Blindness and baptism
Text study on John 9:1-41 Lectionary text for April 3, 2011
The story of the healing in John 9 where Jesus spits on the ground, makes mud, places it on the eyes of the man born blind and commands him to wash in the pool of Siloam is full of baptismal connections.
But before we explore the baptismal connections of this story, let's think about blindness. Does the text refer to physical blindness or is there also a deeper spiritual blindness implied?
The blindness in this story is physical, yes, but there is also spiritual blindness. As I read this, I wonder, "Why didn't I notice that before?”
I don't think that the man born blind in the Gospel story is blind because he or his parents committed a great sin. In fact, Jesus tells us in verse 3 that this is an incorrect assumption.
I do believe that the Gospel writer is helping us to see how we fail to see God’s work in the world and in ourselves. This becomes apparent through the conflict with the Pharisees.
How many times have I failed to see God’s love because of greed, selfishness and my lack of faith?
Think of a time when you lacked faith and understanding, when your life was muddied by sin. How did you receive healing and grace?
We read in verses 6b-7 that Jesus makes mud out of his saliva, spreads it on the blind man’s eyes and tells him to go wash it off in the pool of Siloam. Just like that, the man can see! In this healing, we see the same dynamics of the grace of baptism.
First, Jesus is present in the muddiness of our brokenness. Jesus takes his own spit, mixes it with the mud of our sin, heals us and then leads us to cleansing waters and new life.
We give thanks and see God’s Spirit present in the waters that heal us and wash us clean. This cleansing frees us from the dirtiness and the muck of our brokenness and our sinfulness.
Second, after being washed and cleansed, Jesus gives us the gift of sight through the Holy Spirit.
Jesus revealed himself to be the Son of Man to the blind man in verse 37. In the same way the Holy Spirit reveals the truth to us, giving us faith to believe in Christ Jesus, God’s only Son, who bore the cross so that we could have new life in him!
• How are you distracted from participating in God’s saving love for the sake of the world?
• How are you washed clean of that which interferes with your ability to know God’s love?
Zachary Johnson is a Master of Divinity student at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. He is currently serving on internship at St. Mark Lutheran Church an ELCA congregation in Mount Prospect, Ill.