I found a new trail to run on not too far from my home. I wore my beautiful new running shoes, and I did not realize it had rained while I was gone for a few days. I left my brand new running shoes on the back porch to dry out because they were caked in mud.
About a week passed until I realized I needed to clean my shoes. I took them to the bathroom sink and proceeded to clean them with water and paper towels. I quickly realized not even Mr. Brawny himself was enough, so I switched to an actual towel. My sink was a disaster! It took me as long to clean the countertop and sink as it did to clean my shoes.
And then it hit me. I did not save myself any time or energy by leaving my shoes outside. The "reconstituted mud" was just as messy as the morning I went trapesing on the running trail. In the middle of cleaning, I looked down at a big glob of mud on my shoe, and my mind went straight to Jesus and to people who might need healing today.
It was the Sabbath. Jesus and the disciples saw a man who was blind from birth. The disciples asked Jesus a common belief in the ancient near eastern world, "Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" (John 9:2, NIV '84). For a child born with a disability, the thought of the day was that either the child sinned in utero, or the parent's sin caused the disability. In a moment of his everyday genius, Jesus destroyed two misunderstandings at one time.
The Origins of Suffering
Disease indeed exists in this world because of the fall of man. I am currently fighting a head cold, a natural occurrence still lingering from not only the fall of man but the fall of the perfect world God created. However, in Jesus' day, those with disabilities were viewed as extra egregious in sin because it was believed that some exact sin caused the disability. In this way, lepers, in example, could be kept at bay outside the city because they were viewed as physical, spiritually, and often even mentally ill. Society did not have to look upon what they believed to be the "dregs of society" simply because of horrible theology.
"Neither this man nor his parents sinned…" With one sentence, Jesus destroyed the notion that this man was born blind because of a specific sin. "…but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life." Suffering is not always the result of sin. Some suffering may be an opportunity for God to display grace and might. When Adam fell, we all fell. But God does not treat our sin "tit for tat." If he did, we could not bear it. His common grace sustains us even in our constant state of sin.
So here is the blind man, no doubt outcast his entire life, about to be healed and received into the community for perhaps the first time in his life. But wait….it is the Sabbath day!
Grace is Greater than the Sabbath
"As long as it is day, we must do the work of Him who sent me." Jesus, knowing full well he would be rebuked by the Pharisees, chose to heal on the Sabbath day. Just as he taught there was a spirit to the law of the Sabbath, to help your neighbor retrieve his animal from the ditch on the Sabbath, so here Jesus also demonstrated the spirit of Sabbath rest. Grace is greater than the Sabbath because Jesus came to bleed grace over humanity.
Pronouns matter my friends. With the watchful eye of the disciples, Jesus pulled the disciples in for a principle they needed to pass along to others. Did you catch it? "As long as it is day, WE must do the work of him who sent me." It seems like Jesus should have said, "I must do the work of him who sent me." And so goes the ministry and grace of Jesus. Jesus healed people and constantly told his disciples to be channels of grace-laden healing.
So Jesus spit! He must have spit a lot to make mud. He took the original material of man, dirt, added some saliva, and voila, a healing salve, multiplied by the faith of the blind man. Jesus smeared the mud over the blind man's eyes and told him, "Go. Wash in the Pool of Siloam" (the Bible adds "this word means Sent").
As you probably know, the blind man walked in his blind condition to the "sent pool," washed off the mud, and notice, he went home! Of course, a controversy erupts because of his healing, but we will save that for another day.
Jesus sent the blind man to the pool called Sent and, after the blind man was healed, he went home in full sight of the people in his community (enjoy that double entendre). The healing grace of Christ became a disruption to the religious leaders and even those who previously knew the blind man. The Pharisees, of course, did not want to believe in the healing power of Christ, for to do so was to acknowledge His divinity. The people from the blind man's hometown struggled to accept the identity of the man they had known was born blind. And during it all, a man born blind now able to see, not one person rejoiced. Instead, the now fully sighted man is basically put on trial to explain the miraculous in his life. Not one person in the story rejoiced! Not one person was excited for the man who could finally see. Not one person.
The mud cakes made a real mess for the man born blind, far beyond the smears on his face. His mess was trying to explain his sight. And so is the nature of grace…unexplainable. Sometimes controversial.
Judgment is way easier than grace. Judgment makes us feel powerful. Judgment makes us look better from our seats of condemnation. Ironically, the God of the universe stepped down from His perfect throne of judgment to provide a pathway of grace for those even blind to their own sin. God's grace and judgment find no conflict with one another. He judges and shows grace to the full extent without a need to balance the two. He is full judgment and full grace simultaneously. Yet, he tells Christians not to sit in the seat of judgment.
Instead, we are called to "reconstitute" his grace for those around us. He called us to the "Pool of Sent," gave us new hearts, seeing eyes, and a mandate to share the redemptive grace he bled on a cruel cross. However, we more often choose to spit on the ground, make some mud, and sling judgement toward the very people Christ came to redeem. Rather than bringing healing to the sinner, rather than stooping down to make a truth cake of nourishment for the sin-parched soul, we too often choose to walk by the wounded sinner, busy with our lives of sight and all the pleasure it can entail.
A Muddy Mess
I do not understand exactly how mud brought healing. But I do know that if I put mud on my eyes today, I would not be able to see. The power is in the washing! The healing is in finding the faith to follow Christ, to trust Him, to walk blindly through a world of chaos, and trust the directions of the Healer.
I know that I function my best as a disciple of Jesus when I dare to be sent from the Sent One. I am woefully aware that when I see myself rightly, a sinner in need of constant redemption, I truly see and feel the lostness of those around me. It seems the more we as Christians are aware of our own spiritual bankruptcy, our spiritual blindness, the more we will see the world through the compassionate eyes of our Redeemer. Then the redeemed are sent with compassion rather than judgmental reaction and sent with grace-filled truth rather than judgment-based religiosity.
Jesus sent the blind man to a pool called Sent, and when he left Sent seeing, he went home to the skeptic, the religious, and as Jesus described them, the spiritually blind.
How will we see the world around us? Steeped in sin from birth? Sinful from utero? Or created in the image of a Healing Christ who longs to open their sinful eyes?
My friend David Gentiles added a wonderful line in the worship song Redeemed by the Blood of the Lamb: "Now I have the Living Water from the Well that won't run dry." The redemption of Christ is a never-ending supply, for me, for you, and for the world Christ sends us to.
I reconstituted mud—a wonderful reminder of being sent, in full and compassionate vision for those who need Christ.