Healed by spit

It’s my favorite miracle Jesus did in His three year ministry.  I have gravitated to it for years.  It is one of the most descriptive miracles narrated to us, if not the most descriptive, in the amount of text spent on it.  And it is only found in one Gospel: John’s.

It is an extremely curious miracle, if I stop and think about it.

Imagine if I came up to you and said, “Did you just hear?  Henry was healed by spit!”

What on earth would you think?

Now what would you think if it actually happened?  What if you had known Henry for the better part of five years, seen him in your office with his seeing eye dog, watched him take the taxi to and from work every day you’d ever known him?  And what if, very suddenly, Henry came running up to you, no black glasses on his face, no dog at his side, and said,

“I can’t believe this!  Can you believe this?  It’s me, Henry!”

I think all of us would be startled enough at this point, but what on earth would you do if Henry told you he was healed by spit?

Of course, the man in Jesus’ story wasn’t named Henry, didn’t work in an office cubicle, or have a seeing-eye dog.  He lived about 2,000 years ago, when the blind were seen as, basically, “wretches” by society.  They had little to nothing they could do to work if someone wasn’t patient enough to teach them, or didn’t believe they were capable of work.  And apparently, this was often the case, as Jesus encountered more than one blind beggar in His time walking the village streets.

Whoever this man was in Jesus’ story (we never learn his name), we are given three jaw-dropping facts about his life:

  • He was blind.
  • He was healed by Jesus’ saliva.  (Note: Jesus did not spit in his eyes, as we will soon see.)
  • He saw.

It’s a “double-take” or a “Say what?” miracle.  There is a startling introduction of saliva in this story when you simply wouldn’t even think of expecting it, and yet there is such a strong music of love for the blind man in this story, there can really be no question as to Jesus’ motive for the spit.

To me, this story gives the most insight into the perspective of someone healed by Jesus.  The story is mostly told from the blind man’s perspective (without being a personal narrative).  In fact, a critical part of the story happens without Jesus present—giving a perspective John almost surely got from who?  The (ex-)blind man.

It is something in and of itself to imagine John, the author, in his home or the home of another, slightly stooped from age, pen in hand, scroll ready, interviewing the ex-blind-man.  I think the ex-blind-man’s eyes were wide as he told for probably at least the thousandth time the story of what happened on the day Jesus healed him.

There are many brilliant threads weaved into this incredible healing, threads only God Himself could have arranged so masterfully.  To name a few:

  • The controversy of whether or not disease and injury are always the responsibility of the person suffering from them
  • The surety of feeling worthless
  • A shocking “chance” encounter
  • A terrific mystery
  • The grief of abandonment
  • A “crazy” stand
  • A love like no other

I love, love, love what Jesus did here.  And, even if you’ve had reservations in the past about Jesus spitting . . . if you come with an open heart, I think you will totally change your mind, regardless of whether you agree with me on why I think He might have chosen spit.   I think it could have been that spit that is the pinnacle of the miracle.

But we have to back up to when, from the blind man’s perspective, it all started.  The Scripture we will look at will be the entire account of the blind man, found in John 9, from the Message Paraphrase.

Walking down the street, Jesus saw a man blind from birth. 

Have you ever heard a story begin, “It all started like any other day . . .”

For the blind man, this was most probably just exactly the case.  A day being blind in Jerusalem around 30 A.D. was just like any other.  Begging, for certain.  Danger, a possibility.  The disabled have never in history been seen by the mass population as a blessing, and, quite often, are consciously or unconsciously blamed for their handicaps, as we will soon see.

His [Jesus’] disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?”

It is very possible that the disciples were asking this right in front of the blind man.  And it is very probable that, if they were, it was no surprise to him.

We don’t know his life, but maybe he had a very hard one.  From childhood, he might have been unwanted, mocked by bullies, and, most likely, received no education.  He might have been seen as stupid, cursed, and not good for any kind of work.  Since he was begging, he was most likely not fed by his family, or at least not if he could find food by humiliated begging (although he had a family, as we will see).

This man might have been used to hearing debate on whether he was as fault or his parents.  He might have been a quiet man, beaten down by all the scorn he’d taken in his life.  Maybe he saw himself as an inconvenience and maybe even trash.

