Healing of the man born blind
Use your own words to offer this meditation to God.
Read John 9.
The traditional Pool of Siloam
For some centuries people have visited what was thought to be the location of the Pool of Siloam where Jesus sent the blind man. The pool is in the southeast corner of Jerusalem. In the 19th century the pool was found to be connected with a long water tunnel that ran to the Gihon Spring. The tunnel was identified as Hezekiah’s tunnel. It is about 1,800ft (554m) long. (1)
King Hezekiah ruled the Southern Kingdom of Judah from 715 – 686 BC (2) and the capital of his tiny kingdom was Jerusalem. The neighbouring Assyrian King was bent on conquest and Jerusalem had a major strategic weak spot: its water supply. Its only source was the Gihon Spring and as this lay outside the city walls there was always the danger that an invader would disrupt the city’s water supply making resistance impossible.
Hezekiah’s brilliant solution was to have a tunnel cut in the rock which channelled the spring water from its source to a pool inside the city walls. His astonishing feat is recorded in the Old Testament, “…King Sennacherib of Assyria came and invaded Judah and encamped against the fortified cities, thinking to win them for himself. When Hezekiah saw that Sennacherib had come and intended to fight against Jerusalem, he planned with his officers and his warriors to stop the flow of the springs that were outside the city…A great many people were gathered, and they stopped all the springs…”. “This same Hezekiah closed the upper outlet of the waters of Gihon and directed them down to the west side of the city of David” (NRSV, 2 Chronicles 32:1-4, 30). (See also 2 Kings 20:20).
In Hezekiah’s tunnel was found an inscription carved in the wall to commemorate completion of the project. It records that one team excavated the tunnel from the east and the other team from the west. At last they could hear the sound of each others’ voices and finally the two teams met. The style of the script fits the period of Hezekiah (8th century BC) (3) and carbon 14 dates the wood, coal and ash found in the plaster of the tunnel to the 8th century BC. This date is confirmed by tests on uranium and thorium in the tunnel’s stalactites. (4)
Discovery of a second pool
Although traditionally the Pool of Siloam was thought to be the one at the end of Hezekiah’s tunnel, there has been no archaeological evidence to suggest that this pool was in existence at the time of Jesus. In fact recent evidence now suggests that this pool dates from a later period: from the 3rd or 4th century AD. (5)
For a long time, scholars have believed that another ancient pool existed in an area near to the traditional site of the Pool of Siloam, but without excavation there was no way of investigating. Then in the summer of 2004, work along a drainage pipe revealed a number of large stone steps. (6) Ongoing archaeological excavation has revealed a large trapezoidal pool, 70m long and between 40m and 60m wide. It was built with a series of alternating steps and landings on each of the three excavated sides, so that people could walk down into the water and immerse themselves. (7) Archaeological finds at the site suggest that this is the Pool of Siloam of Jesus’ day. The pool collected water from the Gihon Spring that flowed through Hezekiah’s tunnel, so it was ‘living water’ and suitable for ritual purification before entering the Temple. (8,9)
The Feast of Tabernacles: water and light
The healing of the man born blind follows straight on from the previous two chapters in St John’s Gospel. These relate to events which took place during the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles. This autumn feast was one of great joy – a not to be missed occasion. It celebrated the autumn harvest and included prayers for rain to help the new crops grow in the spring. It was also a time to remember the years when the Jews journeyed in the wilderness, to recall the pillar of fire that led them by night and gave them light (Exodus 13:21) and the water that quenched their thirst in the desert when Moses struck the rock at Horeb (Exodus 17:6). (10)
Ceremonies of water and light were therefore two of the main ritual elements of the Feast of Tabernacles. The water ceremony involved a daily procession to the Pool of Siloam where a priest collected water in a golden flagon. This was carried into the Temple as the people sang, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” (NRSV, Isaiah 12:3) and chanted Psalms 113 to 118. The water was poured round the altar in the Temple. (11)
The light ceremony at the Feast involved setting up four large, golden candlesticks in the Court of the Women. (Men and women could mix there). The candlesticks were so tall that ladders were needed to reach the tops and light the wicks which floated in golden bowels of oil. (12) At night the men danced under the candlesticks holding torches, while instruments were played and psalms sung. This was continued for seven nights making the city bright with light. (13)
It was during these celebrations that Jesus, amid hostile discussions with some of the Jewish people and leaders, proclaims:
“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink” (NRSV, John 7:37).
