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Lenten Journey: Mud, Saliva, and a Sinner

Before you read this chapter, I would recommend you do the following:

  • Take three deep breaths to center yourself for the journey ahead. Take some time to pray by saying something like, “God, help me understand what you have prepared for me today.”

  • Read the Scripture slowly. Read it with questions such as, Why did Jesus do this? How does each group of people react to the miracle of Jesus? Who can see and who fail to see God’s work in this story?

Scripture Reading: John 9:1-41


"Store-bought slimes are absolutely disgusting," Lucy said. That was one of the random morning conversations we had in the car on the way to her school this week. She thinks that the slimes they sell at the store have really bad quality. They’re too gooey or sticky and sometimes melt away on your hands. Homemade slimes are much better than store-bought slimes, according to her conclusion.

Do you know what’s more disgusting than store-bought slimes? That would be mud mixed with saliva. Even thinking about it might make you feel sick. It sounds absolutely disgusting. Why would Jesus do this? Why did he spit on the ground, make mud with the saliva, and spread the mud on the man’s eyes? Then Jesus told him to “go, wash in the pool of Siloam.” What’s the point of making this poor blind man walk all the way to Siloam with the saliva-mixed smelly mud on his eyes? Couldn’t he just heal him by saying, “you are healed”?

It was a symbolic action of Jesus as a prophet. In the biblical tradition, we see many examples of how prophets acted “weirdly” to deliver God’s message to the people. For example, Ezekiel was told to shave his beard and cut the hair off his head and divide the cut hair into three parts and burn a third. Moses cast the tree into the bitter waters (Exodus 15:22-25); Jeremiah was told to place stones in a brick kiln (Jeremiah 43:8-13); Ezekiel ate a scroll (Ezekiel 2:8–3:6). Each of these unconventional and symbolic actions was meant to shock or shake the people and hence help them to listen to the message from God. Jesus was standing in this prophetic tradition. Then, what was the message Jesus had in the saliva-mixed mud?

One day, Jesus was traveling with his disciples. When they arrived at a village, they encountered a man blind from birth. He was begging at the entrance of the village. Instead of having compassion for him, Jesus’ disciples couldn’t help but start to have a theological question: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

You see, the underlying assumption here is that it was someone’s sin that he was born blind. How else would you make sense of him being born blind? Who could explain his misery from birth? God does not make mistakes, right? Therefore, it must be a result of someone’s sin. It must be a punishment he deserves. At least, that’s how they were taught by the religious leaders at that time. However, they just couldn’t figure out if it was his sin or his parent’s sin that caused his blindness.

There is an obvious dilemma here. If it’s his parents’ sin that he was born blind, it is not fair that he has to suffer from birth for his parents’ fault. Does that mean God sometimes punishes our offspring for our sins? Does that mean our suffering is sometimes because of the sins of our ancestors? Didn’t the Scripture say, God will not remember our sins (Isaiah 43:25) if we repent? Then, is it the newborn baby’s sin? What did he do to deserve a punishment like this? Could it be that he had sinned in his mother’s womb?

These thoughts might sound ridiculous to you, but it was actually a serious topic of discussion not only for the Jewish people in the first century but also for countless theologians in the history of Christianity. It’s called theodicy. This kind of debate can be summarized with this question: “Why do bad things happen to good people?” It is one of the hardest questions Christians still struggle with today. If God is good and all-powerful, why is there evil in this world? Why are some children born blind or with other disabilities? Should we believe they are condemned or punished by God because God cannot make mistakes?

For the Pharisees in this village, the answer was simple and clear: all human problems stem from sins. Therefore, their teaching was solemn and straightforward: if you keep the laws of God given to Moses, you will thrive. If you fail to keep the laws, you will perish. If anyone is suffering for any reason, they must repent and be forgiven by God. God absolutely loathes sins, and so we must.

Blinded by this belief, they could not see him. The one who was blind but now can see caused shock and confusion. The Pharisees were divided because some of them said, “this must be God’s work,” but some others said, “Jesus worked on Sabbath, and therefore, he can’t be from God.” That was a serious problem! Jesus spit on the ground and mixed his saliva to make mud. He “worked” to heal him. Also, he made him work by telling him to walk to Siloam and wash. They broke Moses’ law. They failed to keep the Sabbath holy! Therefore, they have to be sinners.

Guess which group won the debate? The latter won and decided to expel him. They not only failed to see him and celebrate the miracle with him but decided to completely kick him out of society, again. This man’s existence has shaken the entire belief system of the Pharisees. So they chose to get rid of him instead of letting him challenge or change their belief. I would say, that’s absolutely disgusting.

I hope you were able to see many more unpleasant things that bothered you more than saliva-mixed mud in this story. It’s the disciples whose first reaction when they saw the man born blind begging at the door was to think, “Whose fault is this?” It’s the neighbors who could not see the amazing miracle that happened to him but brought him to the Pharisees to discern the divine judgment for them. It’s the attitude of the Pharisees who were only interested in keeping the laws, and hence their religious privileges. It’s the parents who refused to support their son in fear of the Pharisees and said, “He is of age; ask him.” You see, hypocrisy is much more disgusting than blasphemy.

I hope you and I are not blinded by the “disgusting” action of Jesus and fail to see the ongoing works of God in this broken world. This week, I hope you and I will be able to see Jesus, the Light of the World. He might not be where we want him to be. He might be mixing mud with saliva to heal the people on a dirty street. He might be there with those who are broken, abandoned, and lost to tell them, “It’s not your fault, it’s not your sin!” May God open our eyes to see.

Reflection Questions:

  1. Have you ever wrestled with a theodicy question before? What experience made you struggle with the question?

  2. Has anyone or any action of someone shaken your strong convictions? What was your experience? What did you learn from that experience?

  3. Sometimes, our desire to be holy misleads us to think that we are better than others. What should we do to continue to walk humbly with God without being judgmental?

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