John 9:1-16. Light and Mud.

1 As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth.  2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

3    “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4 As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

6    After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes.  7 “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.

8    His neighbours and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some claimed that he was.  Others said, “No, he only looks like him.” But he himself insisted, “I am the man.”

10    “How then were your eyes opened?” they asked.

11    He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.” 12 “Where is this man?” they asked him. “I don’t know,” he said.

13    They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind.  14 Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath. 15 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.”

16    Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others asked, “How can a sinner perform such signs?” So they were divided.

A new narrative unit begins at John 9:1 and continues to John 10:21, following a similar pattern to those preceding: (i) healing/sign (ii) controversy and argument (iii) further revelation of Jesus / “I am” statement (iv) some believe, others are hardened.

This narrative centres on a man born blind, a tragedy was assumed to have had a human cause: either the parents sinned or the man sinned. But Jesus does not accept the premise of the question. Not every human tragedy is triggered by some particular wrongdoing. We do not live in a world of cosmic payback for specific sins. Instead, Jesus affirms that in a fallen world where sin has tainted every realm– social, physical, spiritual, etc– its effects can be random. The tragedy of blindness is just endemic in a world yearning for redemption and restoration.

But in these circumstances Jesus sees opportunity. Sickness or disability may be the vehicle for God to demonstrate his glory– whether the subject is healed or not. This man is blind so that the works of God might be displayed in him.

We all have disabilities. Some of us have physical disabilities. Others have mental disabilities, or perhaps emotional or societal challenges. All of us have a spiritual disability. No matter which collection of disabilities we experience, our weakness is an opportunity for God to display his glory. Consequently, our focus must move from our disability to Jesus. John’s keeps our attention on Jesus. He is doing the works of God– demonstrating his character and purpose– for just a short time. Daytime / light is a metaphor for life and the presence of God, when his work is to be done by his servants (see also John 11:9; 12:35). This is why Jesus declares he is ‘the light of the world’ (see also John 1:4-5;  3:19-21; 8:12; 12:35-36).

And so the restoration of the man ‘lights up’ the work of God. Jesus could have simply spoken the man to wholeness but instead he goes through the elaborate process of spitting, stirring and mixing up mud; applying a poultice to the man’s eyes, and then sending him off to the pool of Siloam to wash it off. Quite a business. But at the end, the man can see!

As John has done before (John 5:8), only at this point in the narrative does the reader learn that all this has happened on the Sabbath . Jesus went through that whole process of mud-making, sending and washing– deemed to be ‘work’– in contravention of the Jewish Sabbath laws, thus provoking the controversy.

A meeting of the Pharisees is convened and an investigation held. We’re not sure if it’s still the Sabbath, but this also looks like ‘work’. Regardless, the Pharisees declare Jesus as ‘not from God’ because he breaks the Sabbath. Others, however, counter that a sinner could never perform such ‘signs’ because such ‘acts of power for good’ much surely come from God. And so division remains.

Lord Jesus, you have revealed your Father’s glory by working for the fulfilment of his purposes. Grant that we too may show his light in this dark world; in all our work, in the way we work, and in what we say. Whatever our disabilities, limitations and challenges, grant us grace to shine your glory– even in our weakness. Amen.