|19 The Blind Man - January 14, 2007|
I Timothy 1:15-17
We are now in the thick of the liturgical season we call the Winter Pascha: the liturgical season of Christmas, of Christ’s baptism in the Jordan when God is revealed as Holy Trinity, and the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple (on Feb 2). We call this season the Winter pascha because in these three feasts we pass over from the OT or the time of expectation to the NT and the coming of the Christ whom the prophets foretold. We also call this the season of lights, for in each of these feasts of the Winter Pascha we come upon a physical manifestation of the uncreated light of God shining in the darkness of this fallen world. In the biblical revelation, this uncreated light of God that shines in the darkness is the very Person of Jesus Christ. As St Paul writes to the Corinthians, that we read on Thursday, “he has shone in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face, or in the person [en proswpwi] of Jesus Christ.”
But this uncreated light of God that shines in the face or in the very Person of Jesus Christ illumines only those who receive him. Following the teaching of the holy apostle St James from whose letter we were also reading this last week, Christ, the Light of God who shines in the darkness of this fallen world is received only in living faith.
The chief mark of that faith which is living is that it does not simply hear the word, the teaching, of Christ; it practices the word of Christ. Faith without works is dead, St James teaches us. Living faith is marked by works: specifically, the work of doing the word, the teaching, of Christ God. Immediately, we call to mind the teaching of St Maximus the Confessor (7th cent.): “Faith rightly expressed is the practice of the commandments of Christ.”
The Scripture lessons assigned for our daily reading now seem to be calling us to a close study of the nature and content of faith. On Christmas, God the Word is born of the Virgin and is made flesh. In Theophany he reveals to his faithful ones the mystery of God as Holy Trinity. And in his presentation to the temple, he is received into the arms of the faithful Simeon. In her Holy Scriptures, the Church is teaching those who want to learn it, the way of faith that they may receive the Christ as did Simeon and join the faithful of the Church who now are taking up their cross in the way of the bible’s living faith to follow the Lord from his Winter Pascha to his Spring Pascha and to receive in their hearts the gift of the light of the knowledge of the glory of God that shines in the face, in the very person of Jesus Christ.
The Church is that multitude of the faithful who are walking with Jesus in this morning’s Gospel; she is not to be found among those who are going before Jesus; for those going before Jesus are not following him. As one can tell from their efforts to silence the blind man when he calls out to the Lord, they would include the self-righteous, the smug Pharisees who run on ahead of the Lord in the wisdom of their own opinions, who take it upon themselves to judge others and to point out the sins and errors of everyone else. The Church is that multitude walking with Jesus on that better and changeless path that ascends to God, illumined by the face, the person of Christ when he was baptized by John and descended into the dark depths of the Jordan. Her company includes the holy apostles, the holy fathers and mothers, the martyrs, confessors, ascetics, the saints and every righteous spirit made perfect in faith. They are those who do not seek to silence the blind man, but who say in answer to his cry: Jesus of Nazareth is passing by. So the Church says to any of us who ask: what does this great multitude of the Church mean? What is the meaning of all your feasts, your sacraments, your dogmas? She says to us: it means that Christ the Lord whom the prophets foretold has come, and he is passing over from his Winter Pascha to his Spring Pascha to bring us to that better and heavenly country which the faithful of the OT saw afar off and in the hope of which they lived and died.
The Scripture lessons assigned now for our daily reading are teaching us how to cry out to Christ Jesus in that living faith by which he is received into our hearts. By taking ourselves daily to our bibles, we are as it were bringing our soul to sit with the blind man of Jericho at the side of that better and changeless path that ascends to God, to wait for Jesus to pass by. By meditating on the daily assigned Scripture lessons, we can begin calling out from our heart to the Lord with the blind man: “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!” Give me eyes to see. Teach me that living faith, for I desire to join the multitude of your saints and with them, to follow you on this better and changeless path that ascends to God and into his kingdom of light!
If we come to the Holy Scriptures in the meekness and contrition of the blind man, we are already beginning to practice that living faith of the bible. For if we confess with the blind man that we are blind, that we do not know the God revealed in the bible, that we do not love him as he commands, that we are ignorant of him, that we have forgotten him, that we have lived our life as the Prodigal in pursuit of our own will and our own glory and have not practiced his commandments; if we confess this our blindness and if, in that confession, we call out, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!” we practice the first work of living faith in obedience to the first command that Christ gives: the command to repent.
