The Blind Man Healed
October 23, 2011
As he walked 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?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.
The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”
They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.” The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.
Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him.
Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.” (John 9)
Have you noticed that in many areas of life, so-called “learned men,” scientists, accountants, engineers, and executives of all kinds can so easily become locked into the so-called conventional wisdom that they cannot see beyond it? The common phrase is “they cannot see outside the squares.” Major discoveries in science and new organizational paths are often found by either think tanks or someone outside the situation making an observation and either following up on the research or building a case for change. The new plan is then implemented either by the one suggesting it or someone in authority who is prepared to run with it.
This passage from the Word is, in one sense, about looking or living outside the squares. In this case, the squares are the natural world and phenomena and the material way of thinking. If we stay at this level, we are blind to all that the Lord may be trying to lead us toward.
In the Word there are a number of miracles in which the Lord heals the blind. The image features prominently because in various ways the transition from darkness to light is the story—or should be the story—of our life’s journey, the journey of the spirit from the darkness of selfishness to the light of love to the Lord and the neighbor.
Our passage faces the age-old question: Does physical disease from birth reflect the fact that we are therefore evil or sinners from birth? That assumption is rejected, as we will see later. It is true that we have evil tendencies, but with the Lord’s help we can overcome these. In order to do that, however, we need to see the light.
The fact that the man was born blind is in the Word to let us know that it is telling us about our spiritual rather than our physical state. Everyone who comes into the world is in darkness as to his spirit. Each baby, as we know, is innocent and starts out with the potential to be an angel, but this state is achievable only through a process of development—through making choices, receiving guidance, and learning the truth. It is what we make of our life that counts, as well as how much we allow the Lord to influence it and are mindful of His presence to lead and guide us as we make our decisions.
If we will look at the biblical text—I use this word in the context of seeing beyond the mere words—we can recognize that this whole miracle is about the Lord wanting to be part of our life in every moment if we let Him. Often we are too stubborn or too insensitive to His call, or perhaps born into circumstances such as those of the blind man, who, spiritually speaking, was not instructed in the truth.
The Lord is always ready and knows our inner thoughts, and just as He passed by the blind man he was still aware of his receptivity. It is no coincidence that he came out of the synagogue on the Sabbath and performed this miracle almost immediately afterward. He was challenging the ritual worship and strict interpretation of the law of Moses. The representative worship of the religion of that time was to be turned upside down so that the true light of love to the Lord could be fulfilled. Verse 5 echoes the theme that dominates the gospel of John—“as long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” From this very cosmic, global, and all-encompassing verse we move immediately to the miracle.
The means by which the Lord heals the man—the use of clay and saliva (or spittle), and then the Pool of Siloam—shows how the Lord works with us at the level we can understand. The use of spittle was known as a healing agent in pagan thought and would have been recognized as such by witnesses to this miracle and early readers of this passage. The pool of Siloam was part of the water supply of Jerusalem and was used for baptism.
These symbolisms would therefore have been powerful for those watching and reading. Using the clay, spitting on the ground, and placing the clay on the eyes all provide us with an image of how the Lord comes down to our level of understanding and our life. This man was receptive but had little instruction or understanding, and therefore the Lord needed to bring the performance of this miracle to the sensual level to reach the man. It was the Lord’s spittle that was used. In other words, it was the truths of his Word that were used to heal the man. The Lord was cleansing and purifying the man from false ideas and healing him at the same time.
In our own lives, the Lord works at the level we are at. We can find him in our day-to-day activities. His presence in our life does not have to take the form of a momentous occasion or happening. Unless we look, we are very rarely aware of His being with us. The following example says a lot to me.
A man was standing on a pier when suddenly a storm came. The storm began to get worse each minute, and the waters began to rise.
A man came by in a yacht and said, “Jump into my yacht and save yourself.”
The man on the pier replied, “I have faith that God will save me.”
The storm got worse, and another man came past in a helicopter. He received the same response: “The Lord will save me.”
Then a plane came by and received the same response from the man.
The man, now in danger of drowning because of the rising waters, shouted to the Lord to save him.
The Lord answered, “I sent you a yacht, a helicopter, and a plane—what else can I do?”
We are often so busy leading our lives that we fail to see where the Lord’s hand is guiding or helping us. It is interesting that after the miracle some of the formerly blind man’s friends said that it was him, while others said it was “only a likeness” of him. Some could see the change that had transformed his life as a result of the enlightenment he had received. Just so can our appearance be changed by the inner presence of the Lord.
The remainder of the miracle is a classic picture of how a negative attitude from a purely intellectual, rational perspective will influence our view of life or situations. It will use every means at its disposal to discredit, ridicule, or pour cold water on a fresh idea or new method of doing things, because in this state the mind is closed to influx and wants to preserve the status quo. It cannot see beyond the criticizer’s own thinking. People in this state want, metaphorically speaking, to preserve the laws of gravity rather than defy them.
Can we not see the reactionary Pharisee in this situation? “There’s no reason to change; stick to the rules that have always applied.” The Pharisees were not interested in the healing or in the change in the man’s life. They only wanted to find reasons to disbelieve and put pressure on the man and his family.
We can see quite clearly how the Pharisees denied that Jesus was the Messiah because their power and their selfishness blinded them to the truth. Reason was ahead of enlightenment. There are none so blind as those who do not want to see. And we should not forget that if we go to the literal sense of the Word with the eye of rationality alone, we too will be blind to the power and love contained within its pages, to its power as a light to lighten the world.
In contrast to the Pharisees, the man healed of his blindness pictures for us the way we can be enlightened by the Lord if we are free from the baggage and encumbrances that would prevent this from happening. The Bible’s progression in the sense of the letter is a wonderful demonstration of how the power of the Lord’s presence in our lives can be evident when our understanding is joined with our will and not shut off by self-love and reasoning from selfish motives.
The blind man could not be certain about who Jesus was, and the Pharisees were trying to put words into his mouth. He first answered, “The only thing I know is that then I was blind and now I see,” and later, “He is a prophet.”
In many respects, this acknowledgement of the Lord’s presence in our life is difficult to put into words. We know, but we cannot necessarily explain, when we perceive the presence of the Lord. In the same way that the blind man, without knowing who Jesus was, could then say he was a prophet, there is within us a gradual spiritual illumination regarding who the Lord is.
Finally, when he was approached by Jesus and asked, “Do you believe in the Son of God?” he said, “Who is he, Lord, that I may believe in him?” When Jesus said, “You are talking to Him,” the man said, “Lord, I believe.”
We see in this progression a dawning enlightenment. The man was receptive; the Lord recognized this and opened his physical and spiritual eyes. The man was able to move from faith in the understanding opened by the Lord to love in the heart, which was the potential embedded in the man’s life that the Lord had seen as he passed the man outside the synagogue. This perception of the truth was transformed into a personal relationship with the Lord that climaxed in the man’s eyes truly being opened to a visible God. Just as the scientist, engineer, or executive can see possibilities and new ways forward if he or she is open to new thinking, so we, like the blind man, will receive enlightenment from the Lord if we move from a faith based on reason and intellect to spiritual faith in which we see with the eyes of the spirit. We will see new possibilities in relationships, we will see the presence of the Lord in small as well as big things, and we will be alive to the Lord’s leading.
“I am the light of the world,” said Jesus. May the Divine Humanity of the Lord be present in our lives as the living Lord Jesus so that where we were blind, now we might see.
Lord, let me not make you my pillow,
or prayer my eiderdown.
May you be my alarm clock
and prayer the water that splashes me awake.
- adapted from Dom Helder Camara and Frank Topping
Rev. Chris Skinner