This weekend we celebrate the 4th Sunday in Lent . In yesterday’s post we considered St. John’s treatment of “sin.” Today we move into the text itself.
If you wanted a one sentence summary of this account – here it is: “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind”(v.39). Or: as a sign that he is the light, Jesus gives sight to a man born blind. But there is a richness to be gained in a detailed look at the text and narrative. The Johannine scholar, Fr. Raymond Brown suggests the following outline:
- Setting (9:1-5)
- Miraculous healing (9:6-7)
- Interrogations of the blind man (9:8-34)
- Questioning by neighbors and acquaintances (9:8-12)
- Preliminary interrogation by Pharisees (9:13-17)
- The man’s parents questioned by the Jews (9:18-23)
- A second interrogation of the man by the Jews (9:24-34)
- Jesus leads the man born blind to that spiritual sight which is faith (9:35-41)
The Setting: Verses 1-5 narrate the situation of need that evokes the miracle, but they provide an interesting twist on the traditional miracle story form. The man’s blindness is stated as a fact in v.1, but he is not an active character in the story until v.7. He makes no request of Jesus to be healed, nor does Jesus engage in any conversation with him about his healing. Rather, the blind man’s initial narrative function is as the catalyst for the conversation between Jesus and his disciples in vv. 2-5.
The metaphorical use of “day” and “night” in v. 4b signals the contingency of Jesus’ presence as the Logos – the Johannine word used to point to the divine. Day will come to an end with the arrival of Jesus’ hour. Day and night are paired in 11:9-10 with a similar metaphorical meaning. Verse 5 makes the metaphor and its contingency (“as long as”) explicit: Jesus’ presence in the “world” (kosmos) is the light that makes God’s work possible (cf. 8:12).
The Healing: The sign/miracle is simply told. Many ask why Jesus used the mixture of earth/dirt and saliva to make clay and then put it on the eyes of the man? There is no simple answer. Some find an echo of the Creation story (Gen 2) – although there God breathes life into the human being. There is an part of John’s gospel (John 2-3, “the next day…the next day….the next day…the third day”) where the inspired author lays out a new creation account – one that comes to fore in the sign of broken humanity being made whole – all seen as metaphor via the man born blind. But that is theological musing and brings along more unanswered questions.
After Jesus made mud and anointed the blind man’s eyes, he told him: “Go wash in the Pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent). So he went and washed, and came back able to see.” Unlike Naaman who objected when Elisha sent him to wash in the Jordan (2 Kgs 5:10–14), the man born blind responded with unquestioning obedience when Jesus sent him to wash in the Pool of Siloam.
Water for the Pool of Siloam was channeled through Hezekiah’s tunnel from the Gihon spring. The Pool of Siloam was the source of the water used in the water-pouring ceremonies during the Feast of Tabernacles. The evangelist explains that Siloam means ‘Sent’. The consonants of the Hebrew verb ‘to send’ (šālaḥ) are the same as those of the Hebrew for Siloam (šilôaḥ), which allowed popular etymology to make the link. Perhaps the evangelist added this explanation to connect the name of the Pool with the fact that Jesus sent the man there to wash, so as to make clear that the miracle occurred because Jesus sent him, not because of any healing qualities in the water itself.
It is notable that the miraculous healing does not occur in the presence of Jesus himself.
Throughout the millennia, many have seen a possible connection with washing in the pool of Siloam and Baptism. The most common parallels notes are that
- the man has been blind since birth || we are sinners from birth; and
- epichrio (“smeared” in vv. 6 & 11 — its only NT use) literally means “to anoint” (chrio) + “on” (epi). (chrio forms the basis for words as “christ,” “chrisms,” “christening,” — it seems to refer to Jesus’ baptism in Acts 4:27 and 10:38 and possibly our baptisms in 2 Cor 1:21 and in 1 John 2:20, 27 where the noun chrisma is used.)
Image credit: Healing of the Man Born Blind, El Greco, 1567, Public Domain