Here’s mud in your eye

Germs. Bacteria. Infection.


When I was a kid, any time someone got sick, my mother would sanitize everything. Dishes and utensils got washed in hospital grade disinfectant. Whenever we got a cut or scrape, we got a spray of Bactine (a topical antiseptic) before the Band-Aid.

But then I remember being out for a walk with my grandfather, her father. I had a bit of a scrape on my elbow, and showed it to him. Grandpa calmly bent down, took my elbow in hand, raised it to his mouth — and licked it. Mind you, this was a man with a PhD in economics. But he grew up in a world and culture in which he believed human saliva to have healing properties.

Mom would probably have been horrified. I don’t know that I ever told her.

But we may need to think more like Grandpa when reading the story of Jesus healing the man born blind:

After he said this, he spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and smeared the mud on the man’s eyes. Jesus said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (this word means sent). So the man went away and washed. When he returned, he could see. (John 9:6-7, CEB) 

Many people of that day would have thought as Grandpa did; they would not have been repelled by the idea of making mud from spit. More importantly, however, we should notice how Jesus is the one who takes the initiative. There is nothing about the man asking for healing, any more than with the man at the pool of Bethesda. Here is someone who needs help, and part of Jesus’ mission is to shed light by bringing healing, whether the man asks for it or not, whether he deserves it or not.

But why did Jesus do it such a strange way? Surely he could have healed the man with just a word or touch. Instead, he did something very earthy — literally — that required a bit of messiness and the man’s cooperation.

Perhaps that was what the man needed: a cure that seemed plausible, and some role to play in his own healing. As my wife has suggested to me, perhaps he was more than willing to take a chance on following Jesus’ instructions because Jesus was the first person to have treated him with dignity instead of as the tragic result of someone’s sin. And perhaps the clay is meant to remind us of the story of creation, of humankind being fashioned from the dust. If so, then Jesus is not only the one through whom all things were created (John 1:3), but the one through whom new creation also comes.

Whatever. What matters is that the man did as he was told, and returned with his sight restored.

The pool of Siloam was a large square pool that lay to the south of the temple. It had steps leading down into it, and was probably used for ritual cleansing. Water was also drawn from that pool for a ritual at the Feast of Tabernacles, which had just ended.

But what John seems to care about is the name of the pool; it means “sent.” It’s another of his messianic details: as Jesus has said repeatedly, he has been “sent” to do his Father’s will, to do his works. How appropriate, then, that the miracle involve the pool called Sent.

The man is healed. He goes home, no doubt filled with wonder, not only at the miracle of healing, but of sight itself.

And that’s when life starts to get even more interesting. More in the next post.