Sunday in Mzuzu: I preached this morning at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church on the Healing of the Man Born Blind(John 9:1-12)and its application to medical aid in Malawi. The photo above is from the School for the Blind in Ekwendeni, sponsored by the Presbyterian Synod.
How Did Jesus heal the sick and help those who suffered?
In the Gospel of John, the disciples ask Jesus a question about the connection between sin, sickness and suffering in the life of a young man who was blind since birth (John 9:1-12).
“This man is blind,” they said. “Who is at fault? Is his blindness due to his sin or his parents’ sin?
The disciples were expressing the common view that sin and suffering a linked by cause and effect. There were many theories (then and still today) about how sin causes sickness:
Some Jewish leaders of Jesus’ time believed in the theology of ‘prenatal sin’—that somehow a man could be born in sin, through no fault of his own, as a carry over in this life from some pre-existent state. The idea was that the soul in its former state may have sinned. Thus the question: “was it this man’s sin … that he was born blind?”
Others held a belief in ‘ancestral sin’—that we inherit the consequences of the sins of our parents and ancestors. For the Scripture declares: “I am a jealous God, visiting the inequity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation.” (Exodus 20:5). Thus the question: “was it this man’s sin … or his parent’s sin that he was born blind?”
Many, in Jesus’ time, and still today in Africa, are sure that sickness and suffering are the result of an evil spirit, or an evil curse from a Witch Doctor (Wa Fwiti), and that only a traditional healer (Singana) can diagnose and remove the evil affliction.
Most simply assumed that if you suffered greatly or were sick, it was because you personally must have sinned. Job’s friends held this theology (see Book of Job). Many today believe that AIDS is God’s judgment on immorality, as if God inflicts punishment on sinners in the form of the HIV virus! The theory of sin as the primary cause of sickness and suffering could also be applied to other leading causes of death: cancer, malaria and TB.
Few would deny that sinful behaviors sometimes (but not always) result in adverse consequences, or that those who sin or who are sinned against often (but now always) suffer. But many go further than this an attribute divine will to human suffering linked to specific sins of the flesh and spirit (like forbidden sexual practices or lack of faith).
Add to these theories more modern understandings of germ theory, bacterial infection, and virus transmission, and suddenly the causes of sin and suffering become multi-factored.
Jesus is called the “Great Physician who healed both body and soul. When confronted with the issue of “who’s at fault?” Jesus refuses to answer the question of cause and effect. Instead, he focuses on the opportunity for God’s glory to be revealed in the young man’s healing: “Neither this man nor his parents’ sinned,” Jesus said, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” (9:3)
And then Jesus performed the healing by three means: 1) he used the medicine of his day, 2) he channeled the power of God as one sent by God to show us the way, and 3) he required the active faith and cooperation of the young man born blind, to open his eyes and cure him:
1. “Jesus spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it own the man’s eyes” (9:6). Saliva was considered medicinal in ancient times, especially for eye disease. Even today, if we burn or cut our finger, we immediately put it in our mouth to lick it, cleanse the wound, and help heal it.
2. Jesus also declared himself the “Light of the World” sent by God to teach and heal “as long as it was day” (9:4).
3. Jesus also required faith and cooperation from the one who needed to be healed. Immediately, he sent the man to the Pool of Siloam to wash in the healing water. ‘Siloam’ means sent, and this is mentioned because it’s significant. According to William Barkley, the Pool of Siloam was the freshest, cleanest, closest body of water to the city’s aqueduct, and the source waters were ‘sent’ directly into this pool. There was something healing about the fresh water in the Pool of Siloam. Clean fresh water has healing and restorative properties, just as dirty, stale water has bacteria and causes disease. Fresh water was (and still is) a source of healing power.
Thus, Siloam may refer to these three sendings: to Jesus, sent by God into the world to teach and heal; to the blind man, sent by Jesus to the pool to bathe; and to the source waters, sent forth by the leaders in the city into the Pool of Siloam.
We know today, that muddy, stale, polluted water in rural villages kill, and that fresh, clean, well water brings life. One of the reasons why 1 out of 5 Malawian children die before reaching the age of 5 is due not to their sin or their parent’s sin, but simply because they got dysentery or cholera from contaminated water supply. What is known about the bacterial source of childhood infection from bad water can also be applied to what is known about the sources of infection and modes of transmission of HIV.
The Church of Jesus Christ is called not only to preach Jesus as the Light of the World and Source of Living Water, but also to continue his ministry of teaching and healing the sick. One way to do this is to help dig bore holes deep enough into the solid ground to tap into pure, clean, life-giving water so that poor people can simply live! Another way is to commit oneself to the ministry of PACCT to be informed and actively engaged in compassionate ministry to persons living with HIV/AIDS.[CitiHope International, as a Christian humanitarian relief and development organization, is a ministry partner with the Synod of Livingstonia to 1] bring food security and medical assistance to those who need nutrition and medicine to live; 2) funding, organizing and facilitating the PACCT program; and 3) participating in community development initiatives in communities ready to mobilize local resources and labor pools to improve the sanitation and living conditions by digging a village well. Water, fresh water as well as living water, brings new life!]
What happened to the young man who was blind since birth? After receiving the mud pack on his eyes and bathing in the Pool of Siloam, he went home seeing. The neighbors could not believe that this was the same man, who sat begging on the road, or that such a person could receive sight, but the young man insisted that truly, he was the same man (9: 9). He simply presented himself as a living testimony to the power of God, good medicine and healing faith: “One thing I know, I was blind but now I see.” (9:25).
This young man of faith inspired a hymn we still sing in church. Do you know the name of this hymn? “Amazing Grace…”