Spit and Christmas: Why does Jesus Use Spit to Heal in Three of His Miracles, and How Does it Relate to This Season?

By: Scott Armstrong

There may be nothing grosser – and nothing more debasing – than getting spit on.

I once saw a player spit on an opponent in a soccer game. Things did not go well after that. Fisticuffs, red cards, and more. It was a complete disregard for the other team and the opposite of sportsmanship.

I have seen videos of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States in the 1960s where white people spit on black protestors. I am always astonished to see that in the majority of those clips the demonstrators receive the abuse without retaliation. The humility and self-control required is powerful.

Have you ever been spit on? I’m getting squeamish just typing the words. Let alone the people who do that to someone else?! Spitting on someone else is completely disrespectful.

And then there’s this: “After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, ‘Ephphatha!’ (which means ‘Be opened!’). At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly” (Mark 7:33-35).

And this: “He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?” (Mark 8:23).

And also this: “After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. ‘Go,’ he told him, ‘wash in the Pool of Siloam’ (this word means ‘Sent’). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing” (John 9:6-7).

What’s the deal with Jesus and spitting on people? He’s the Son of God and seemingly has all methods and power at his disposal. Aren’t there less nasty, less offensive ways to heal?

Several commentators point to the fact that Roman writers and Jewish rabbis thought of saliva as a healing agent. The idea is that, in the culture at that time, spittle would not have been seen as a strange ingredient in curing someone. That could well be true, but I think something else is going on here.

Let’s highlight the John passage, for example. Remember: Jesus could heal someone any way he chooses (and often did so without spit, of course). In this instance, he spits in the dirt, makes mud, and rubs it on the blind man’s eyes. There is an echo of God’s original creation of man in Genesis 2:7 – “The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground.” As Jesus uses the “dust of the ground” to give sight, he shows his power as Creator by imitating the Genesis account. Even the healed man makes this connection: “Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, He could do nothing” (John 9:32-33, NRSV, emphasis added).

Interestingly enough, John starts his gospel by establishing that Jesus is Creator God: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (1:1-3). Later, of course, he shows that “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (1:14). Could it be that in healing through spit, Jesus shows us he is creating all over again?

Certainly! In the person of Jesus, divinity and humanity meet. What is more divine than compassionately, miraculously healing the blind, the deaf, and the mute? What is more disturbingly human than choosing to do it through something so ignoble as spit? The One in whom every tongue will confess now touches the mute man’s tongue with saliva produced from his own. The very One who spoke the world into existence opens his mouth once more to re-create.

Spitting on someone else? It’s still gross.

But when the Word made flesh does it to give a voice to the voiceless and sight to the blind, maybe even spit can become beautiful.

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