John 9:1-7,13-17,34-39 As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" 3 "Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. 4 As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world." 6 Having said this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man's eyes. 7 "Go," he told him, "wash in the Pool of Siloam" (this word means Sent). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing. … 13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. 14 Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man's eyes was a Sabbath. 15 Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. "He put mud on my eyes," the man replied, "and I washed, and now I see." 16 Some of the Pharisees said, "This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath." But others asked, "How can a sinner do such miraculous signs?" So they were divided. 17 Finally they turned again to the blind man, "What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened." The man replied, "He is a prophet." … 34 To this they replied, "You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!" And they threw him out. 35 Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" 36 "Who is he, sir?" the man asked. "Tell me so that I may believe in him." 37 Jesus said, "You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you." 38 Then the man said, "Lord, I believe," and he worshiped him. 39 Jesus said, "For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind."
One day, as Jesus was walking, He saw a man who was blind from birth. He approached the man, spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes.
Jesus used spit!
Comedian Paul Reiser wrote once about mother’s spit: “I saw a kid who had some dried-up food on his face. His mother took out a tissue, spit on the tissue and rubbed it into the kid’s face. This goes on, in communities around our country, on a daily basis. It is disgusting, but it sure does work, doesn’t it? There’s something in Mother Saliva that cleans like nobody’s business. All women, once they give birth, their enzymes change, and saliva becomes Ajax. It’ll clean anything: a baby’s face, a countertop, a Buick – you get enough mothers, you could do a whole car in 30, 40 minutes.” (Paul Reiser, “Couplehood”)
Mother’s spit may be great for cleaning, but Jesus’ touch and spit is for something even greater – for healing! What had been broken, Jesus mends with the Creator’s touch. The Great Physician is at work. Notice the earthiness of it all. Fingers in the dirt. Mud on the eyes. God coming down to us, reaching down to where we are, opening eyes, creating faith, and saving souls.
Jesus does what only the Creator can do, create and recreate humanity with mud. Adam was made by the hand of God and now the Master Potter Himself takes a bit of mud and fixes the son of Adam’s broken eyes.
This is a good illustration of how God works – the opposite of the way the world works and with a different perspective from what we normally have. The man can’t see already, and Jesus seems to make things worse by putting mud in his eyes. Is that any way to treat a blind man on the street? Yet, the man washes his face in the Siloam pool and comes back seeing … for the first time in his life.
Jesus then comments, “I am the light of the world.” In the beginning of John’s Gospel, we are told that the darkness tried to overcome the light, but could not. We are given a picture of that truth here later in John’s Gospel. And it may seem as if the darkness is overcoming the light in your life – by forces from outside your home and the struggles of sin within your own body. Perhaps it is the darkness of doubt and worry creeping in to steal your faith. Or maybe the darkness of depression and sadness to rob you of your joy. Or the darkness of anger and resentment to deprive your life of contentment. Maybe it is the darkness caused by a wayward child, an unbelieving spouse or the breakup of your marriage. Maybe it is the darkness of old age, cancer, arthritis and Alzheimer’s as the shadow of death creeps closer.
But the darkness cannot win. For your triumphant Savior has taken you into His nail-pierced hands, and will lead you through the dark Lenten valley of this sinful world and into the eternal Easter of heaven. You may not know the “whys,” you may not know the hows,” but you know that just as God was preserving that blind man for something, so God is preserving you for something great and miraculous and marvelous.
When word reached the Pharisees of this miraculous, marvelous healing, there was a sharp division among them. Some immediately rejected Jesus because He healed on the Sabbath. Jews were commanded to not work on the Sabbath day, work like making bricks. Apparently, making mud from saliva and dust was work. Others realized the magnitude of the work Jesus had done. The Pharisees were the ones who knew the Scriptures, but were blinded by their traditions, laws and refusal to believe in the Savior walking in their own city.
They were blind. They could not see the Son of God standing right before their faces.
Has that happened to us? Do we see the sin in others, but are blind to the sin in ourselves? Are we so proud of our piety that no one else can measure up? Do we know the Scriptures so well, but have forgotten what they mean? Has our religion become a tool instead of faith and love? Those are tough questions. Traps so easy to fall into.
This is why we begin our Lutheran worship with a confession of sins where we confess that we are blind and dead sinners. We admit that apart from Christ we have no good in us. We cry out for mercy and our Savior has mercy. He gives sight and life in the forgiveness of our sins. He raises us from death to life. Jesus shines His light into the dark recesses of our soul and the murky underbelly of our world. He may not make us see with saliva and dirt, but rather He allows us the sight of faith through water and Word in Baptism.
