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” . So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.
Chapter 9 of the Gospel of John includes the story of Jesus healing a man who had been blind from birth. I’ve always been a little puzzled by this story. Why did Jesus put spit-mud in the man’s eyes? Couldn’t he have healed him without doing that?
Recently I came across something that added a whole new dimension to this story.
The key to understanding the significance of this, is that Jesus healed this man on the Jewish Sabbath. This act of kindness and mercy was in direct violation of the religious laws of that day and place. Jesus liked to make a special point of violating stupid “religious” laws.
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.”
According to Jewish law, it was forbidden to treat non-life threatening illnesses on the Sabbath. Preparation of any kind of medicine, by grinding ingredients for example, is considered “work” and is not permitted. The Jewish religion developed complex practices and customs defining exactly what is and is not “work”, prohibited on the Sabbath. The Talmud (specifically Shabbat 108:2) addresses what may legally be done to treat an eye ailment on the Sabbath. Use of medicine and curatives was prohibited, so questions arose regarding treatments that did not directly use medicine. On the question of whether a dropper could be used to put wine (which was believed to have curative value) into the eyes, the Talmud says no. That would be too close to using the wine as medicine. So the Talmud then asks about placing some wine on closed eyelids, which might seep into the eyes when the person opened his eyes. The rabbis concluded that because this did not directly involve placing the wine into the eyes, it was permissible on the Sabbath. But the Talmud goes on to say that placing a mud patch on the eyelids (another common way to treat eye problems in those days), so that the mud might seep into the eyes when opened, is still prohibited.
Jesus often directly challenged the legalistic religious practices of the Pharisees. It was one of the things that got him killed.
In this case Jesus healed a blind man on the Sabbath, directly violating the Sabbath rules. And he did it in a way specifically prohibited by the Talmud.
Anyone hearing or reading that story in the Jewish culture from which Jesus came would have immediately recognized his act as shocking and rebellious. Because that culture is so distant from us now, my reaction would be far more typical.
By healing the man in this specific way, Jesus was physically demonstrating that the man-made religious laws could be, and should be, disregarded.
I love the way the story continues:
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 be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.”
Jesus is cool.