Have you ever wanted to walk where Jesus walked? Fifteen years ago, in southeast Jerusalem a sewage pipe burst in the middle of a neighborhood. A crew of construction workers were sent in to fix the leak accompanied by a team of archaeologists who soon stumbled upon buried stairs. These stairs led to the ancient Pool of Siloam where Jewish pilgrims would cleanse themselves before ascending to the Temple.
This discovery led to other monumental finds: the central water drainage channel that had served ancient Jerusalem, and just above it an ancient street with well-worn stones. These stones turned out to be the Pilgrimage Road that millions of Jews (including Jesus) walked when bringing sacrifices up to the temple. The Pilgrimage Road stretches 820 yards from the Pool of Siloam up to the Western Wall of the Temple. They have excavated about one-third of the road and plan to open it to tourists soon.
This Pilgrimage Road is the backdrop for a powerful miracle of Jesus found in John 9. It also provides some insight on how we should interpret suffering. Most of the people involved that day left blind to the truth, but one sightless man was changed forever. The story begins with Jesus engaged in a heated discussion with the teachers of the Law. “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” At this, they picked up stones to stone Him, but Jesus hid Himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.” John 8:58-59
His words enraged them and suddenly He was escaping from a large group of angry people who wanted to stone Him. Amazingly, He didn’t rush off to safety; after He was no longer in sight of His pursuers, He stopped to demonstrate the very words He had spoken – that He was God, He had come to shine light in the darkness and to make a stranger a son. “As He went along, He saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked Him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?‘” John 9
On the practical side, the odds that the blind man’s mother was to blame for his affliction was extremely high. The chief cause of blindness in babies born in ancient times was sexually transmitted diseases. The disease a mother had contracted was passed to the baby in the birth canal, causing the infant to be born blind. It was an epidemic then and still is today in the third world. But Jesus didn’t focus on the works of darkness.
I don’t believe this encounter is intended to establish a doctrine on sin or healing. This is a real-life situation that was specific to this manís life. There are profound lessons here, but it is important to note that the question and answer are clearly about this man. That said, we probably all ask similar questions when we encounter suffering. Who or what is the source of the issue, God, the Devil, me, others, sin, etc? How are we to interpret the difficult times of our life?
This man was born blind, so in his dark bruised world of stumbling and bumping it was probably difficult for him to imagine that the prophet Jeremiah’s words applied to him. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
Everyone desires to define themselves by their success, but all achievement is temporary, and the next struggle is on the way. If we define ourselves at any stage, we will misdiagnose our destiny. We must be able to see beyond the present. For grapes and olives, the fruit stage is just a brief temporary phase. The pressing, stomping and crushing through time eliminates their visible beauty and form, but transforms them into their greater destiny.
“You were raised not to be fruitful, but to be crushed. The grape is one of the few fruits that is raised with crushing in mind. Christ was born to die. Anything short of that would have been failure… Not that you love suffering; He despised the shame, but for the joy that was set before Him, so He went beyond the crushing and saw the wine. Understand that wine is taking the grape into its most powerful expression and it is putting it in its most eternal form. Life crushes us from time to time because nothing else will get out of you the hidden treasure that we have locked up in earthen vessels but to be crushed.” T.D. Jakes
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”John 9
Wheat and tares grow up together in the fields of every life. Despite appearances of blessings or agony, life and death are tangled up together beneath the surface. God could stop any enemy from sowing tares, which are relentless as they undermine and uproot the pure and innocent. But despite many pleadings, God often refuses to intervene so that the frail can learn to gaze upward until they have been formed into the strongest saints. Tares are never in control. They too are pawns waiting to be overpowered. “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Genesis 50:20
“As long as it is day, we must do the works of Him who sent (Siloam) Me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the Light of the World.” Long before Jesus was sent in a physical form, He was sent as the Light. “Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.” Genesis 1:1-3
Before He met the blind man that day, Jesus was preaching a sermon especially for unbelievers. The goal, that they would see and believe that He was God (the Creator and the Light) able to do anything and reveal anything, even to the blind. He was going to heal a blind man to show that He had come to heal more than physical ailments – He was going to heal spiritual blindness. To properly reveal His glory and make known that He was Creator, Jesus needed specific elements (dirt, saliva, blindness) and a specific audience – the blind (physically and spiritually).
“After saying 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” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.” John 9
It’s worth noting that Jewish tradition places the Garden of Eden in Jerusalem and the Tree of Life where the Holy of Holies in the temple sat on Mount Moriah. So, Jesus wasn’t far from where He first gathered dirt to form Adam. The man was born blind, so he needed more than healing, he needed a creative miracle: he needed new eyes. As Jesus kneeled to gather dirt just as He had back in the Garden to create Adam, the Creator formed eyes and spit and then placed them in the man’s eye sockets.
Why did He use saliva? It wasn’t the first time. He used saliva a few other times: to heal a deaf and mute man and to heal another blind person. To answer why He probably did it takes us to the Talmud, to an old story of a Rabbi who healed a blind man with his saliva. This old healing was used by Rabbis to establish the tradition that only the saliva of a firstborn of a father heals, but that of the firstborn of a mother does not heal, and the Jews used this test to determine inheritance rights.
“A certain person once came before Rabbi Hanina and said to him, ‘I am sure that this man is firstborn’. Rabbi Hanina said to him, ‘How do you know?’ – The person replied to him: ‘Because when people came to his father, he used to say to them: ‘Go to my son Shikhath, who is firstborn and his saliva heals‘”. (Bava Basra 126b)
So, in the case of the blind man, Jesus used “dirt” to show He was Creator and “saliva” to show He was the first-born Son of God (Mary was His mother, but Joseph was not His father because He was conceived of the Holy Spirit). Jesus sent (Siloam) him to the Pool of Siloam to further show that He was sent by the Father.
Despite how carefully this miracle had been crafted to reveal the truth to the teachers of the Law, they could not even believe the testimony of the blind man, but instead hurled insults at him. The man answered, “We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person 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.” John 9
When Jesus first met the man, He told him that his blindness was not due to his sin. Thankfully, he was full of confidence which the teachers couldn’t shake, even when they tried to condemn him. 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 [he is born again],” and he worshipped Him.” John 9
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.” John 9
I love this dialogue from an old movie: “You don’t like raisins?’ ‘Not really.’ ‘Why?’ ‘They used to be fat and juicy, and now theyíre twisted. They had their lives stolen. Well, they taste sweet, but really, they’re just humiliated grapes.“
It’s a poignant thought that should make us pause. If we are the grape, how should we judge our life journey? If it’s our destiny to be made into wine or even grapes, then we need to see beyond the fat and juicy seasons. Are there blind spots that affect our ability to see Godís perspective because of pain and suffering that we or a loved one suffered? Is bitterness or unforgiveness dictating how we see justice, causing us to see humiliated grapes instead of grapes in their destiny?
The light of Godís Word is our only safe guide. We were all created “so that the works of God might be displayed in us.” Which means that we need to often ask for grace to heed the Apostle Paul’s invitation, “Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” The lesson and the story end with a blind man set free and the seeing made blind. May we each have eyes to see despite the darkness in our journey.