We have no idea how old he was, but his parents were still living.  In those days, life expectancy wasn’t what it is now, and for his father to still be alive, it’s reasonable to think he might have been twenty, thirty, or forty.  He wasn’t described as a “young” man, so twenty might be too young.  However old he was, he had most likely spent those years believing he was, at best, a drain on his parents and community.

Jesus said, “You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do.”

If the blind man was overhearing Jesus, this, no doubt, startled him.  Nobody ever ended the debate this fast.  Usually people enjoy talking about other people’s problems.  It seems fun to talk about who is at fault, so long as it isn’t you.  But Jesus wasn’t having any of this kind of talk.  He cut it right off.

If the blind man was listening, he was in tune to this conversation now.  But he wasn’t talking, maybe because he never expected to be invited to be a part of conversation.  Maybe he was running an errand quietly for his family—something simple they thought he could manage—or maybe he was sitting in a corner somewhere, halfway begging.

We need to be energetically at work for the One who sent me here, working while the sun shines. When night falls, the workday is over. For as long as I am in the world, there is plenty of light. I am the world’s Light.”

What a clever—oh, I just can’t say enough about how clever this was!—answer Jesus gave.

If the blind man was overhearing all this, then I think Jesus was speaking secret “blind language” here.

What’s that?  Well, to His disciples, He was talking about Himself as a worker.  But to the blind man, He was talking about Himself as the “Light”.  I want to look again at what He says:

“For as long as I am in the world, there is plenty of light. I am the world’s Light.”

There’s no talk here about what causes a man to be blind, or how blindness effects the eyes.  The talk here is about how Jesus is THE Light and physical blindness simply does not matter in eternity.

In other words, the blind man wasn’t missing out on any light if he knew Jesus.

What did this blind man know about Jesus?

He later calls Jesus by name, even though he seems to not have known much about him.  Did the blind man know that Jesus was known as a healer?  With the way Jesus’ miracles spread, he very likely did.  What did he think of Jesus at this point?  That, we don’t know.

He [Jesus] said this and then spit in the dust, made a clay paste with the saliva, rubbed the paste on the blind man’s eyes, and said, “Go, wash at the Pool of Siloam” (Siloam means “Sent”).

WHOA!  Suddenly everything is flying down the timeline!  Jesus is done talking, and He spits.  But this isn’t the kind of spitting men do when they’re trying to show off.  No way.  To the disciples, it looks like a crazy spitting—Jesus is rubbing His fingers in dust He just spit in, spitting in it some more, making something none of the disciples wanted to touch!  I mean, what is going on here?

Before anybody can wonder for long, suddenly the blind man has, quite literally, the shock of his life.  Wet dust is rubbed in his eyes.

What on earth is the blind man thinking?

Now this is key to why I think Jesus spit.

The second Jesus put spit on his eyes, I think the blind man might have been flooded with fear.  (He also might have been trusting, we do not know.)

Remembering that he couldn’t see anything that was going on, he might have heard Jesus spitting, but he probably had no idea what had happened after that. If Jesus told the man what He was doing, it isn’t recorded.  If the man knew Jesus was planning on healing him, it isn’t recorded.

This was possibly a moment of utter humiliation for the blind man.  Very helpless (remember how society treated the blind in his day), and maybe frightened, a man he didn’t know had just put something—he may have had no idea what it was—on his eyes.

I think the man was crushed.  (He also could have been excited.  Remember, I am giving simply a possible perspective.)

He might have wondered if he had been tricked into thinking Jesus was nice, and even taking up his cause—and now, Jesus had put something in his eyes—and when his defenses were down.

The nearest pool might have been Siloam, and that might have been part of why the blind man obeyed.  He might have wanted to get the stuff off his face as quickly as he could.  He might have had hoped Jesus was healing him—we just don’t know for sure.  But this wasn’t the usual way Jesus healed blind people.  If the blind man knew about Jesus’ other healings, he might have been afraid he was being made fun of, since this healing was very different.

As he made that walk to the pool, it might have been a long, humiliating walk.  He probably thought about the spitting sound he’d heard—but what was in his eyes?  It didn’t have the smell of dung—it had to be dirt.

