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Advent Devotional 12/13/21

God specializes in the unexpected

December 13, 2021

Walton H. Walker III

"As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’ When He had said this, He spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see."

-John 9:5-7

At the time of writing this Advent devotion, I’m in a not-so-joyous season devoted to tromping through my newly-aerated/mutilated yard and rotating sprinklers every 12 minutes, with the hope that sometime within the next month grass will sprout from the fertilized mess and my own sprouts (children) will be able to play outside again without returning to the house looking like Gloppy from Candy-land. This year, in the context of national and global events, the experience of walking in circles while sinking in muck has an all-too-familiar feel. But I’ll dispense with extended editorializing on the pandemics, power struggles, and the splintering of word, deed, and truth - noting only that the general “muddiness” of our time seems less uniquely dismal (though perhaps no less depressing) when considering the events commonly associated with mud throughout history. Namely, conflicts involving humans killing each other in mass numbers. Man’s mess is nothing new.

These historical associations of mud all the more beg the question already screaming to be asked in this passage: why does Jesus, who could have healed with a mere spoken word, instead employ a “Three Stooges” maneuver combined with mud made from His own spit? Other commentators have offered the intriguing interpretation that Christ’s act references Creation and the making of Adam (“adamah” being Hebrew for “earth”), consistent with John’s overarching theme that these miracles were “signs” of Christ’s nature as God. But the Christmas season throws another perspective on the episode: how Christ makes His own words incarnate

God specializes in the unexpected.

In verse 5, Christ utters, As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” He then mixes with the dirt His own spit, a substance generated by the mouth that uttered those words, a kind of emanation of Himself. The image becomes all the more arresting considering discoveries of cell biology and DNA and how body fluids, like saliva, can contain one’s genetic map. Thus, Christ begins granting the man “light” by tangibly and visibly putting Himself in the world

The manifestation of language continues with the next steps of the healing process, as Christ spreads the mud mixture on the blind man’s eyes - the “lamps” of the body (Mt. 6:22) - and directs him to go wash in a pool known as “Sent.” The word could both refer to Christ Himself, the One “sent” by God (4), or to the man, one also “sent” by God: not only to the pool, but to display God’s works (3). By immersing in the One sent, the blind man takes on the nature of the One sent. It’s a masterful use of oral presentation exhibits: visual aid serves as visual aid. 

Of course, John 9 has far more surprises than Christ’s home-made remedy for blindness. The lowly “sinner” (2) lectures the “holy” elites, the blind man sees and the seeing are blinded (39), and the victim of first-century cancel culture (34) inherits the Kingdom (35-38). God specializes in the unexpected. In a way, using mud to bring light to the blind man is a consistent extension of God’s shocking use of mankind - beginning with the Son of Man, extending to His disciples, and reaching on to all His followers - to bring light to the world. 

Which leads to the meta-narrative. John, as witness to this event, recreates and re-presents it in the writing. For in writing his gospel, John reaches across space and time, merging flesh with word in truth to apply his fingers to our eyes, that we, too, may see the nature of the sent One, in order to be sent ourselves. Word becomes flesh. And vice-versa. And so on.

Suggesting an answer to another major question from this passage: why does Christ qualify that He is the light “[a]s long as I am in the world?” The response seems to be: once Christ has gone to the Father, we, the Church, carry that light (Matthew 5:14-16). Even if, to muddy the metaphors, our individual contributions represent mere drops compared to the Source Pool.

Rotate sprinklers.

Dear God,

As we meditate on your embodiment of light, enable us to carry that light wherever we are sent.