There were 13 guys from the lower tier of the maximum security unit at tonight’s Bible study.
I had been away for two weeks: first for a head cold, and then for a vacation to see family and friends in the Midwest.
I had one of the guys open the study in prayer. We then sang “Amazing Grace”. I was about to go into the introduction of the study when one of the guys reminded me that I’d forgotten to have everyone say their name. It may seem like a small thing, but for this brief point in time they are not referred to as “inmate”, or by their number, or just their last name. For this moment in time they are called by their first name. In this culture only friends may call you by your first name. For this hour we call each other by our first names.
After we went around the circle with each man saying his first name I opened up the study by asking about mud. Each seemed to have a fond memory of playing in the mud as a kid: sloppy mud, mud pies, splashing, joyous. Some even enjoyed eating mud. We also talked about spit being used by mothers or grandmothers as a universal cleaning agent, or as a disinfectant or pain killer in the form of a kiss on a wound.
We looked at two different scriptures tonight. The first was:
A Blind Man Healed at Bethsaida
22 Then He came to Bethsaida; and they brought a blind man to Him, and begged Him to touch him. 23 So He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the town. And when He had spit on his eyes and put His hands on him, He asked him if he saw anything.
24 And he looked up and said, “I see men like trees, walking.”
25 Then He put His hands on his eyes again and made him look up. And he was restored and saw everyone clearly. 26 Then He sent him away to his house, saying, “Neither go into the town, nor tell anyone in the town.”
There were a few things we noticed.
Jesus took the man out of town before he began to heal him. For some people, do they need time apart from others before healing can begin? One man talked about spending time in the SHU (special housing unit: another term for solitary confinement). He said all he had was four walls and time to think – 24×7. It gave him time to sort through things. Other men in the group did not have the same positive reflections on their own time in The Hole.
We wondered how the blind man reacted or what he felt when Jesus spit in his eyes. Did he know it was coming? Was he surprised or angry? Was he used to people spitting on him?
It sounds like his first sight was messed up. Was Jesus like your inept brother-in-law who thinks he can fix cars, but you have to keep taking it back to him? Why didn’t Jess heal him properly the first time?
There was discussion that sometimes healing is a process. Guys who are dealing with addictions may have to wrestle with that. Not everyone is instantaneously healed. God seems to be OK with using a process for healing.
We looked at an allegory for “seeing men like trees walking” and “seeing everyone clearly”. The prosecutor or judge may see them based on their arrest record and outstanding charges. That may only be a partial picture. What would it be like to really see people clearly: to see them completely as God sees them, to see ourselves as God sees us?
We talked about why Jesus might have instructed the man to go home rather than running into town and telling everyone what had happened. Some of the guys concluded that perhaps this man needed to learn how to live as someone rather than as a blind man. He needed to learn how to live in this world that was new to him. Some guys talked about learning how to live on the outside and free. I shared about a man who had gone into prison in the early 1970s before the gas crisis when gas stations still had attendants who would fill your car with gas. When he got out 20 years later in the 1990s he had no idea how gas pumps worked, and that you had to pay for the gas first, and so on. He needed time to adapt to his new world.
Jesus seems to understand that this man who had been blind was going to need some time to adapt to his new world. Jesus was more concerned about this man, than about His own reputation as a healer.
We then looked at
A Man Born Blind Receives Sight
9 Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. 2 And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him. 4 I[a] must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
6 When He had said these things, He spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva; and He anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay. 7 And He said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which is translated, Sent). So he went and washed, and came back seeing.
I had them swap out “born blind” for “in prison”. The controversy of whether it is the person’s fault, or their parents, or society, or… This conjecture has been discussed through the ages.
This time when Jesus heals, not only is there spit, but mud is involved too.
At this point one of the guys who has been skeptical says that he has a hard time believing either of these stories are true. I talk about how to read these stories as allegories or object lessons even if he doesn’t accept them as historical. The lesson we see in this story is that Jesus doesn’t get caught up in finding who to blame for this man’s suffering. Instead he deals with the reality of the situation as it is and offers help. It means dealing with the reality of the situation rather than putting energy in merely trying to find someone to blame. That seemed to make sense for this man.
We looked at how Jesus changed the healing process for each man. One was taken out of the city and Jesus stayed with him through an iterative healing process. For another he was given a mud poultice and then told to go wash. Jesus didn’t go with him. We’re not even sure how the man found his way to the pool to wash the mud off. Did his friends or parents take him to the pool?
Jesus doesn’t see to be hung up on a “one size fits all” method of healing. It seems to be individualized, and it seems to involve a process rather than waving a magic wand.
What do you need to have Jesus spit on?