He might have thought this Man thought he was dirt, too.  Maybe all the blind man’s memories flooded back—the bullying as a child, the subservience he’d gone through his whole life, the inferiority in his family, the disappointment he’d been to his parents, the way children kicked him when no one was looking . . . every time he’d been mistreated, jeered, overlooked, left out.

It might not have been the first time he had encountered spit.

Maybe he had been spit on.  Maybe a lot.  Maybe once.  Or maybe it was simply a metaphor for how he felt about his life: spit on.  Or maybe the point of the saliva was to show the depth his eyes, which had never seen, had to be healed, deeper than a touch, coming from the mouth of Jesus.  (Remember that Jesus will destroy Satan by the very breath from His mouth one day!  Jesus won’t even have to say a word!)

Maybe he was bitter, shaking with rage, panicked, and mortified by the time he got to the pool of Siloam.  (Another perspective is that he realized Jesus was using spit to heal him—a very thing used to make someone feel worthless was about to make him whole.)

The man went and washed—and saw.

And now, everything changes—from the perspective of the blind man.


Maybe it suddenly became clear to him–as joy is volting through his body–that the Man who healed him didn’t spit on him (but on the ground), and turned the spit into the very thing that healed him.

Whereas being spit upon is a terrible disgrace in all cultures, being healed by spit would change forever how the now ex-blind-man thought about spit.

Soon the town was buzzing. His relatives and those who year after year had seen him as a blind man begging were saying, “Why, isn’t this the man we knew, who sat here and begged?”

Others said, “It’s him all right!”

I notice here that, perhaps for the first time, the ex-blind man didn’t mind being talked over.  Maybe he was even thinking—a bit proudly, that they were going to have to ASK him (talk to him) to find out.

But others objected, “It’s not the same man at all. It just looks like him.”

The ex-blind-man couldn’t keep the secret any longer. 

He said, “It’s me, the very one.”

They said, “How did your eyes get opened?”

“A man named Jesus made a paste and rubbed it on my eyes and told me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ I did what he said. When I washed, I saw.”

I think there’s something very important here—the ex-blind man tells the story in such a way that he is a “participant”—not a victim or a bystander.  He gets to do the walking to Siloam.  He gets to wash his face.

“So where is he [Jesus]?”

“I don’t know.”

Now here is where the story takes a crazy twist. 

They marched the man to the Pharisees. This day when Jesus made the paste and healed his blindness was the Sabbath. The Pharisees grilled him again on how he had come to see. He said, “He put a clay paste on my eyes, and I washed, and now I see.”

Suddenly, in the middle of the shock of being able to see, the ex-blind man is carted away to go talk to the corrupt religious people of his day.  This was, no doubt, not what he had in mind for his first day of sight.

Some of the Pharisees said, “Obviously, this man can’t be from God. He doesn’t keep the Sabbath.”

Others countered, “How can a bad man do miraculous, God-revealing things like this?” There was a split in their ranks.

They came back at the blind man, “You’re the expert. He opened your eyes. What do you say about him?”

Maybe for the first time in his life, the ex-blind man got to be the “expert”.  Oh, and what an expert he got to be!  He got tell what he thought about the Man who had, very personally, healed him. 

He said, “He is a prophet.”

The ex-blind man knew at least a little bit of Bible history.  He knew there were prophets.  He knew they were special and important.  And he knew the Man who had healed him was special and important.

The Jews didn’t believe it, didn’t believe the man was blind to begin with. So they called the parents of the man now bright-eyed with sight. They asked them, “Is this your son, the one you say was born blind? So how is it that he now sees?”

His parents said, “We know he is our son, and we know he was born blind. But we don’t know how he came to see—haven’t a clue about who opened his eyes. Why don’t you ask him? He’s a grown man and can speak for himself.” (His parents were talking like this because they were intimidated by the Jewish leaders, who had already decided that anyone who took a stand that this was the Messiah would be kicked out of the meeting place. That’s why his parents said, “Ask him. He’s a grown man.”)

I find this to be dark, darker than the man being born blind or that the corrupt religious leaders are so hateful to him.

His own parents abandon him.

I don’t think this kind of abandonment happens over night.  I think this shows the character of this man’s parents.  I believe he had been neglected.  He was, after all, begging.  They could have been poor enough to not be able to provide for him—but I think they neglected him.  I think they were disappointed in him, had never wanted him, and didn’t care so much what happened to him as what happened to themselves.

