Without humility no one can come to G-d.
This miracle, found only in John’s gospel, is unique in many ways: the young man has been blind from birth, Yeshua uses inanimate matter in the healing process, and the healing generates a wide range of responses from observers and an argument over halakhah that involves the parents of the recipient and the religious leaders—Pharisees. John is concerned with revealing the D’var—Word—of Adonai made flesh and also uses terms like light, dark, day and night, to show the stark contrast of the Messiah’s light against the night of this world, thus conveying the deeper meaning in the metaphor of light and its relationship to sight and revelation—lifting of a veil—throughout his gospel. John is hoping to make the Deity of Messiah plain for all to see. He wants us to understand what it truly means to behold Emanuel—G-d with us.
There are also aspects of this miracle that affirm the cultural and spiritual miss beliefs of the Jewish people and their leaders at that time—of course, before we become too critical we should remind ourselves that we continue to hold many of the same miss beliefs in the Christian church to this day: disciples suggest that personal or parental sin is the cause of the young man’s blindness, some of the Pharisees again accuse Yeshua of working on the Sabbath—the added action of mud making helps to fuel their zeal, excommunication is threatened against the young man’s parents and so the list goes on.
John tackles a wide range of issues in this concise but diverse account. If we are to understand it well, we will need to ask both the obvious questions regarding the healing itself and the deeper questions of religious culture and colloquial presumption. My hope is, that having studied this passage we will be able to avoid the conclusion, “It’s clear as mud.” Though on second thought, perhaps in this case at least, the idiom denotes significant clarity.
“Blind from birth.”
This statement is significant, as testified to by the healed man himself in verse 32 of the same chapter. This is intended to set up the many Messianic overtones of the healing. For years prior Israel had been awaiting a Messiah for who one of the significant signs of his validity would be the giving of sight to the blind. Yeshayahu/Isaiah 29:18, 35:5, 42:7
This question is not without foundation. There are clear examples both in Scripture and in life, of personal sin that results in illness. In the case of humanity’s fall, sin entered the world and can therefore be linked to all sickness to some degree. However this does not always mean that personal sin has caused illness. Therefore the disciples question can be seen as presumptuous, given that not all cases of illness are the direct result of personal sin.
There is substantial evidence indicating that the commonly held perception at that time, regarding illness, was that those who were severely ill had committed some great sin or had parents who had sinned and therefore were reaping the curse of the four generations as outlined in the Torah. To this the rabbis added arguments such as those regarding the ante-natal behavior of Esau and Jacob—found in later texts which recorded the oral traditions and debates of the first century A.D. such as Bereshit Rabbah 63:6 on Gen 25:22—some suggesting Esau’s sin in the womb as being the reason for his later loss of birth-rite. Needless to say, the question of the disciples was not unwarranted, given the social and religious connotations associated with severe sickness in the Judaism of the first century A.D.
“Neither… but this happened so that the works/signs of G-d might be displayed in him.”
Yeshua is not saying that it’s not possible for personal sin to result in severe sickness. He is simply saying that it’s not the only option, that there are times when people get sick for other reasons. In this case the reason is that the purpose of G-d be made manifest. That is, a sign/work/action, that reveals the true identity of the Messiah as one who causes the blind to see—in fulfillment of the afore mentioned Messianic passages of Isaiah.
“As long as it is day…”
It is here that John begins to juxtapose concepts of light and darkness, right action and sin, day and night. These themes become a metaphor for the stark contrast between blindness and sight. The conclusion will be that spiritual blindness is the greater danger. Only Messiah can act in this world to bring sight to that blindness and only those who are willing to accept that they are blind are able to receive sight. While Yeshua is with them, He is the Light of the world.
“He spit on the ground and made mud and put it on the blind man’s eyes.”
(Okay, gross. Seriously, if you spit in the dirt and rub it in my eyes I’ll throw up.)
