Spit and Mud

There are no simple answers

John 9:1-7

Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him. I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

When He had said these things, He spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva; and He anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay. And He said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which is translated, Sent). So he went and washed, and came back seeing.


Many years ago I was a pastor of a church in a very small town. Since it was a southern town it seemed to have more churches than convenient stores and it was important to everyone who lived there where you worshiped and which church you belonged to. There was, of course, the Presbyterian Church, a Methodist church, the Baptist church, the AME church and others who did not claim a denomination. There was even a small Catholic chapel founded by enterprising Northerners who had immigrated to the area in decades past. I was in my early twenties and being an impoverished young minister I drove a 1971 Volkswagen super beetle.  It was red and had many quirks and I loved to tinker with it. It ran well on the country backroads because or in spite of my maintenance efforts and I loved to take care of it. I parked it on the street in front of the house and it was always ready to fire up at a moment’s notice to do the Lord’s work.

One of my weekly rituals was to give my little VW a good washing every Sunday after church. In the sleepiness of a southern afternoon I would relax and enjoy myself as I prepared the car for another week of hospital visitations and criss-crossing my parish keeping up with the congregation. One afternoon I was well-involved with scrubbing the current layer of dirt-road grime and slow-moving insects, when a car slowly pulled up alongside me. I recognized a family from one of the other churches in town as they craned forward in their seats to peer out at my activity.  Their faces held polite smiles. 

“Afternoon, preacher.” The man drawled.

I paused, sponge in one hand and the nozzle of the hose in the other.

“Afternoon!” I responded, expecting the normal pleasantries. 

“What’chu doing there?” 

I felt that it was obvious what I was doing but since I had received a good upbringing, I refrained from a wisecrack and cheerfully remarked that I was doing my best to restore the shine on my old car as I looked to the week ahead.

“Sounds like working to me. And on a Sunday. My, my, preacher. Not sure what to think about that.”

I stood there in silence for a moment and the mumbled something about how much I’m enjoying myself but the words fell flat and the polite smiles on the faces of the family grew wider as they enjoyed their “gotcha” moment on the preacher of a "rival" congregation.  

They bid me good day and slowly drove off, late to their Sunday dinner of fried chicken and mashed potatoes while I quickly hosed the suds off my car. No doubt word of my sabbath transgression would be passed quickly along the gossip grapevine and the whole town would know before the water on my car had dried. I may have missed an opportunity to debate the merits of keeping the sabbath holy but I was not anxious to make things worse and so I never washed my car again on a Sunday so long as I served there!

In John, Chapter 9, we find Jesus confronted on His sabbath activities–but in a much more serious way. Once again He has performed a miracle, and once more his enemies were ready to pounce on him with the familiar accusation of “violating the sabbath.” In Jesus’ case, He faced serious charges of lawbreaking and blasphemy–not just feeding a small-town rumor mill.

Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth.–John 9:1

John remembers back and recalls another key encounter during Jesus’ final year of earthly ministry. As Jesus and the disciples are walking and talking along, no doubt engaged in running conversation and Jesus’ expanding on his recent words to the Pharisees they see a man in need. John mentions that it is actually Jesus who sees the man and he stops in front of him.

The man is not named here but his affliction is. He is blind. This is nothing new to Jesus nor his disciples in their many encounters. In their pursuit of their wandering rabbi, John and the twelve have seen many infirm, ill, crippled and dying people seeking after Jesus’ healing power. This included the blind.

Mark 10 introduces Blind Bartimaeus who cried out to Jesus “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Despite those in the crowd who tried to hush him up, he was persistent and Jesus gave him sight for his faith. 

John tells us that this man is blind and makes the note that he was blind from birth. Unlike the man with the 30-year disease that Jesus healed by the Pool of Bethesda here is a man who has never known a time of bodily wholeness. Blind from birth means that he has not known the blazing light of a waking dawn or the glow of a sunset of layered colors. Here is a man who was, in effect, not created with the ability to see. 

And now he does the only thing a person of his diminished station can do in the ancient world: he begs. 

However, this man does not pursue Jesus nor does he call out. To all intents and purposes remains ignorant of the identity of the one who is passing by him. 

It is Jesus’ disciples who bring the blind man to their master’s attention:

And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”–John 9:2

The disciples ask a classic question: what sin is responsible for this problem? This is almost a shockingly insensitive question, is it not? What sin is responsible for this? The man is blind for heaven’s sake! And born blind at that! How can any sin be responsible for his condition?

What may seem laughable to you was likely a question asked in all seriousness. The disciples assume, as did most Jews of the day, that sin and suffering were closely connected. This was viewed as a direct cause and effect relationship. 

In one way they are right. The causes of all of our physical and emotional miseries are directly related to the Fall of man. They are also aware of even more specific teachings regarding sin and suffering–even for those still in the womb. 

