Sunday, March 8, 2020

John 9.1-41: Spit and Mud

It may come as no surprise that there are few (perhaps none...I've never seen one) paintings that show Jesus spitting to make mud (John 9:1-41). It's hard to depict, and it's actually a little yucky. So images of the healing of the man born blind more often show Jesus pointing toward the pool of Siloam or the man jumping about after being cured. Those are definitely the more artistic choice.

And yet there's something really earthy about Jesus using his spit to make mud that heals. As children, my siblings and I came to refer to spit as the "universal solvent." Need to get a scuff off your church shoes? Spit will do that. Mom needs to get that smudge off your face? Spit. Need to see what that cool rock looks like when it isn't dusty? Yep...spit. Universal solvent.

In the gospel lesson, Jesus uses his saliva to make mud which he places on the blind man's eyes. Why, exactly, Jesus used this method is unknown. Perhaps because this event happened on the Sabbath, Jesus was re-interpreting the rule against working on the Sabbath (as making clay was "work" and therefore forbidden on the Sabbath). Or maybe Jesus was reminding us that, as we said on Ash Wednesday, we are made from dust and to dust we shall return. Or maybe it's that spit was/is just so very human.
Jimmy Lee Sudduth. Walking Figures. 1985. Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Montgomery, AL.
Alabama artist Jimmy Lee Sudduth used mud as paint. Because of the volume of paintings that he created, he wouldn't have used spit for all of them, but he was known to make a little mud to smear across a canvas with his finger in the way that another artist would use a brush. Sudduth's most characteristic mud was what he called "sweet mud." The mud was bound with soft drinks or sugar. Sudduth once claimed he could get more than thirty colors from the dirt and clay around him. Mud can do remarkable things.

Jesus was able to do extraordinary things with ordinary materials...even spit and mud. Jesus' action also stands as a stark contrast to those who spit on Jesus while he was being held after his arrest. In Matthew's gospel, the guards spit on Jesus and some slapped him and taunted him saying, "Prophesy to us..who is it who struck you?" (Matthew 26:67) Which might lead us to believe that Jesus was blindfolded or in some other way unable to see who it was that was doing the spitting and slapping. You have to wonder if he thought of the day when he brought together the elements of spit and blindness with very different results. How like Jesus to use the commonest of things as instruments to create and uplift rather than as instruments of destruction and harm.

For additional thoughts on I Samuel 16 and John 9, click here.
For additional thoughts on I Samuel 16, click here.

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