If, as is clear from Scripture, Messiah Yeshua did not need to use anything other than the word of His mouth or the intention of His will to heal, why did He make mud? Was He emulating an occult practice? Certainly not, He’s the same G-d that forbids such practice. Was He using a microbial herbal healing technique, perhaps knowing that the mud and saliva somehow combined to become a natural healing balm? It is noteworthy that Yeshayahu/Isaiah—the prophet Yeshua quotes most—healed Hezekiah with a fig poultice, however there is no real correlation here. Why then, did Yeshua act out this show of ritual in full view of those observing the miracle? The most obvious answer is that it was intended as a living parable, like those performed by the prophet Ezekiel. (Ezekiel 4:9-12)
So what specifically is Yeshua saying through this action? Firstly we should ask, “What is the gospel writer’s agenda in writing?” John is concerned essentially with the theme of G-d’s coming down and dwelling among us. John uses the terms, Word and Light to describe Emanuel—G-d with us. He begins his gospel with the words, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with G-d and the Word was G-d.” He goes on to emphasis that, “The Word—logos--(G-d’s very essence/intention/breathe/saliva) became flesh (Adam) and dwelt among us.” Yeshua—G-d with us—is the person who embodies the very intention/essence/saliva of G-d, He is a physical symbol of the issued mouth essence of G-d (Ruach—breathe), combining this essence with the soil (adamah—earth) is a recreation—in allegory—of the first created Adam—human-being. After sinning and allowing sin to enter into the world, the first Adam was unable to heal in this way but Yeshua is not the first Adam. We are told by rabbi Shaul—Paul the Apostle—that Yeshua is the last Adam. (1 Corinthians 15:45) This physical parable then is most likely meant as a sign/work of the Messiah, a representation of His physical being and His status as G-d with us. He is the Shiloach—Sent One--who Yeshayahu/Isaiah prophesied would open the eyes of the blind. He has come down as the essence (Saliva) of G-d and has been joined to the adamah—earth/soil—and has become the last Adam (Fully G-d and fully man), G-d with us, Emanuel. Only He is capable of a miracle of such significance.
“‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam (Shiloach),’ (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.”
In order to fully understand this statement of Yeshua we must first gain an understanding of the Hebrew word Shiloach, which John chooses to transliterate into Greek as Siloam and explaining that it means Sent.
This pool gains its name from the Hebrew Shalach—go or send—and is closely related to the Hebrew Shilach—Shiloh—meaning sent one. Hebrew readers will recognize this word from the title to the Torah portion B’shalach—go forth. We should begin with the term Shilach—Shiloh—because it was known in ancient Judaism to represent the Mishiyach—Messiah. We find the first reference to this term—which is a Proper Noun/name—in Bereshit/Genesis 49:10:
“The scepter shall not depart from Y’huda, nor the rulers staff from between his feet (that is from his issue, children’s children) until Shilach/Shiloh (the sent one) comes: and the people will be obedient to Him. (Shiloh)”
It is unfortunate that English versions like the NIV utterly miss translate this text giving nonsense excuses like, “Difficult to translate.” Without the proper noun/name Shilach—Shiloh, this text is void of meaning. I suggest buying yourself an NASB or similar English translation if you are not a Hebrew reader. At very least you will then be able to ask the right questions of the English text.
The meaning then is grounded in the fact that Shilach--Shiloh, Genesis 49:10 speaks of is the Sent One, the Mashiyach/Messiah, Yeshua. Once we understand this we move to the next key text, this text mentions the derivative term shiloach—Siloam, Yeshayahu/Isaiah 8:9
“This people have refused the softly flowing waters of Shiloach—the sent one—and rejoice in Rezin and Remaliah’s son. (Meaning the false ruler and his false deities)”
Israel are seen here as both presently and prophetically rejecting the cleansing (waters) of the Sent One--Shiloach—who is the Messiah Yeshua—G-d with us.
With this understanding as our foundation we now look at the present text and the rich meaning displayed in Yeshua’s command for the blind man to wash in the waters of Siloam--Shiloach. Yeshua is effectively saying:
“Go, wash in the gently flowing waters of the Sent One.” Yeshua is Shilach, He is Shiloach and He is sending the blind man to the waters of the Sent One so that he might gain his sight (A sure sign of the fact that Yeshua is the Messiah—see previous Isaiah passages.) Thus the blind man, in obedience, does the opposite of the people of Yeshayahu/Isaiah 8:6 and so, he receives sight, both physical and soon, spiritual. The blind man himself is sent by the Sent One to be a tributary, a little sent one. Why? Because while it is day we must do the works of Him who sent us. Night is coming when no one can work, unless, the Light of the World lives in us, so that we might become light in the night. The once blind man now returns home as a sent one who will shine his light in the darkness. This is G-d’s desire for each of us, we have all been blind and are in need of the Sent One—Yeshua--and His cleansing, so that we might receive true spiritual sight, thus avoiding the deeds of darkness and disbelief. Some see baptism or Mikveh in the washing. Needless to say, rabbinical teaching would have seen the very act of washing as a defilement of the Sabbath—this of course is not a Torah understanding, it is simply a law of men.
When the blind man came home seeing he was meet with a divided response from those who knew him. Some were so confused by this miraculous event that they doubted he was the same man who had been born blind. Others were certain it was the ex-blind beggar they had known for so long. The man himself was adamant, “I am the man!” The people respond, “How were you healed then?” If this was that blind guy, something pretty amazing was happening and they genuinely wanted to know what that was.
