(John 9:6-7 ESV) 6 Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud 7 and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.
Readers have long been fascinated with Jesus’ choice to heal using mud and spit (gross!). Obviously, Jesus could have healed with a word. Why this approach?
Well, this approach sent the man to the pool of Siloam, which we read about in the last two chapters. That’s where water was drawn by the priest each day of the Feast of Booths, symbolizing God’s promise to give the Spirit to Israel. Thus, to a Jew, the waters of the pool were symbolic of the Living Water, the Holy Spirit.
Perhaps Jesus was demonstrating the truth of his promise to bring Living Water to Israel (John 7:37-39). That would fit the context very well.
There’s another subtlety. The Pool of Siloam was near the base of the Temple and was likely used as a mikveh so that worshipers could cleanse themselves before entering the Temple grounds. Sending the blind man to this particular mikveh insured that the healing would be witnessed by a crowd of worshipers, including Jewish authorities — exactly the result Jesus was looking for.
John adds the detail “(which means Sent),” thereby defining the word “Siloam.” The name likely derives from the fact that the pool was fed by a spring, resulting in “living water.” But the information would be irrelevant unless John is making another point: that the blind man, having been cleansed of his illness by the Son of Man, was sent by God to be a witness for Jesus.
(John 9:8-11 ESV) 8 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar were saying, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some said, “It is he.” Others said, “No, but he is like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.”
10 So they said to him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed and received my sight.”
I love this story! The formerly blind man is such a great character — and very Jewish. He is a just-the-facts kind of guy. He doesn’t do theology. He doesn’t do fate. He just testifies to what happened.
He has no tracts. He’s not been through visitation training. He has a simple story of cleansing by God, and he loves to tell it — how could he not? And that makes him a powerful witness indeed.
(John 9:12-13 ESV) 12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.” 13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind.
Why take the man to the Pharisees? To show them the power of Jesus? To bring accusations down on Jesus? Probably, the neighbors were so perplexed by this healing that they were looking for some explanation. They were suffering cognitive dissonance: the reality they were experiencing did not fit their worldview.
You see, to them, this man was a dreadful sinner, as proven by God’s vengeance on him, evidenced by his blindness. How could he be healed?
(John 9:14-15 ESV) 14 Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15 So the Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight. And he said to them, “He put mud on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.”
The man has no desire to get in trouble, but he is no liar and is not going to sell Jesus out. He sticks with the facts.
(John 9:16-17 ESV) 16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” And there was a division among them. 17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him, since he has opened your eyes?” He said, “He is a prophet.”
The Pharisees learn that Jesus healed on the Sabbath. Evidently, this conversation takes place on a later day. This leads to a theological problem: How can a sinner heal a man born blind?
Healing of the blind is a power attributed to God himself in the Old Testament (Psa 146:8; Isa 29:18; 35:5; 42:7). Moreover, as some of the same verses attest, curing the blind would be a sign of the coming Kingdom.
And yet, to the Pharasaical mind, healing on a Sabbath is a grave sin. Prophets don’t do such things, much less the Messiah! And so the Pharisees disagreed, because there was no explanation consistent with their theology — and they weren’t about to give up their theology — facts or no facts!
Desperate, they asked the blind man — hardly a scholar — for his opinion. He states the obvious: the healer is a prophet, that is, someone acting on behalf of the God of Israel. What else could this mean?
Notice how very tightly the Jews cling to their traditions even in the face of a miracle. Just like us, we love our theologies and theories. Not only do they explain the world for us, they give us a sense of identity. We’re the ones who get this or that theory right! You see, our theologies often give us a sense of superiority, and we do love to feel superior.
I can’t count the number of times I had a church member unhappy with my interpretation of the gospel because “That would make the Baptists right”! We’re so invested in our debates and supposed superiority that to change views is feel defeated, even when the news is very good news indeed.
Indeed, many of us prefer our legalistic, works-based traditions — even when they make us feel damned in our sins — to the thought that we might have been wrong. We choose pride over forgiveness. Really.
And the Pharisees behave in exactly the same way. Rather than accepting the new revelation from God as good news and rethinking their views, they condemn the bringer of their salvation — for the sake of pride.