They [the pharisees] called the man back a second time—the man who had been blind— and told him, “Give credit to God. We know this man is an impostor.”

Now this is a hallmark in the story.  The ex-blind man is in real trouble.  The religious leaders could disgrace him, cast him out of the temple for the rest of his life, even have him beaten.  This meeting was no joke.  And he might have by this point known his parents had thrown him to the wolves.

Now where is Jesus as a time like this?  Why doesn’t Jesus appear right here, right now, and rescue him?

Because Jesus knows this is the perfect moment for the ex-blind man to find out he is helpless no longer, and he will never again allow others to trample his soul in the DUST or SPIT on it.

He [the blind man] replied, “I know nothing about that one way or the other. But I know one thing for sure: I was blind . . . I now see.”

Did he know his words would become inspiration for probably the most famous hymn of all time?

No, but he did know this: the darkness in his life was over.

 They said, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”

And this is where I just want to jump up to my feet and start applauding like crazy.  Because the ex-blind-man is through with being other people’s trash, inconvenience, or embarrassment.

“I’ve told you over and over and you haven’t listened. Why do you want to hear it again? Are you so eager to become his disciples?”

With that they jumped all over him. “You might be a disciple of that man, but we’re disciples of Moses. We know for sure that God spoke to Moses, but we have no idea where this man even comes from.”

And now I want to cheer as I keep applauding. 

The man replied, “This is amazing! You claim to know nothing about him, but the fact is, he opened my eyes! It’s well known that God isn’t at the beck and call of sinners, but listens carefully to anyone who lives in reverence and does his will. That someone opened the eyes of a man born blind has never been heard of—ever. If this man didn’t come from God, he wouldn’t be able to do anything.”

Do you see what Jesus has done by not showing back up yet?  He has arranged this entire miracle to give this man the opportunity to receive the attention of his friends and family for once in his life, and then to stand up for himself in front of everyone by the power of Jesus!  The music of Jesus’ love is playing strong as Jesus waits for what will happen next.

They said, “You’re nothing but dirt! How dare you take that tone with us!” Then they threw him out in the street.

Being called dirt—I don’t think that was anything new.  Hurtful, yes . . perplexing how he could have had something so marvelous happen and people be so cruel, yes . . angry and wounded that his parents had forked him over to the Pharisees, yes . . but guess who was LOOKING and SEEING as he stood on that street, wondering where to go next?

The ex-blind-man. 

Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and went and found him. He asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

How beautiful!!!!!!!! How perfect!!!!!!!!

The first person the blind man sees who hasn’t antagonized him,  betrayed him, handed him over to bad people, or abandoned him is Jesus Christ. 

The man said, “Point him out to me, sir, so that I can believe in him.”

Jesus may have come without His disciples.

Maybe there was hardly a soul around, maybe a few lingering Pharisees (they were certainly there in a few minutes).  After all, the man had just been publicly embarrassed—thrown out of the temple.  If there were onlookers, they probably weren’t kind ones.

Jesus said, “You’re looking right at him. Don’t you recognize my voice?”

This has to be one of the most compassionate questions ever asked in the history of the world.

Jesus uses the one way the man could recognize Him to reveal who He is.  He didn’t simply reveal Himself.  He wanted to connect to the man on a wavelength of his heartbeat, which, for a blind man, is sound.

 “Master, I believe,” the man said, and worshiped him.

Very few people worshiped Jesus before He was raised from the dead.

The ex-blind man was one of them. 

Jesus then said, “I came into the world to bring everything into the clear light of day, making all the distinctions clear, so that those who have never seen will see, and those who have made a great pretense of seeing will be exposed as blind.”

Oh, don’t think for a second it escaped the ex-blind-man that Jesus was again using the secret language of the blind—but this time to a man who saw both sides.

Some Pharisees overheard him and said, “Does that mean you’re calling us blind?”

Jesus said, “If you were really blind, you would be blameless, but since you claim to see everything so well, you’re accountable for every fault and failure.”

I love how Jesus has the last word.  Whatever else the Pharisees might have said . . it didn’t matter to the ex-blind man.  Wasn’t important.  Not when Jesus had given him at least three miracles on the same day:

  • He sees.
  • He sees that God sees Him.
  • He sees God.

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12b, NIV)