From the fact that it is the first command of the Lord, it is clear that repentance is the foundation of the living faith of the bible. If the living faith of the bible is not just hearing but doing the word of God, then repentance also is fulfilled not just in crying out to God with our mouth but in doing the word of God with our whole being; our mind, our soul, our speech, our hands and our feet. Let’s look back over the scripture lessons assigned for our daily reading this last week to learn how we practice true repentance and the living faith of the bible.
On Wednesday last, we read from St James: “One is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.” With these words on desire, St James directs us to the inner man and to the inner work of faith.
We also read this from St James: “Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore, lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word which is able to save yourselves. If anyone among you thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue, but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” When he speaks of filthiness and the overflow of wickedness, or of bridling the tongue and showing generosity and charity to the orphan and the widow in need, he is referring us to the outer man and to the outer work of faith. Here, we understand bodily deeds such as sexual immorality or homosexuality and sex outside the sacrament of marriage, eating too much and drinking too much, how we talk and what we say, and how we treat others.
The work of repentance and of living faith, then, is of both the inner and the outer man. In the biblical doctrine of human nature, the inner and the outer man are vitally connected. How we comport ourselves in the outer man affects the inner man. How we think, what we permit our minds to dwell on, and what we desire in our heart affects how we act and how we feel in the outer man. Indeed, what we give our desire to in our inner man has such an affect on our outer man that it even affects our health, both physical and psychological.
The ultimate goal of repentance is the cleansing and reshaping of the inner man: to lay hold of the old man in us and its desires that are marked by greed and lust, conceit, self-righteousness and self-justification and crucify it with Christ that we may be raised up in the resurrection of the New Man, Christ Jesus, and be refashioned in the image and likeness of God in which we were originally created.
The inner work of repentance is the primary work of living faith, but it is the most difficult because it is of the spirit that is hidden, unseen. Because we have given our desire to words and deeds of darkness, we have become blind and hardened to the Spirit, and enslaved to the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. In our blindness, our ignorance and forgetfulness of God, we chase after the values and comforts of the outer world that we can see in the blind hope of satisfying our desire with the things of the outer world that is passing away. And so, we are never content or satisfied, always suffering from a vague anxiety, yearning for a bliss that always eludes us. The outer man doesn’t remember that there is such a bliss and even dismisses with his different atheistic philosophies those reports from the sacred texts of the world’s religions that speak of such a bliss. But the inner man remembers it. And if we would come to our senses and lay aside every excuse and admit to the fact that we are blind, and if we would take ourselves to the side of the better and changeless path in the attitude of living faith and repentance, in that moment the ears of our outer man might open to hear even if ever so faintly the voice of the heart calling out from the depths, “Lord I cry to Thee, hear me!” When the multitude of the Church says to us in this attitude of true repentance: “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by!” there might be a quickening of the heart as an ancient memory is stirred, and the voice of the outer man may begin to call, perhaps for the first time, from the depths of the heart: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” For this Jesus who is passing by on the better and changeless path that ascends to God is the Heavenly Bridegroom whom the soul was once destined to marry – and on this better and changeless path that extends from the depths of the Jordan to the heights of heaven, he comes to the Bridal Chamber of Pascha at Midnight, that mystical moment of the Spirit when the old passes over into the new, when the old man with all its impure desires and dark deeds is put to death and the new man is raised up, born from above in the light that is the knowledge of the glory of God that shines in the face, the very person of Christ Jesus.
The Church’s liturgical poetry from which I am drawing this imagery is of a heavenly beauty and spiritual depth because it is united to the heavenly realities of God through the Incarnation of God the Word. This is why the sacred doctrines of the Church can stir in our heart that ancient memory of God and the eternal bliss for which he made us. Nothing prevents us from approaching the better and changeless path to begin the work of living faith in repentance. As I said, this inner work of faith is difficult, but because of the vital connection between the inner and the outer, we can approach the inner work by doing the outer works of faith. Practice the commandments of Christ: guard your tongue, be slow to anger, do not judge, bless those who curse you, do good to those who revile you, show charity to those in need. Take up the ascetic disciplines of the Church that pertain to the outer man: the rule of prayer, the seasons of fasting, study of Scripture and the teachings of the holy fathers, the lives of the saints. All of this is part of the outer work of faith that opens in our life a sacred space in which we can turn our mind to the inner work of faith: attending to the beam in our own eye, not the speck in our brother’s eye, confessing our sin, acknowledging our blindness. By these steps, we can begin to lay hold of the secret desires of our heart and bring them away from the world and to the Savior who is passing by on the better and changeless path, to receive the healing touch of him who opens our eyes to see in the light of his glory shining out of the darkness the true treasure of our heart, the Bridegroom who comes at Midnight to lead us out of the darkness and into his Father’s Heavenly Kingdom of Light.