkness" or foolishness the fundamental principles of spiritual life.
Try to tell such people about the Lord and his constant care and love for all of his children. Try to tell them of the deep satisfaction, the real joy to be found in communion with the Lord and in service to humankind. Try to tell them of such things, and they will be likely to say, if they speak their real thoughts, something like this: "I understand your words--I know what you are saying--but I don't see it. In no way can I see that you are right. Or to be quite blunt, I don't believe it!"
Try to tell such people that there can never be any lasting satisfaction in getting anything dishonestly, or by taking unfair advantage of the distress or misfortune of another, and again--if they speak their mind--the response will be, "I know what you mean, but I simply don't see it that way. It is, after all, everyone for himself in this crazy world." "If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!"
But we have said that there are degrees of blindness, and several possible causes. The closing of the mind to spiritual light is not always due to the deliberate rejection of what is good and true. Sometimes it may be due to ignorance regarding the things of religion. There is such a condition as being "spiritually blind from birth." In such cases, the mind--the level of thought that involves understanding spiritual things--has never been awakened. This, in fact, is the state represented by the man in our reading, who had been "blind from birth." This was not an affliction that could in any way be linked to his own personal folly, to his deliberate wrongdoing, to his personal foolhardy behavior. The cause lay somewhere in the dim, distant past--in the minds and lives of his parents or some earlier generation.
With this fact in mind, let us now look in more detail at the method of cure used by the Lord. Christ spit on the ground and made some mud with the saliva. Why? We shall never understand the real significance of any of the words and deeds of the Savior as recorded in the Gospel until we grasp the great truth that over and above their literal meaning they all have an inner or spiritual meaning. There is, in fact, always a perfect parallel between the literal words and actions of the Lord back in Bible days and the operation of his divine power on the spiritual plane of life today. This is the basic teaching summing up what our church knows as the "doctrine of the Sacred Scriptures."
In our reading, there was a man who had been blind from birth. That was the natural, or literal situation. Translated to the spiritual dimension: think of a human being created and formed by God with the intent that that person be able to enjoy the blessedness of seeing--of understanding something of the wisdom that continually pours forth from the mind of God. But somehow, in ways quite beyond the control of that individual, the eyes of the spirit have remained tightly sealed. The person has no apparent understanding of any of the higher, loftier things of true human living. The person is obviously spiritually blind.
What could cure this? What was the first thing needed to open the eyes of such a mind? First there had to be the imparting of some knowledge from God, given in such a way as to be unmistakably seen as divine truth. Paradoxically, it would therefore need to be one of the simplest, most basic of teachings about what constitutes a good life. Further, that truth would somehow have to be given in such a way that the person would receive it willingly. So-called "straight" truth obviously wouldn't do. In this case it needed to be mixed or blended with something familiar, something well known. What could be better known than dirt? The earth on which we stand? The earth on which we live?
Again we call on the language of correspondence. Because of its characteristics, soil or earth symbolizes the lowest, most natural plane of our emotional life. We speak, for instance, of a down-to-earth person, meaning one who is simple, straightforward, and unsophisticated. But it is not merely simplicity; it must also involve something of natural goodness in the heart: unstructured, but nevertheless having genuine openness to receiving light from the Lord. Otherwise it--the truth--won't stick.
Mud tends to be adhesive. The simple combination of saliva and dirt formed an adhesive mud pack. When the mud was applied to the eyes, the person for the moment seemed no better off than before. Probably he looked worse--just as the facial mudpacks used today hardly enhance one's beauty while they are in place! What they offer at best is hope--but let us never downgrade the power of hope!
So now that we have something that can offer hope, what next? "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam." Again, the symbolism is clear. The man or woman who indulges in wrong thoughts and desires, not out of malevolence, but simply out of ignorance, nevertheless is blinded to the realities of the blessed light of heavenly happiness. The "great good news" is still unknown to such a person. The spiritual eyes remain closed. Words of Isaiah come to mind: "Wash and make yourself clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right!" (Isaiah 1:16, 17). Or, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam."
We can be sure that this cure could not have been effected without the active participation of the afflicted person in the process. He was sent. And we noted earlier that the Scripture tells us that the name Siloam means "sentPerhaps it will be easier to grasp the significance of this if we realize that the word translated here as "sent" is from the same root as the word translated as "apostle." An apostle is one sent out by the Lord to do the Lord's work. That's the only way to be an apostle--something that, need I say, is commended to each one of us. To be apostles of the Lord we must be willing, at the Lord's bidding, to be sent out in his name--to go. It was only when the blind man actually went to the pool and washed that sight came to him. Without that willing participation from him, he would have remained blind for the rest of his earthly life.
All of us, to some extent, are born blind. We all tend instinctively to put personal, often selfish purposes first in our list of values. Ultimately we need to realize that only in a way directly analogous to the process we have been discussing can we receive spiritual sight.
Turning to words of Isaiah 42:1-9, we need first, somehow, to become conscious of our innate spiritual blindness. To paraphrase the words of the prophet, we need to ask the Lord to "strengthen our feeble hands, to steady our knees when they give way, to say to our fearful hearts, 'Be strong, do not fear.' Then (and only then) will our blind eyes be opened."
"Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind." Nobody, that is, until the Lord came into the world and became "God with us." Amen.
O Lord of Light, we come to you conscious, yet unconscious, of our own blindness. We come to you knowing that we are blind, yet still thinking that we see. Heal in us, O Lord, the blindness that we do not even know we have. Open the deeper realms of our spiritual sight, so that we may see wonders we could never before conceive of. Take our focus away from self and the world, and raise our minds and hearts up toward you. And as our vision deepens in your heavenly light, broaden our vision also, to include in its scope all the beings of your creation here on earth. Amen.
Rev. William R. Woofenden