Read John 9:1–12.
I’m not sure what I expected to find when I opened my eyes that morning. I was hoping things would be clearer, I suppose. But they weren’t. My vision was worse than normal, and I could no longer simply reach for my glasses to (mostly) correct things. For about a month after having LASIK eye surgery, I couldn’t drive at night, couldn’t look at my computer screen or a television for more than a few minutes at a time, and had to squint to focus on another person’s face.
My wife, Laurin, had the surgery a few years before I did. We didn’t know each other at the time, but she reported waking up a few hours after her surgery and being able to see across her bedroom, through the bathroom, and into her closet. She could read the washing instructions on the tag of her favorite pair of jeans. Well, maybe she couldn’t read the tag, but she could see really well.
Still, even though my experience was more of a struggle than Laurin’s, I’m thankful that the surgery has now given me nearly 20/20 vision. For most of my life, I didn’t think that would be a possibility. I was born cross-eyed and with severe astigmatism in both eyes. For all practical purposes, I was close to being blind. But I was born at a time when surgical procedures and corrective lenses were available. While I didn’t have great vision growing up, I could see the world around me.
The man that Jesus and His disciples meet in John 9 has enjoyed no such luxury. He was born blind. He has never caught a glimpse of the world he’s spent a lifetime stumbling through. He’s only known darkness. Day in and day out, there has been nothing for him to see but clouded blackness. His view never changes.
People across the ancient world, for the most part, considered him cursed. Even the Jewish people who were fed a steady diet of God’s goodness from the Scriptures, surmised that his condition must be the result of some sin. So, when the disciples see the man, they ask Jesus rather matter-of-factly, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (v. 2). That’s right—they leave open the possibility that the man had broken a commandment while in utero.
Rarely do we get to know the precise causes of suffering in our life. Just ask Job. As readers of the book that bears his name, we get to witness Satan’s behind-the-scenes machinations. We get to hear God grant permission to the adversary before he strikes Job from every direction. But not poor Job. He didn’t get to hear about the events in heaven that shattered his life on earth. He didn’t get to find out why he lost his children, his livelihood, and his health. When God showed up in a whirlwind, it wasn’t to give Job an explanation; it was to declare that He is God, the Maker and Sustainer of all creation, full of wisdom and justice that are beyond our understanding.
So, here in John’s Gospel, Jesus does not give His friends the cause of the man’s blindness. Instead, He tells them its purpose: “‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him’” (John 9:3). He then spits in the dirt, mixes up some mud, and wipes it on the man’s broken eyes. He tells him to go wash in the nearby Pool of Siloam. When the man does as he is told, he is able to see for the first time in his life.
It’s easy to read past this account as just another of Jesus’ healings, but like all of the signs John includes in his Gospel, this one reveals something special about Jesus. He has just been teaching in the temple on the last day of the Festival of Tabernacles. He has offered the people living water, claimed to be the light of the world, and told the crowds that He is Yahweh, who has come to live among them (7:37; 8:12, 58).
The festival served as the perfect backdrop for this teaching, since the whole point of the celebration was for the people of Israel to remember the forty years their ancestors spent in the wilderness. Back then, God provided water from the rock, gave them a pillar of fire so they would not stumble in the darkness, and caused His presence to dwell among the people in the tabernacle.
By healing the man born blind, Jesus lives out each of His main teachings from the festival. Let’s start with Jesus being the light of the world. Isaiah wrote, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:2). Jesus is showing He is the answer to spiritual darkness by healing a man trapped in physical darkness. Interestingly, the Old Testament does not record anyone being healed of blindness. For that reason, being born blind was often considered a condition beyond hope. Yet, Isaiah prophesied that among the many identifying marks of the Messiah would be His ability to heal the blind: “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped” (Isaiah 35:5; see also 42:7). Jesus is fulfilling this expectation and bolstering His claim that He is indeed the great I Am.
There is also living water involved in this miracle. Jesus sends the man to the Pool of Siloam to wash. A few verses before the passage about light and darkness in the book of Isaiah, the prophet wrote, “Because this people has rejected the gently flowing waters of Shiloah… therefore the Lord is about to bring against them the mighty floodwaters of the Euphrates” (Isaiah 8:6–7). The Shiloah is a small stream that flows into Jerusalem, and it was also known by the name Siloam. In fact, that’s what it’s called in the Greek translation of Isaiah. In the passage, God was telling the His people that because they have rejected His good gift, He would bring the Assyrian army against them. In John 9, Jesus offers the water of the Shiloah, or Siloam, again. It brings healing and wholeness, as it would have in Isaiah’s day if the people had received it. The water is a symbol of the Holy Spirit, the living water God offers to people for the same purpose of healing.
Finally, there’s the bit about the spit and the mud. It’s something of a gross picture, but it illustrates the intimacy of God and gets to the heart of who Jesus is. Back in the garden of Eden, God formed the first man out of the dust of the earth. He could have spoken him into being or put some organic process in place to animate the necessary ingredients for a human being. But instead, He got His hands dirty and then breathed life into Adam’s lungs. Now, in the person of Jesus, God is getting His hands dirty once again and using the saliva from His mouth to restore the man’s sight, an act of re-creation and restoration. The act points forward to the day when God will make all things new (Matthew 19:28; Revelation 21:5) and will once again live with His people as He did in the garden.
In this miracle, Jesus brings glory to the Father by showing Himself to be the light of the world, the source of living water, and Yahweh come in the flesh. And he used a bit of this world’s brokenness—a serious, life-altering disability—to do it. It’s natural for us to ask why bad things happen, but perhaps the better question is, “How will God use this struggle in my life to glorify His name and bring true healing to this world?” It’s a question that gets to the heart of Christian faith. God doesn’t allow anything to pass through His hands and into our world without it ultimately being for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). It’s not always easy to see that truth in the moment, but thankfully we serve a Savior who specializes in healing the blind.