As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Having said these things, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man's eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.
The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar were saying, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some said, “It is he.” Others said, “No, but he is like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” So they said to him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”
They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. So the Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight. And he said to them, “He put mud on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” And there was a division among them. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him, since he has opened your eyes?” He said, “He is a prophet.”
(John 9:1-18 ESV)
Breikhat Ha’shiloah (the pool of Siloam) is a rock-cut pool on the southern slope of the City of David, the original site of Jerusalem, and so is located outside the walls of the Old City to the southeast. When it was active, the pool was fed by the waters of the Gihon Spring, carried there by two aqueducts. The original pool was about 225 feet wide, with courses of stone steps across one whole side, making it very easy to step into the pool. If you’ve ever seen the 2006 movie Outsourced, you can see a pool of this type in use today in India. Ritual washing has a place in many religious traditions.
When you think of it, Christian Baptism is just such a practice. (This next sentence should generate some major discussion…) When Christianity stopped preaching Christ as the means of salvation, sometime between 300 and 325 AD (council of Nicea), and instead chose to see church membership as the means of salvation, baptism became the once-and-for-all that receiving Christ as Lord originally had. That is, you were only baptized once because it was seen to have value toward salvation. Remember that the early Christian Church, especially when it was still centered at Jerusalem while the Apostles were alive, had grown out of a largely Jewish context. And ritual washings were a regular part of Jewish practice in the First Century.
When Jesus told the blind man to go and wash in the pool of Siloam, it was not because he believed the waters there had particular healing qualities or because he believed that baptism had any particular value toward salvation. The story of the blind man is part of the preceding story.
Jesus had been in the temple in Jerusalem and had just identified himself so strongly with God that the Jews had picked up stones to stone him to death. The text at the end of John 8 says he left the temple. Immediately he goes out and runs into this blind beggar. Since the pool of Siloam is just outside the Old City, can we assume that Jesus was headed out of the city via that route? If so, the whole meaning of the Pool of Siloam may have been utterly practical. Jesus had just put MUD -- dirt -- on the man’s eyes. I’d want to go wash it off if I were him!
The pool actually tells us more about the man’s obedience in faith toward Jesus than it does any efficacy the water had. Baptism is a matter of obedience, not a matter of salvation.
Remember what Jesus said at his own baptism? “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:15-17)
And let’s not make the mistake of thinking that God loved Jesus more because he obeyed. It is quite the opposite. Jesus obeyed because he loved God. We who believe should count it a great privilege and joy to be baptized! It is a way of publicly testifying to the amazing salvation God has accomplished in us. Has Jesus healed your blindness? Then go and wash in the waters of baptism and testify. When the elders come, upset that you’re in their tank for the 4th time, tell them what the man told them about Jesus, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” (John 9:25)