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (NRSV, John 8:12).
Jesus also makes it plain that he has been sent by God (John 8:28-29, 42). And in saying, “before Abraham was, I am” (NRSV, John 8:58) he means that he is eternal because he is God (14). Chapter 8 of St John’s Gospel ends with the Jews picking up stones to throw at Jesus, who slips away and leaves the Temple.
And Jesus, having left the Temple, comes to the man who was born blind and demonstrates the truth of all that he has claimed. (15) We can imagine what life must have been like for this man: quite apart from his inability to see, there was the daily grind of begging enough to meet his basic needs, of having to cope with the assumption that he was blind because he or his parents had sinned, of being unable to join in the everyday life of the city. And it had gone on like that week after week, month after month, and year after year.
But now, as he sits in his usual begging place, he hears the voice of Someone who dispels that assumption about the cause of his blindness and even seems to be suggesting that something good is going to come out of it, that something momentous is about to happen. And the man who has lived all his life in darkness, who has never marvelled at those huge Temple candlesticks ablaze with light, hears that thrilling claim, “I am the light of the world”. Jesus doesn’t delay: he mixes his saliva with some dust from the ground and makes some mud. Then the blind man feels gentle fingers applying the mud to his sightless eyes and the voice of the Man who claims to be the light of the world tells him to “Go, wash in the Pool of Siloam” (NRSV, John 9:7).
What thoughts must be racing through his head as, wild with hope, he makes his way through the bustling crowds to the Pool! And there he washes himself and his life is changed for ever – for he can see. Perhaps he expects all around him to share his unimaginable joy, but not so. Instead they discuss whether he really is the blind man who used to beg and when he assures them he is, they keep asking him how he came to receive his sight. Then they bring him to the Pharisees and the man has a long and difficult exchange with them in which he holds his own most brilliantly! But the exchange ends with the man being driven out of the Temple.
And perhaps after that he returns to the poor little shack that is his home. But all the conflict with the Pharisees is about to be swept out of his mind for Jesus finds him and makes himself known to him. As St John Chrysostom writes in around the fourth century, “The Jews cast him out from the Temple, and the Lord of the Temple found him; he was separated from that pestilent company, and met with the Fountain of salvation; he was dishonored by those who dishonored Christ, and was honored by the Lord of Angels”. (16)
Take some time to think about this event. What does it tell you about Jesus? What do you learn from the man who was healed? You might like to re-read the passage and think about the process by which his knowledge of Jesus developed. Write down your thoughts in a notebook.
Jesus only appears at the beginning and end of this episode and his care and compassion shine throughout. At the beginning of the episode, the disciples take a detached view of the blind man, focusing on him not as a person with real human needs but as a case for intellectual discussion. Jesus, however, becomes personally involved with the man and shows that he values him as an individual. As Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche (a community with and for people with disabilities) writes:
“Jesus, the Compassionate One, touches the man.
He heals not only through the word but through his touch.
Voice and touch are extremely important for blind people.
Touch is the first and foremost of our five senses.
It is the sense of love, for it implies presence, proximity and tenderness.
Tenderness, which is the opposite of hardness,
does not mean possession or seduction,
but the giving of life” (17)
Then at the end of the episode, we learn that Jesus has not forgotten the man. He hears that the man has been driven out of the Temple and he seeks him out. Then follows that wonderfully sensitive dialogue by which Jesus makes himself known to the man.
At a deeper level, we can learn much more about Jesus. The mention of the dust of the ground, water in the form of saliva, and man all point us back to Genesis and to the Creation (Genesis: 2:6-7). And we recall the beginning of St John’s Gospel, “All things were made by him…” (1:3). So here, with the healing of the blind man, we see the eternal Word of God, now incarnate, performing another act of creation – a re-creation. (18)
Then Jesus tells the man to wash in the Pool of Siloam and St John adds “which means Sent”. At a superficial level this refers to the fact that the spring water in the Pool has been ‘sent’ there from the source via Hezekiah’s tunnel. But at a deeper level, John is reminding us that Jesus is sent by God – he is the Sent One. And so John is saying that the spring water (living water) symbolises Jesus who was sent to bring healing and light. Many in the early Church saw this as a reference to Baptism. (19,20)
The healed man
It is noteworthy that the man is undeterred by the fact that healing does not immediately follow the application of the mud. He goes to the Pool of Siloam without questioning. St Josemaria Escrivá writes, “What an example of firm faith the blind man gives us! A living, operative faith. Do you behave like this when God commands, when so often you can't see, when your soul is worried and the light is gone?” (21)
And when the man is healed, Jesus gives him not only physical sight, but also spiritual insight. We can follow him as he grows in faith. (22)
1. When he is asked how his eyes were opened, he says it was the “man called Jesus” (NRSV, John 9:11).
2. When asked what he has to say about Jesus, he replies, “He is a prophet” (NRSV, John: 9:17).
3. When asked again how his eyes were opened, he says, “Do you also want to become his disciples”. (NRSV, John 9:27). The ‘also’ suggests that by now the man would like to be a disciple of Jesus.