Now that we have been brought into the light, Paul encourages us to “Live as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8). The difference between darkness and light is dramatic. The difference between what we were and what we are now should be equally so. They are as different as the nursery and the morgue!
Our God is a God of opposites and different perspectives. The blind are given sight and see Jesus for the first time. Those who see cannot see the Savior standing in front of them. The sick are healed. The healthy have no need of a doctor. The dead are raised. Those who think they are living are really dead in sin and unbelief.
As God opens our eyes He changes our perspective. We think we are OK, but then our eyes are opened and we see our deep need for a Savior. We feel like everything is going well, but then our eyes are opened and we see the bottomless poverty of our sin. We suspect that the difficult things in our life are the result of God being upset with us, but then our eyes are opened and we see that God is using these difficult things so that He might display His work in our lives.
When our eyes are finally opened, we drop to our knees in repentance – for that is where we see Christ’s love and forgiveness – as we kneel at the communion rail. When our eyes are finally opened, we grasp the flood of troubles that threaten to overwhelm us – and we approach the baptismal font – for that is where the flood of Christ’s baptismal waters wash over us again and again, giving us refreshment and a new life.
Sin causes spiritual blindness, but God grants us spiritual sight. He humbles us, so He may exalt us. He slays, so He may give life.
In the 18th century, John was born to a godly, Christian mother. His father was the commander of merchant ship which sailed the Mediterranean. John’s mother died when he was only 6 years old. Five years later John began the life of a seaman on his father’s ship. At sea, John rejected the God of his mother.
When John was 19, he was pressed into service on a war ship. But finding the conditions on board intolerable, he deserted. But he was soon recaptured and publicly flogged and demoted from midshipman to common seaman. At his own request, John was exchanged into service on a slave trip, which took him to the coast of Sierra Leone. He became the servant of a slave trader and was brutally abused. Early in 1748 he was rescued by a sea captain who had known John's father. John Newton ultimately became captain of his own ship, one which carried out the slave trade.
Although he had had some early religious instruction from his mother, he had long since renounced any need of religion and he lived an irresponsible and sinful life. John became a slave trader, crossing the ocean several times as captain of his own slave ship, responsible for terrible human degradation among the captives he had crowded on board.
But John grew increasingly dissatisfied with his life and began reading the devotional writings of Thomas a Kempis. On May 10, 1748, on a homeward voyage, while he was attempting to steer the ship through a violent storm, he experienced what he referred to later as his “great deliverance.” He recorded in his journal that when all seemed lost and the ship would surely sink, he exclaimed, “Lord, have mercy upon us.” Later in his cabin he reflected on what he had said and began to believe that God had addressed him through the storm and that grace had begun to work for him. The Holy Spirit had begun John’s conversion through that Word of God implanted when John was a young boy. John was beginning to see the light.
John’s conscience began to trouble him about the slave trading and he tried to make the conditions more bearable for the slaves on board his ship, even holding worship services for his hardened crew of 30 each Sunday. Eventually, however, he felt convicted by the inhuman aspects of this work and became a strong and effective crusader against slavery.
He returned home to England, got married and became a clerk at the Port of Liverpool for 9 years. During this period he felt the call of God increasingly to preach the Gospel and began to study for the ministry. At the age of 39, John Newton was ordained in the Anglican Church.
But Newton’s disgraceful past never left his memory and he was completely dumbfounded over the privilege of living joyously free under the divine grace of God. In an intense moment of inspiration, when he was thinking of the wonder of the grace of God which had saved even a wretch like him, he wrote the words to this hymn, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound – that saved a wretch like me. I was once lost but now am found, was blind but now I see” (CW: 379).
We love to sing “Amazing Grace,” not only because of its melody, but especially because of its words. We are just like John Newton. We are sinful wretches, lost sheep, blind beggars. But by the amazing grace of God, we have been changed from sinful wretches into beautiful children. Though we are lost and straying sheep, God has come looking for us and found us. Though we are by our very nature, blind with sin and unbelief, God has given us the sight of faith.
Now we can see the Savior standing in front of us. We see Him placing His nail-pierced hands around us. We see Him leading us through the dark valley of this sinful world to His heaven of eternal Easter joy. For Christ has washed away our blindness with His baptismal waters. He has created faith in our hearts with His comforting Words of Gospel and absolution. He strengthens our faith with His consumed body and blood. Though the darkness of death continues to be seen and felt all around us, that darkness has been shattered by the light blasting forth from open Easter tomb.
Live as children of the light, praising God with your words and lives. Praise God with the blind man, praise God with John Newton, praise God with one another … for we were blind, but now we see! Amen.