Evidently Jesus and the disciples were simply out for a stroll. He wasn’t out to pick a fight with anyone, so far as we can tell from the fascinating story told in the 9th chapter of the Gospel of John, and there’s no suggestion that these strollers had any particular destination in mind.
The narrative just tells us that as they were walking along, they spotted someone along the roadside who had been blind from birth.
This provoked the ever-inquisitive disciples to ask Jesus a deep theological question: “Teacher, who committed the sin that caused this person to be born blind? Was it this blind person himself or his parents who committed the sin?”
There’s no hint in the text about whether or not Jesus was exasperated by the dumb question (how, that is, could someone commit a sin before birth that would cause blindness?).
Jesus just gave a straightforward answer: “Neither.”
The disciples must have then asked “Why, then, is this person blind?”
And again Jesus is direct in his answer: “The person is blind so that God’s work could and would be revealed in this blind person.” And then Jesus added that he and the disciples were a vital part of doing the divine work that would be operating in this blind person, not sometime in the far future but right now while the divine work could still be done.
With that Jesus gathered up a big batch of spittle in his mouth, spat on a patch of loose dirt, stirred it and made mud pie, and then smeared a dose of it on the blind person’s eye. Jesus then instructed the blind person to go to the nearby pool of Siloam and wash away the mud medicine.
When the person returned from the pool, with the mud washed away, he was able to see.
It isn’t in the narrative we have from the Gospel of John, but we could legitimately presume that Jesus said something like the following to the disciples: “See, we’ve just accomplished God’s purpose, God’s work, which has been assigned to us, in this person who has been blind from birth and is now able to see.”
That could have been a wonderful ending to the revelatory story. But there’s more.
Others in the vicinity—neighbors of the blind person and the Pharisees who were always after Jesus—had to get involved and had to put their own spin, their own interpretation, on what had happened.
First the folks from the neighborhood question whether the now-seeing person is actually the same blind guy they used to know, or if he might be an imposter – that this wasn’t really God’s work operating here but some kind of fraudulent act.
Having been assured that this was the same fellow, the still suspicious neighbors then want proof that there had actually been a healer at work in their community and they want to know why this now fully sighted person can’t come up with where Jesus and the disciples have gone.
Not yet ready to embrace the possibility that ultimately God’s purpose was simply to have their neighbor regain his sight, the neighbors take their case to their trusted Pharisees who, as could be expected, add their own set of perspectives on the case. They find out, for example, that the person regained sight on the Sabbath, which, for them means that the healer (Jesus) couldn’t be an agent of God but must actually be a sinner.
The story gets still more complicated, with more questions, more accusations, more witnesses (including the person’s parents), and culminates with the frustrated neighbors and Pharisees throwing the healed man out of their presence, unable to bring any of their predispositions, their preferred interpretations, their pre-determined ideologies to bear on the reality of a person blind from birth gaining his sight.
Jesus hears about this, finds and assures the man, and receives the adoration and worship of this grateful person who, in accordance with God’s purpose, can now see.
Jesus says that his own purpose has been fulfilled according to God’s will: so those who do not see will be able to see, and so those who do see will be revealed to be blind.
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Where are God’s purposes—and God’ works—operating in our own nation now? What are the disciples of Jesus today—while there is still time—supposed to be doing in order to be a part of God’s purposes and God’s works?
In light of the story from the Gospel of John, is it too much of a stretch to suggest that providing health care to millions of more people in this country might be a part of God’s purposes and works?
Or that legislation that restores health to the earth that God has given us might be a part of God’s purposes and works?
Or that regulations that restore health to a dying economy so that ordinary people will be able to get by and put something aside for securing their retirement might be a part of God’s purposes and works?
All of those things have occurred, and more of the same kind.
But, no surprise, all of that is being challenged by those who can’t believe that God’s purposes and works are to give sight to the blind, health to the sick, clean water to the thirsty, food to the hungry, resources to the poor, peace to the persecuted.
The reasons they give publicly for their opposition is that the nation can’t afford these things, that federal and state and local spending must be cut to reduce deficits and debt, that we can’t live beyond our means.
But the actual reasons have much more to do with deep-embedded predispositions about what government should and shouldn’t do, with preferred interpretations of what all human beings should and shouldn’t be assured of having, with pre-determined ideologies that won’t be shaken about how the human world ought to operate.
So, many members of Congress see it as virtually their religious calling to defund the health care legislation passed last year, to eliminate provisions of environmental legislation recently adopted, to reverse the regulations put in place to stabilize the financial industry. These congresspersons are so committed to their predispositions and preferred interpretations and pre-determined ideologies that they are prepared to shut down the government if they can’t have their way.
Does this sound something like the neighbors and the Pharisees in the story from the Gospel of John who can’t see the possibility that it is God’s purpose and work, as revealed in Jesus the Anointed, to use a little spit and soil to make some medicine that will allow a person blind from birth to see? Does it sound something like those neighbors and Pharisees who want to get rid of the person whose sight has been restored and get rid of the one (along with his followers) who, acting on God’s behalf, restored the sight?
If so, maybe some folks now associated with Jesus need to make some mud and apply that medicine to the blind eyes of legislators and administrators in federal and state and local governments and see if Jesus’ technique still works.
What seems absolutely clear is that the followers of Jesus, one way or another, need to keep making mud.