While it is day (John 9:4-5)
Speaking to his disciples, Jesus said that he (as well as his disciples) must be producing the works of God while it is still day, that is, while they still have time. He warns that there is a time coming when they will not be able to do God’s work. There is a sense of urgency implicit in this passage. The opportunity for Jewish people to accept Jesus as their Messiah was now, while Jesus was with them in the world, in person.
Jesus was doing the work of God the Father: “the one who had sent him” (John 9:4). Jesus constantly and clearly showed the Jews that he was the Messiah sent from God. His healing a man born blind was a particularly clear sign that he was the Messiah. There are very few instances in antiquity of blind people regaining their sight. A person born blind and then later being able to see was unheard of! For the Jews, this was something only God could do (Exod. 4:11; Psa. 146:8).
In several passages in Isaiah healing the blind and deaf is a messianic activity (Isa. 29:18, 35:5, 42:7), the very miracles that Jesus Christ effortlessly performed. Luke records that when Jesus was in the synagogue one Sabbath, he read from Isaiah 61:1-2 which is about the Messianic age. After reading this passage Jesus remarked that this prophecy had now been fulfilled in him (Luke 4:16-21).
Israel’s time was indeed limited. After his pending death and resurrection, Jesus would return to heaven, and send his Holy Spirit in his place. This would mark the beginning of the church age and the time of the Gentiles (Rom. 11:11-12, 25). A corresponding period of “hardening” for Israel would make it even more difficult for Jews to accept Jesus as their Messiah. However, Israel as a nation will repent and be saved when the Gentile age is complete and Jesus returns to Jerusalem at a future time (Rom. 11:26 cf. Zech. 12:10-14 cf. Rev 1:7).
Saliva and Salvation (John 9:6)
After speaking about doing God’s work, Jesus spat on the ground and made mud and smeared it on the blind man’s eyes. To us, the idea of applying spit onto a person is disgusting, but saliva was thought to have curative powers in some ancient cultures. Interestingly, the word saliva comes from the same family of words as salve and “Pliny, the famous collector of what was then called scientific information has a whole chapter on the use of spittle.” (Barclay 1969:49)
While it is very unlikely that he believed that saliva had curative properties, Jesus employed customs and methods of the days. Jesus also used saliva in Mark 7:33 when healing the deaf mute, another unmistakable messianic miracle.
Miracles: God’s Action and Ours (John 9:7)
The blind man didn’t ask to be healed, and Jesus doesn’t explain what he is doing. The blind man passively accepted the mud being smeared onto his eyes. Then he obediently went and washed in the Pool of Siloam as instructed by Jesus. This miracle required two actions: (1) the work of God through Jesus, and (2) the obedience of the blind man to go and wash in the Pool. In this respect, there are similarities in this story to the account of Naaman’s healing in 2 Kings 5:10-14.
How many miracles and blessings have been short circuited because we were resistent, unbelieving or disobedient?
Image: Pool of Siloam © V. Gilbert and Arlisle F. Beer (Source: Visual Bible Alive)