As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing. His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” Some claimed that he was. Others said, “No, he only looks like him.” But he himself insisted, “I am the man.” “How then were your eyes opened?” they asked. He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.” “Where is this man?” they asked him. “I don’t know,” he said. – John 9:1-12
I guess in my excitement to reach the “end” floated right by a water reference. So I am schlepping back upstream today to pick up this reach of river. The topic of today’s passage is about healing and spit. I reflected in a post called sight from the savoir about this story in the book of Mark (Mark 8:22-26). In that post I explored the metaphorical meaning of this miracle and the soul connection that Jesus was trying to make through this healing. The focus of this account is slightly different and revolves around an important question posed by those present “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” What the disciples were wondering was whether the actions of this man or his relatives resulted in this “punishment” of blindness. Jesis’ answer is neither, his illness and the healing at hand are part of a someone else’s story that God needs to tell these people.
The idea that spiritual forces are responsible for our health has been around for about as long as human history has been recorded. I suspect this was because until the early 1900’s we did not really have much ability to see or understand the unseen microbes that were often responsible for our illnesses and imperfections. Well it turns out we have a veritable zoo of critters living on and in our bodies It is becoming increasingly clear that this ecosystem of entities is a feature not a flaw. For example, our ability to digest food is at least partly a result of symbiotic bacteria that live in our stomachs and intestines. These helper organisms provide all sorts of assistance in the process of digesting and recovering nutrients from our food. When we seek to sterilize and sanitize we may be killing off our friends as well as our enemies.
Of course not all organisms and entities that inhabit our bodies are good and beneficial. Things that make us ill are typically referred to as pathogenic, causing pathos or illness. The means by which these organisms and entities can impact our bodies is very diverse. They can produce toxins which are poisonous to our bodies, hijack the machinery of our selves and make billions of copies of themselves, and they can fool our immune system into attacking our own bodies. Examples are too numerous to mention but include bacteria like Cholera, viruses like COVID-19 that we are dealing with right now, and a whole host of other pathogens that are trying to break the machinery of our bodies rather than support it.
So the question that occurs to me is do we have a similar ecosystem of entities in our souls? Are their good (angels/saints?) and bad (demons/impure spirits?) entities that inhabit our souls and can serve to help or hinder our spiritual health? It seems like on several occasions Jesus acknowledged and addressed this spiritual ecosystem in healing people. One of the most striking of these examples was when He healed the naked man at the tombs and sent the legion of demons that were inhabiting his soul into a herd of pigs. The story is told in Matthew 8:28-34, Mark 5:1-20, and Luke 8:26-39.
The demons that Jesus drove out of the man knew and recognized Jesus as the Son of God. There are many other occasions where Jesus makes it clear that there is a spiritual world that is present all around us, which most of us are largely oblivious to. This spiritual blindness is what Jesus heals in people, even when He is simultaneously healing their physical bodies. He lights up the dark places in our souls if we allow Him access to these places. Our response to this reaching out by God can be to walk into the light and embrace the coming dawn or to retreat into the dark and hide.
I recently re-watched the movie “It’s a wonderful life” which is a tradition for me at Christmas time. I love the story of realization and redemption as George is given a glimpse into a world without his contributions. This simple story hinges on the idea that there is a spiritual realm and that God, and the entities (angels) in it, care deeply about our lives and the decisions we make. I don’t know if there are angels with names like Clarence trying the “earn their wings” that take up our cause and interact with our lives in ways like those depicted in the movie. Given all the references to the spiritual world and the spirits that inhabit from the mouth of Jesus Himself I cannot dismiss the possibility. I will not pretend to understand how this spiritual ecosystem works but it seems that it is real and something we ignore at our peril.
Prayer: God help us to have a healthy focus on our inner selves so that we can see and understand the spiritual world around us.