“The man they call Yeshua made some mud and put it on my eyes and sent me to wash in the pool of Shiloach, as soon as I had done this I could see.”
This is the first in a progressive chronology of statements that show the man’s journey to salvation—John, the writer of this gospel, is rightly called the Evangelist by early Church fathers.
Here, the man has not yet seen Yeshua, he barely even knows who He is, so he says, “the man they call Yeshua.” This statement shows the distance between the man and Yeshua even after his healing. He is referring to Yeshua, not even as an acquaintance but rather as someone that others talk about. This is step one in the man’s journey to identifying and understanding who Yeshua is.
“Where is this man?”
The now seeing beggar responds, “I don’t know.” Yeshua has obviously left the location of the healing. The man upon receiving his sight, is so excited that he goes straight home to show everybody what a wonderful miracle has happened to him. He has not yet seen Yeshua.
“They brought the man who had been blind to the Pharisees.”
There is no need to see this as an act of malice. The people were socially and religiously accustomed to seeking the advice and opinions of the Pharisees—who were entrusted as the leaders of their synagogues and as shepherds of Israel.
“The day on which Yeshua made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was the Sabbath.”
This is obviously important to the discussion that follows. Throughout His ministry Yeshua is criticized by the Pharisees for His actions on the Sabbath--Yeshua keeps the Torah but He does not bow to the Oral traditions concerning the Sabbath. The making of the mud in addition to the actual healing was of particular concern in light of rabbinic Oral tradition.
The Pharisees asked how the man had been healed and upon finding out, they were divided in their opinions of Yeshua and the event itself. Some of them felt that He had broken the Sabbath Law—of course He had only broken their man made laws, others were convinced that because Yeshua had worked such a great miracle that they should not be so hasty to condemn Him. Neither argument was valid, the Torah warns that false prophets may work great miracles, so the fact that this healing was miraculous was not proof of Yeshua’s standing as a prophet of G-d.
As is the proper thing to do they turn to the man who had been healed and ask him, “What do you have to say about Him?” To which the man replies, “He is a prophet.” This is the second stage in the development of the man’s relationship to Yeshua. Here he has progressed from speaking of Yeshua as one who others speak of, to naming him a prophet. The full impact of what has happened to him is beginning to set in and he is starting to see glimpses of who Yeshua really is.
Finding it too hard to accept that the man was ever blind, the Pharisees send for his parents to get confirmation. The parents acknowledge that he has been blind from birth but they are as confused as everybody else as to how he can now see. They are not willing to enter the debate, sighting his being of age—that is older than thirteen—as reason for questioning him and allowing his testimony to stand for itself. His parents were scared of being kicked out of the synagogue. This does not mean they would be kicked out of all synagogues—there was no Great Synagogue because the Temple was the central place of Jewish Worship at that time—but it was a significant threat, given that the local synagogue acted as a type of community house as well as a subsidiary place of worship and Torah study.
The Pharisees, beside themselves with frustration, send for the man a second time—at this point they were conducting what was effectively an illegal trial of both Yeshua and the healed man. The use of the idiom, “Give glory to HaShem!”—which means tell the truth or swear on the Bible in our modern vernacular. This is in fact a way of saying, “Stop lying and admit you weren’t blind,” or “Admit that this Yeshua is a false prophet!” They—that is the group among them that didn’t accept the miracle—had already decided that Yeshua was a Sabbath breaking sinner despite the lack of real evidence.
It’s here that the once blind man begins to truly find his vision and shine the light found in Yeshua, and not without a good dose of Jewish chutzpah to boot.
“One thing I do know, I was blind and now I see.”
In other words, “When you guys are able to exhibit this kind of power, I might pay more attention to you!” The Pharisees are looking for ammunition so—having just called him a liar to his face—they ask again how it all took place. The once blind man responds, “I told you already, weren’t you listening? Why do you want to know more? Do you want to become his Talmidim—disciples?” It’s safe to say that enraged them. They say, “You are this man’s disciple, we are Moses disciples.” I don’t think the man would have been at all offended by being called a disciple of Yeshua at this stage—though he was not. What is unusual is the claim by the Pharisees that they were Moses’ disciples. This designation was not common at the time and denotes a desperate scratching at straws on their part. It’s one of those, “No! you are!” type arguments that people who have no idea what to say next usually use.
“We know that G-d spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where He comes from.”
What they mean by this is that the Messiah is prophesied to come from Bethlehem and as far as they knew Yeshua was from Nazareth. Of course the truth is that they knew where He came from—the Galilee—they had very little respect the am ha-aretz—people of the land, that is, uneducated farmers and fishermen. They probably considered Yeshua to be somewhat of a hillbilly.
