The story of the healing of the man blind from birth (John 9:1-41) in the Gospel Reading for the Fourth Sunday in Lent resonates with me in a very personal way.
Over the past four weeks I had cataracts surgery in both my eyes. Since then everyone I have met – those who have been familiar with my situation, that is – have been affectionately asking: “How are your eyes?” or “how is your vision?”. And I have responded, “Wonderful, thank you!” I can see that everyone is happy for me and my healing.
It is not the same for the man in the Gospel story. He is vilified, ridiculed, dismissed and even rebuffed: “It did not happen!” he is told. “You are not healed. You were born blind, you will always be blind”.
However, the man refused to be labeled. He knew what happened – he was healed, and he would not allow anyone to take that away. He was going to be who he was, not who others told him or wanted him to be. He affirmed – as we all ought to – the words of the hymn Amazing Grace: “I was once blind but now I see”.
That lesson came to me too in my post-surgery experience. When I went for a check-up after the surgery the nurse noticed a pair of glasses in my hand as I sat down for a vision test. “You are not still wearing those, are you?” she remarked almost in disbelief. “Oh, no!” I replied, “only for reading” The truth is that I have been so accustomed to wearing glasses that even after the surgery I still subconsciously think I need them. I have to remind myself constantly that I am healed, I don’t need the glasses. “I was once blind but now I see”.
The text also poses some questions that need answers: First, why did Jesus spit on the ground to make mud with which to heal the man? Did he need the mud for the healing? After all there are numerous situations when he simply spoke the word or did not even have to see the sick as in the case of the centurion’s servant (Matthew 8:5-13).
There are several suggestions for this. First of all Jesus did not need an agent for healing. In the culture of his contemporaries, however, there was a belief that saliva had curing properties. While Jesus’ healing is not dependent on any agent, he was affirming to the blind man that the healing process was actually happening.
Secondly, and connected to this point, is the fact that this happened in Bethsaida. In Matthew 11:20-24 Jesus laments the unbelief of Korazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum. In two other healing instances in that region, Jesus used physical agents besides his word. In Mark 7:33 he put his fingers into the ears of a deaf and mute man “then he spit and touched the man’s tongue”. Then in Mark 8:23-25 Jesus healed another in two stages. First he spit on the man’s eyes, then he put his hands on his eyes.
He used these agents to inspire faith in those he healed in the area of the Decapolis, the region of the ten Greek towns.
There is still another suggestion that Jesus used mud, or soil, or dust to demonstrate that healing, like creation (Genesis 2:7) proceeds from him.
Whether in this healing or any of the others in the Gospels, we learn that Jesus did not adhere to any specific formula. He used different methodologies as he chose. He is not bound by any one method.