In rabbinic materials there are discussions of accounts of pregnant women impacting their unborn children such as a woman who worships in a pagan rite (Canticles Rabbah) or another who simply walks through a pagan grove of trees. 

The story of Jacob and Esau is recounted well in discussions of the Law, for as Jacob was a schemer from before birth, so it was believed that even the unborn were capable of committing life-altering sins while still in the womb. 

This black and white, cause and effect, of sin and suffering is something that you have heard before in your own life. Have you struggled under the idea that specific sins you were committing or had committed were resulting in some form of present misery? If so, you are not alone, for this is a common approach that many modern christians take in an effort to explain the difficulties of suffering.

The idea that God goes about your life smiting you left and right for sins committed in the open or in secret is a very simplistic view of things. This is not how He operates. God is much more complicated than that. The reality of life and how God interacts in it with us goes far beyond this simple cause and effect. 

C.S. Lewis loved this complex aspect of Christianity and devoted a chapter to it in his landmark work Mere Christianity:

Reality, in fact, is usually something you could not have guessed. That is one of the reasons I believe Christianity. It is a religion that you could not have guessed. If it offered us just the kind of universe we had always expected, I should feel we were making it up. But, in fact, it is not the sort of thing anyone would have made up. It has just that queer twist about it that real things have. So let us leave behind all these boys’ philosophies–these over simple answers. The problem is not simple and the answer is not going to be simple either.–C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book II, chapter 2, “The Invasion”

The problem is that we want things to be simple, do we not? When it comes to dealing with sin in ourselves or in others we want it to be easily solved. The problem is that the complexity of life and the depths of our sinfulness prevents us from receiving simple answers to our problems. 

An addiction can take decades or even a lifetime to overcome.

A spiteful nature or a sharp tongue can take years to master–and often not until many hurt feelings have been experienced.

A divorce leaves generations of pain in its wake.

The hurts and pains of your childhood or broken relationships are never fixed overnight.

This is the complexity of life in this sinful world. There are no easy fixes or explanations and this can wear out a caring soul. Ask your pastor sometime how much time he spends praying for and counseling with the hurting members of his flock. For many in ministry, the day-in, day-out dealing with even our most basic sins can be exhausting.

If there was a simple fix for hurting hearts, the world would be filled with happy churches and swamped with eager pastors seeking calls.

The disciples have seen the man born blind and immediately jump to the simplest solution: someone sinned. 

Jesus recognizes all of this. You can almost hear a slight intake of breath as He patiently checks Himself and forms an answer to the disciples:

Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.–John 9:3

Here then is revealed the reason for the man’s blindness: that the works of God should be revealed. The man was born blind so that God would receive the glory!

In our world where everything should be fair and just this seems cruel and unusual. However, we are made for God’s glory, even if we are made in a condition of suffering like this man.

Jesus proceeds to show us how God will be glorified. He reminds us that we are burning daylight:

I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”–John 9:4-5

Night is coming. Jesus knows that the cross is drawing ever closer. He begins to work:

When He had said these things, He spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva; and He anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay. And He said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which is translated, Sent). So he went and washed, and came back seeing.–John 9:6-7

Jesus does a curious thing with spit and mud. A lot has been said about what significance this may have but the important thing is that the man obeyed, went to the pool and was healed!

All's well that ends well, right? 

Not exactly. The man reports what Jesus has done and quickly draws the attention of the Pharisees. His astonished friends cannot believe that the man has been healed in this manner and so they come seeking a simpler answer from their religious leaders.

The Pharisees are all too eager to help them. They too see a simple answer: Jesus is once again disturbing the peace. And not only that, the Galilean rabbi is actually laboring–on the sabbath!! He created mud with spit! This seems like and odd charge but there was also a teaching that forbade spitting on the sabbath, “lest the spit roll down hill and form mud.” 

After numerous questionings the man refuses to condemn Jesus for the wonderful miracle of his sight. As a result he is excommunicated from the synagogue, cast out from religious worship. The Pharisees cannot see the complicated fact that the Messiah is in their midst. They choose to cling to their simple answers and so remain in ignorance.

Jesus later seeks out the once-blind man. The man has never laid eyes on his healer but when he meets him he cannot help but worship. 

39 And Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind.”

40 Then some of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these words, and said to Him, “Are we blind also?”

41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, ‘We see.’ Therefore your sin remains.–John 9:39-41

As D.A. Carson puts it: 

This man’s eyes are opening wider: he is beginning to see still more clearly, while the eyes of his judges are becoming clouded over with blinding theological mist.

Do you seek simple answers to the complicated issues of your life? Do you see others struggling and jump to a quick conclusion that they are reaping the consequences of their sins? 

You grow impatient for a quick fix or look for an easy path to find relief from pain or the effects of living in a sinful world. Seeking easy answers can cause you to miss the complex beauty of the nature of God and His relationship with you. Pray for the strength and desire to dig deep into the Word to wrestle with the great truths of Christ.



The Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay and this Saturday Deep is written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.