The sardonic rebuke of the man is a delight to read, perhaps being born blind and suffering all his life had birthed in him an immunity to the fears and obligations of Israel concerning her hypocritical religious leaders. On the other hand, maybe he was just a sarcastic guy? If so, he probably had some kiwi (New Zealand) blood in him from the diaspora.
The healed man draws their attention to the catalyst for understanding the Messianic significance of this miracle, he says, “Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of one born blind. If this man were not from HaShem He could do nothing.” This is a pointed observation that reveals the sign of G-d regarding the opening of the eyes of the blind, something that would alert Israel to the Messiah’s presence—as prophesied by Yeshayahu/Isaiah. This is also the third step in the man’s journey into relationship with Yeshua. Here, he says Yeshua is, “from G-d.”
The disbelieving group among the Pharisees, who are not used to being disagreed with by commoners, are more than insulted by the man and resort to name calling, “You were born from sin and are soaked in it, how dare you lecture us!” Actually the man had been following proper halakhic protocol with his well-argued rebuttal, they were just sore because his argument was more convincing. Had this been recorded in the Talmud, the man’s argument would have been sighted by future rabbis as the dominant view. Seeing that they were not going to win this argument the Pharisees threw him out—probably out of the synagogue. I’m not sure that this would have worried him too much, he had been spending a lot of time on the streets begging for food up till now and may not have found much solace in the synagogue.
After hearing that the man had been thrown out Yeshua found him—this means Yeshua had sought him out, an intimate and thoughtful gesture. The man’s father and mother had forsaken him and he had been kicked out of the local synagogue, this is a pivotal occasion in his journey into G-d’s light. Yeshua asks, “Do you believe in the Son of Man—a Messianic title.” The man responds, “Who is he Sir, tell me so that I may believe in him.” This is the fourth stage in the journey of relationship, the man calls Yeshua—whom he is seeing for the first time—Sir/master, a term of respect. The Greek Kyrios is used and can be translated lord or L-RD, there is no Greek equivalent for YHVH—L-RD, so the same Greek word is sometimes used to denote the Holy Name. Here however, “Sir” is the correct translation, given the context.
“Yeshua said, ‘You have now seen Him, in fact, He is the one speaking with you.’ Then the man said, ‘L-RD I believe.’ And he worshipped Him.”
Remember, the man is seeing Yeshua for the first time, both physically and spiritually. This is the final stage of the man’s journey into saving relationship. He has been blind, he has been washed in the life giving water of the Sent One, he has known of Yeshua, he has identified Him as a prophet, he has realized that Yeshua was sent from G-d, he has respectfully called Him sir/master and now he sees Him for who He really is, “L-RD”. The Greek word kyrios is used here by John—a Jew—to represent YHVH. We must not put more weight on the Greek language than we do upon the cultural religious psyche of the writers of the gospels. The fact that the Greek language is unable to convey the nuances of the Hebrew designations for G-d does not mean the deeper meaning was not intended by the author—inspired by G-d. A beautiful picture of what has just occurred between Yeshua and the healed man appears in the words of the Psalmist:
“Though my father and mother forsake me, the L-rd will receive me.” Tehillim/Psalm 28:10
Yeshua sums up this parabolic healing event by clarifying for those present that He has come to fulfill the words of Yeshayahu/Isaiah (Isaiah 6:10, 42:19). This is an opportunity for those studied in the Tanakh—Old Testament--to recognize His claim to Messianic authority and repent, but He knows that they will remain blind, while those who realize their blindness will receive their sight through Messiah just as G-d had prophesied through the prophet.
Apparently some Pharisees were following Yeshua around—not necessarily the same ones that interrogated the healed man. They realized He was warning them of spiritual blindness and in pride wanted to show themselves spiritually insightful, so they asked, “Are we blind to?” Yeshua’s response is a harsh rebuke, “If you were blind you would not be guilty of sin; but because you claim you can see, your guilt remains.” Yeshua is saying that only those who admit their blindness/sin can be freed from it and given spiritual sight. Those, who in pride, claim that they can see are in fact still blind and are unable to receive sight from Yeshua. Without humility no one can come to G-d.
We live in a world that Messiah Himself has called night. While He was here physically He was the light, now He is here metaphysical by the power of G-ds Holy Spirit, living in every believer. The Sent One has filled those of us who believe, in order that we might be sent ones who shine His light in this dark world. If we claim we have not been blind, then we, like the Pharisees are unable to see. However when we admit our blindness the Sent One will restore our sight by coming to us and then sending us out to be the softly flowing waters of Shiloach to a parched and hopeless world. May He bare light in us, that we might be light to others, shining our light in order to reveal the path that leads to Him.
© 2013 Yaakov Brown
Spiritual leader of Beth Melekh Community, Auckland, Aotearoa, N.Z.