4. When his inquisitors say they don’t know where Jesus comes from, the man asserts, “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing” (NRSV, John 9:33).
5. When Jesus reveals his identity to the man, he says “Lord, I believe” and he worships Jesus (NRSV, John 9:35-38).
It is impossible to read this passage without admiring the man’s courage and resilience in the face of hostility and opposition. When the Pharisees say, “Give glory to God!” (NRSV, John 9:24) they are using a solemn declaration exhorting him to tell the truth. In fact they don’t want the truth, they want to intimidate the man into denying his healing. (23) But he is steadfast in his loyalty to Jesus, and he is not afraid to proclaim his experience of Jesus in simple, factual terms, “…though I was blind, now I see” (NRSV, John 9:25). So this ragged Jerusalem beggar is an example to us of faithful witness to Christ in the face of opposition. Indeed, apart from St John Baptist, he was the first person who was disgraced for the sake of Jesus. (24)
He also shows us that faith in Christ is deepened by loyalty to him. His was a Jesus-centred faith and he reminds us that contact with Jesus in our prayers and in the sacraments, especially in our Communions, helps us to grow as faithful, believing Christians. (25)
Spend some time praying for your own needs and the needs of others.
Think about what action you could now take in the light of your reading and reflection. Decide what to do and write it down as a promise to God.
You may wish to end by asking God to help you keep your promise.
1. Hoffmeier, J.K. (2008) The archaeology of the Bible, Oxford: Lion Hudson plc.
2. Hoffmeier, J.K. (2008) op cit.
3. Hoffmeier, J.K. (2008) op cit.
4. Murphy-O’Connor, J. (2008) The Holy Land. An Oxford Archaeological Guide (5th edition), Oxford: Oxford University Press.
5. Hoffmeier, J.K. (2008) op cit.
6. Bolen, T. (2005) The Pool of Siloam revealed. Available from:
http://www.bibleplaces.com/poolofsiloam.htm (Accessed 22 February 2011) (Internet).
7. Reed, J.L. (2007) The HarperCollins visual guide to the New Testament, New York: HarperCollins Publishers.
8. Hoffmeier, J.K. (2008) op cit.
9. Reed, J.L. (2007) op cit.
10. Winstanley, M.T. (2007) Symbols and spirituality. Reflecting on John’s Gospel, Bolton: Don Bosco Publications.
11. Burridge, R.A. (1998) John. The people’s Bible commentary, Oxford: Bible Reading Fellowship.
12. McBride, A. (1992) The Divine Presence of Jesus. Meditation and commentary on the Gospel of John, Huntingdon Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division.
13. Winstanley, M.T. (2007) op cit.
14. McIntyre, J. (1899) The Holy Gospel according to Saint John, London: Catholic Truth Society.
15. Royster, D. (1999) The miracles of Christ, New York: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press.
16. St Chrysostom (c.347 - 407) Homily LIX. John ix. 34–36. Available from:
http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf114.iv.lxi.html (Accessed 24 February 2011) (Internet).
17. Vanier, J. (2004) Drawn into the mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John, London: Darton, Longman and Todd Ltd.
18. Royster, D. (1999) op cit.
19. Burridge, R.A. (1998) op cit.
20. Royster, D. (1999) op cit.
21. Escrivá, J. (1941-1968) Friends of God. Chapter 12, para 193. Available from:
http://www.escrivaworks.org/book/friends_of_god-chapter-12.htm (Accessed 25 February 2011) (Internet).
22. Royster, D. (1999) op cit.
23. University of Navarre (2008) The Navarre Bible: St John’s Gospel, Dublin: Four Courts Press.
24. Goodier, A. (1930) The public life of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Volume two, London and Dublin: Burns Oates & Washbourne Ltd.
25. McBride, A. (1992) op cit.