For the 6th Sunday after Pascha, we proclaim the Gospel lesson from John 9:1-38, Christ’s healing the blind man using clay He made with spittle.
The Gospel lesson opens with these words:
As the Lord passed by, he saw a man blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him. We must work the works of him who sent me, while it is day; night comes, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” As he said this, he spat on the ground and made clay of the spittle and anointed the man’s eyes with the clay, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.
From the early days of Christianity this miraculous sign of the blind man was understood to represent the defectiveness of the world of the Fall. He is blind from birth as his eyes have not formed. What Christ does in making the clay and anointing the blind man’s eyes is to complete the creative act, thus making the man whole. Christ was believed in the early Church to have been the creator of the first human in Genesis 2. It was the pre-incarnate Christ who formed Adam from the dirt of the earth. Christ again in John 9 takes dirt from the earth to heal, to make whole, the blind human whose creation was incomplete. As Christ notes, the issue here is not sin, but rather that the glory of God might be made known in him. This is not just about the Fall, it is about the restoration of creation. Really, this Gospel lesson seems to reject the notion that “original sin” can explain the reason for all illness and deformity in humans. It is only the leaders of the synagogue who cast the healed man out of the synagogue who hold to an idea of “original sin” and see this healed man as being totally depraved!
Christ has the man wash in the pool of Siloam to show how the waters of baptism make us whole again, giving us the eyes to see the truth about God.
Fr. John Behr explains a bit about the ancient teaching concerning this Gospel lesson, beginning with the comments of St. Irenaeus of Lyons.
“Christ healed the man blind from birth (John 9). It was not merely by a word that he was healed, but ‘by an outward action, doing this not without purpose or by chance, but that he might show forth the Hand of God that had at the beginning moulded the human being’ (haer. 5.15.2). So, just as ‘the Lord took mud from the earth and formed the human being’ (Gen. 2:7), Christ spat on the ground and made mud, smeared it upon his eyes, ‘pointing out the original fashioning, how it was effected, and manifesting the Hand of God to those who can understand by what [Hand] the human being was formed out of the dust’ (haer. 5.15.2). As, in Christ’s words, the man was born blind not because of his own sin or that of his parents, ‘but that the works of God should be manifest in him’ (John 9:3), so Irenaeus sets this particular work within the intentionality of the economy as a whole: For that which the artificer, the Word, had omitted to form in the womb, he then supplied in public, that the works of God might be manifested in him, in order that we might not seek out another hand by which the human being is fashioned, nor another Father, knowing that this Hand of God which formed us in the beginning, and which does form us in the womb, has in the last times sought us out who were lost, winning back his own, and taking up the lost sheep upon his shoulders, and with joy restoring it to the fold of life. (haer. 5.15.2; cf. Luke 19:10, 15:4-6).” (Irenaues of Lyons: Identifying Christianity, pp 162-163)