This Sunday’s Gospel reading is John 9, unless you’re using the Mothering Sunday options.
Here, we see Jesus enacting one of the oddest healing miracles in any of the gospels which is then followed by a convoluted series of responses involving the parents of the man who has been healed, his neighbours and some Pharisees which is deeply comical. It always makes me laugh when I read it anyway.
The chapter begins with Jesus making the radical statement that the man’s affliction, his blindness is not the result of sin. The moment we bind people’s physical well-being up entirely with sin, we start doing serious damage to them. When teaching and training people in prayer ministry, the ministry of healing and “power” ministry generally, one very important thing that must be taught is that some people just don’t seem to receive physical healing but that this is not the result of specific sin (nor is it down to a lack of faith on their part or that of the people praying for them). We recognise and believe that sickness exists in the world because of the fallen, broken nature of reality, the restoration of which is at the heart of the Gospel announcement of Jesus’ life, ministry, death and resurrection. Tying specific infirmity to specific sin, however, is unhelpful (to say the least) in the vast majority of cases but it was an accepted way of viewing the world at the time of Jesus’ ministry – hence the question of his disciples.
Then, the method by which Jesus brings about the man’s healing is unusual. One some occasions, Jesus touches a person to make them well. On others, he simply commands healing and it happens. Here, Jesus spits on the ground, makes mud (he must have had a lot of spit!) and coats the man’s eyes. He then tells him to go and wash, an instruction that seems unnecessary. Specifically, he instructs him to wash in the pool of Siloam. At that point, Jesus and the man part ways. He goes, washes and then returns home to all the controversy that follows from his healing.
There is, I think, significance both in the making of mud from the ground and in the pool of Siloam for washing that speak of the purpose of Jesus’ ministry. First, the mud. The man in this account had been born blind. His infirmity had been with him from the outset of his life and could be understood as representing the brokenness that we all carry with us through our lives. By the use of the earth – from which we came – in bringing about the healing, there is an enacted message about the restoration of creation in the ministry of Jesus. Secondly, the pool of Siloam. In Isaiah 8, the waters of Shiloah (in Hebrew, Shiloam), are used as a picture of the calmness and safety of trusting in YHWH as a counter-point to the disaster of the mighty flood waters coming in the form of Assyria. In Jesus, Israel’s God is acting definitively. The time of exile is finally coming to an end.
After all the comic controversy of the Pharisees and the man’s family and neighbours, Jesus hears that he has been dismissed by the Pharisees and seeks him out. He invites him to believe in – to put his faith in – the Son of Man. This is entry into the newly constituted Israel that Jesus is establishing in and around himself, just as the man’s physical healing ought to have enabled him to take a full part, for the first time in his life, in the life of Israel as it then stood.
Finally Jesus announces, in the hearing of some Pharisees, the reversal of power roles in his new Israel. Those who were blind, who were unable to provide for themselves except by begging, will be those who see. This man is the example of what Jesus is saying. Having only just received his physical sight, he had stood before the self-appointed judges of what it meant to be truly the people Israel, the Pharisees, and had testified to the power of Jesus’ ministry. At the same time, those who have enjoyed power, those who can see, will be the blind.