Yes, I know this could be an unfortunate subtitle, because taken literally it immediately invokes images of wandering Israelites, desert wilderness and manna from heaven and that is not at all what we will be exploring here. Nevertheless, I am sticking with it and using it in its metaphorical sense; we need to revisit all this rule breaking stuff just one more time.
So, let me ask you a question. What if I could show you a time when Jesus, in a single episode, broke not just one religious rule but three of them! And what if I could show you that this was all completely unnecessary? Could we conclude then, with complete certainty, that Jesus meant to break the rules? Would you join me in accepting that all of the events that we have looked at during this series were intentional, rule breaking acts? And would you concede that the next time you look down at your WWJD bracelet (does anyone still wear these?) the thing that Jesus would do in your situation might look very different than what you were taught in youth group or in membership class? Would you believe me that Jesus just might want you to break some rules?
Well good then, cause here we go….
Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath (John 9:14)
In John chapter 9 Jesus encounters a blind man, and the first thing that the disciples want to know is who’s sin caused the blindness…the man’s sin or his parents’? Nice. Jesus responds by correcting the doctrinal error implicit in their less than helpful question and then proceeds to restore the man’s sight.
Now, recall that Jesus once healed a man’s shriveled hand without ever touching the man at all (Mark 3). Recall also that Jesus healed a Centurion’s servant without even being in the same vicinity as the person (Matthew 8). So, lets establish straightaway that no overt actions are necessary for Jesus to restore this man’s sight. In other words, anything that happens beyond Jesus speaking words of healing is nothing more than theater.
And theater is not necessarily bad. Sometimes, we just need to see a thing acted out. Sometimes, a ceremony or ritual enhances our experience and thereby our understanding. So theater can be good. But theater during the first century, in Judea, on the Sabbath, while possibly good, is most certainly going to be scandalous.
In responding to this blind man, Jesus’ first act of theater is to spit on the ground and make some mud. Uh oh. According to the oral Torah that is a no-no on the Sabbath because combining spittle and dust to make mud would technically constitute kneading, and kneading is work that is forbidden on the Sabbath. Broken Rule #1. For His second act, Jesus forms the mud in His hands. Uh oh, again. According to the oral Torah, forming mud in one’s hands would technically constitute building and, you guessed it; building is considered work that is forbidden on the Sabbath. Broken Rule #2. For His third and final act, Jesus places the mud on the man’s eyes as an intentional act of healing, and you already know from the first three parts of this series that healing is prohibited on the Sabbath. Broken Rule #3.
So here we are again, reviewing a healing performed by Jesus on the Sabbath that could have easily waited until the next day. And furthermore, if this specific act of healing just had to be performed on the Sabbath, it could have happened without all the added drama. It just can not be debated any longer. Another unnecessary act of healing on the Sabbath containing three unnecessary rule-breaking theatrical performances equals a Messiah who absolutely meant to break the rules. In fact, sometimes He seems to be trying to break as many rules as possible!
This is what made Jesus so exceptional in His day. It was His audacity; His complete disregard for established religious practice when mercy and goodness were at risk, and the authority with which he was so audaciously disregarding. It was not His manner of dress, not His childhood, not His schooling, not His trade, not the fact that He was a Rabbi, and not even the fact that He performed miracles. These things were all within the realms of normal for a Jewish Rabbi of His time. What separated Jesus from His peers was His courageous willingness to pronounce woes upon the powerful, to overturn the money tables, and to declare for Himself that He was the one who would fulfill (or rightly exhibit) the Law (Matthew 5:17). And how did He rightly exhibit the Law? Sometimes, He followed it. Often, He clarified and/or redefined it. And as we have repeatedly seen; when necessary He broke it.
Jesus, it turns out, was more than willing to put mud in someone’s eye. Now that would have made for a great subtitle!