What to do about that mud on your face

From John 8-9

In his dusty corner, he waits. He cannot see them, but he can hear them passing ceaselessly back and forth. He waits for one of them to stop. He waits for mercy in the form of coins, mercy that keeps him at a distance and lets them feel they have done their duty. Each coin is a reminder of his irrelevance. Each time he picks one up, he knows his shame. 

He has been told his blindness is a curse for his sins, or maybe the sins of his parents. Somewhere someone went horribly wrong, and the price for this was his sight. Never mind that it was not his blindness but the cruelty of his people that drove him into this corner to beg. Never mind that he hears these people, the sight-blessed, as they talk on their way to and from the temple. He knows their self-regard, the bent of their thoughts. 

But the truth he accepts is the truth they force upon him, that he is forever a blind beggar who will forever be marked by sin. This is the shame he must bear. 

Then one day the footsteps stop before him, and he hears the silence of the man studying him. He hears others shuffling their feet, waiting. Finally, someone speaks. “Who sinned, this man or his parents?” Like it matters. 

But then the voice of the man. “Neither this man nor his parents sinned.” A tremble begins in the beggar’s heart. “This happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

The works of God? In him?

He hears the Man moving as he speaks. “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” And then strong hands touch his face. The tremble takes hold and he cannot stop shaking. When was the last time he was touched?

The gentle fingers spread mud over his eyes, mud made from saliva. Like all the times he felt spit upon, belittled, condemned. Like the coins that told him every day he was filthy and unworthy. 

It is so quiet. No one says a word as the Man works. The mud cakes the beggar’s face. This is what they have made of him. This is how he is seen. 

Then the voice comes again, gentle and strong. “Go now,” he says. “Wash in the Pool of Siloam.”

Does he hesitate? Does this man wonder what will happen? After all, no one has told him. His blindness is a curse, yes, but it is also what insulates him from the harshness of his world. He feels himself clutching it. Maybe it is better not to know. But then he remembers the words. This happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.

Maybe the blindness is not a curse but a path. And now he has been sent. 

So the man makes his way through the crowds of people who stare after him, this mud-caked pilgrim carrying his shame through their midst. Trembling, terrified, and full of something like hope, he bears his disgrace along the streets of the city to the pool of kings, the pure spring water that has fed life to this people for centuries. He comes, the filthy beggar, and he dips his hands into that life-giving liquid. Tentatively, he begins to wash. The tremble becomes a tingle and forgetting everything, he plunges his face right into that pure pool, soaks his whole soul in the healing water. And all that spit and mud, the lifetime of shame he has worn, it all washes away and he comes up seeing.

He sees. He sees everything around him in a bright light of joy. He sees all the beauty from which he has been excluded, all the radiance of hope. He, himself, is radiant. He has been touched, and he has relinquished the hold of shame. 


Now he sees the scowls of the temple-worthy, the coin-throwers who kept him safely in his spot. Oh, he sees, all right. He sees their panic at his healing. He sees their fear and the control they must cling to at all costs. He sees they don’t know what to do with a Man who shatters the illusions they have built to hold their own importance.

They throw him out of the synagogue. He laughs. He has been touched! He carries the works of God in his eyes.

Later, when the feet stop before him and he looks up, he sees his healer. “Do you believe?” the Man asks, and the beggar becomes the worshipper. He sees that he is loved, not condemned; that he is known and highly prized. He sees that shame no longer sullies the one who walks the path to the water of life. He sees that the failure that drove him to the corner to beg was the very thing God would use to make him a bearer of the light. 

He sees the Truth, and he is free.  

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