John 9:1-3, 6-7
“As [Jesus] passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.’ Having said these things, [Jesus] spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then He anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.”
As a kid I never liked getting my hands dirty if I could help it. In preschool and kindergarten I steadfastly refused to participate in any messy activity (and there were a lot). So, I remember the first time I stumbled across this miracle of Jesus vividly. I thought, “What would possess Jesus to heal in such a gross way?” Jesus spits in some dirt, squats down and begins kneading it with his hands. Then when He’s got a good lump of mud He pastes it on the eyes of the man born blind. Did the blind man know where the mud came from? What were the disciples thinking when they saw all of this? And why didn’t Jesus simply heal the man with a Word as He had done so many other times? Why the mess?
For many years this passage was a puzzle. For many years I would skim past all of the mess and move on as quickly as I could to the rest of the story. It just didn’t make sense. That didn’t change for many years until I was reading this chapter in John’s gospel at the same time I was studying the book of Genesis. Now I look at this as one of Jesus’ greatest miracles. Greatest in the sense that in it Jesus is revealing His divine nature. His actions are all but shouting, “Here I am, Immanuel (which means ‘God with us’), God in the flesh!”
To fully understand why Jesus gets his hands dirty in this way you’ve got to go all the way back to the beginning. Not the beginning of the chapter, or to the beginning of John’s gospel, but to the beginning of creation. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. He simply spoke and lights turned on. Out of nothing, this universe was created. It went on like this for six days. God spoke and things came into being. But at the end of the sixth day God fell silent. He stooped down and created in a new way. He took some dirt and formed it into the shape of a man. Then, with hands dirty from his work of creating, God breathed life into His creation. Adam, the first man, took his first breath and opened his eyes. (see Genesis 2:7)
Now many years later, Jesus restored sight to this man born blind, in the same way. Jesus fell silent. He spit on the bare earth, and then stooped down and made mud. Then He took that mud, and pasted it on the eyes of the man born blind with the instruction that he go and wash. And as the man splashed water on his face, and the mud ran down his cheeks, he opened his eyes and saw for the first time in his life.
This miracle offends our sensibilities. But Jesus reminds us, in case we had forgotten, that God isn’t afraid to get His hands dirty. That God has been getting His hands dirty from the beginning. And Jesus’ entire life is a testament to that fact. This miracle was messy, but it cured a man born blind. Jesus’ death on the cross was messy, but it atoned for our spiritual blindness and sin.
After their encounter together, the man who could now see was tossed out of his synagogue for telling the truth about what had happened to him. Jesus searched him out and found him. And Jesus said to him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” The man who could now see answered, “Who is He, sir, that I may believe in Him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen Him, and it is He who is speaking to you.” Hearing these words, he said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped Jesus. (John 9:33-38) Jesus had dirtied His hands for him and his life would never be the same.