Don’t Rub It In My Face, Thanks

Many times in my life, I’ve heard the story of the blind man healed by Jesus.  Found in John 9, the story begins with Jesus seeing a blind man and the disciples asking Jesus whether the man’s sin or his parents’ sin had caused the blindness.

Jesus, of course, answers that neither had sinned, but that this happened so God’s work could be done in his life.  He heals the blind man, and everyone learns a nice lesson about sin not necessarily manifesting itself as a physical deformity.

At least that’s how I’ve often heard it.  Not in quite so glib a summary, but often the lesson ends there.  Sometimes we keep going long enough to bash the Pharisees again when they question the formerly blind man and throw him out for his pro-Jesus answers.

But I read John 9 again this week, and two remarkable things stood out to me.

First, the blind man let Jesus put mud on his face.  Blind people had few opportunities in that society and often came under judgment for either being sinners or children of sinners.  Dignity had to be almost a foreign concept, but even so, a guy spitting on the ground and rubbing mud on your eyes must have been outside the norm.  How did he react?  Did Jesus ask first?  Did the blind man believe this was a healing, or might he have wondered if he’d found himself the butt of a cruel practical joke?  When he went to wash in the pool, was he mad that Jesus had smeared dirt and spit on his face, or could he have hoped for sight?  “Either way,” I’d have thought, “I’ve got to get this mud off my face.  I’ve got to get clean.”

Honestly, I don’t know if I would have let Jesus do this.  The face is personal.  Touching my face indicates a level of intimacy that I don’t have with many people.  Letting a stranger touch my face when I can’t see?  No, thank you.  I don’t want that, nor am I so needy that I would willingly submit to that touch.  It makes me wonder if I’ve ever waved Him off when He tried to heal me of spiritual blindness.  Have I held Him at arms’ length, insisting I’m not all that blind, certainly not bothered enough by it to need gritty, still-warm mud plastered on me? 

Later, after the Pharisees question the now-sighted man, they call his parents in to talk about what has happened to their son.  They do acknowledge his sonship, but as for his sight, well, they refuse to speak up about that.  “Ask him,” they say fearfully.

How must that sight have appeared to their son?  Clearly, as an adult, he’d known them for many years, but actually seeing them was still fresh.  Had they shunned him?  Had they loved him?  Did they whisper at night, wondering if their sins caused this problem?  Did they lead him out to beg every day?  Had one of them led him to wash his face in the Pool of Siloam?  Either way, whether close or estranged, how did the sighted man react when his parents refused to answer on his behalf?  Surely he’d told them how he’d received sight.  Did he view their answers to the interrogation as necessary precautions or betrayals of his exciting story?

What would I do in a similar situation?  Would I stand up to the religious leaders and answer with what I know my son has experienced?  Would I leave him to answer alone?  Do I even allow for the miraculous to have invaded our lives to such an extent?

Jesus tells the man He’d come so the blind could see and that the sighted would become blind.  To the Pharisees, He remarks that if they knew they were blind, no guilt would rest on them, but that as those who claim to see, they rested in their own guilt.

In so many ways, I feel either blind or blindfolded these days, and I can’t tell which.  When I look at how my actions, my words, my politics, my dollars affect others, I see that many people within the church agree with me, and equally as many oppose me.  Who’s right?

Maybe that matters, or maybe I’ve let it become disproportionately important.  Jesus keeps turning this question upside down for me.  In our colloquialism, “I’ve got mud on my face” indicates error and embarrassment.  For the blind man, “I’ve got mud on my face” was the first step toward healing.

What would I have done?  And what will I now do?  I think those are the only options left to me; mud on my face seems to have occurred whether I wanted it or not.

Please share with me:

  • Have you ever been healed in an unusual way, whether physically or spiritually?  Did you embrace the method?
  • In a tense moment, have you ever spoken up more bravely or shied away more artfully that you’d have expected?  What was that like?

Linking today with Emily at Imperfect Prose and Joy at Life:Unmasked


4 thoughts on “Don’t Rub It In My Face, Thanks

  1. This is an interesting take on the story. I have to say, I agree about the mud of the face thing. It’s so personal. What do we miss because we’re hesitant or unsure? I get a little twitchy when people pray for healing. God can heal us and sometimes chooses not to and that’s messy and painful and grey. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. I was far from home in South America and very ill. I must have ate something I shouldn’t have, but I was alone, very sick, and couldn’t speak the language. I was lying in bed in my hotel and prayed that God would take it away. When I woke up the next morning I was fine, not a single symptom that I had suffered in days previous were still there. He answered my prayer when I was far from home.

  3. wow, well, first of all, i love the title you gave this post. so catchy. and i love how you revealed something to me about a very well-known story… i hadn’t thought of that before; how humbling it would be to have mud put on your face. thank you jenn. wonderful insights. bless you, e.

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