|20 - Blind Man of Jericho, January 18, 2009|
I Timothy 1:15-17
St Paul writes that those who believe in Jesus do so unto life eternal. St John the Evangelist writes that Jesus is the true Light who enlightens every man who comes into the world. In Him was Life; this Life is the Holy Spirit, and it is the light of men.
Note the unity of the Light and Life of Christ. One is not enlightened by Christ without being enlivened by Christ. In other words, believe in Christ and receive the Light of Christ; receive the Light of Christ and receive the Life of his Holy Spirit.
The life of the Holy Spirit is not of the soul. It is not the psychic life that animates our bodies and our minds. The life of the Holy Spirit is from above; it is from the eternal Father. The Holy Spirit is not the soul. The Holy Spirit is God. The Holy Spirit is higher than the soul; and the life of the Holy Spirit is higher than the soul-life of the flesh.
The Holy Spirit is what gives life to the soul; for it says that when God breathed into Adam only then did he become a living soul. The soul lives in the Light and Life of God only when it lives in the Holy Spirit. When the soul turns away from God, it falls into darkness and into a life that is not life but death, because it is a life centered not on the Life that is of the Holy Spirit, but it is centered on itself; and in itself it is turned away and separated from God. This separation from God is death. In this death, even if you live, you are not really living because you are living always in the shadow and darkness of death.
We can see with our own eyes that we live in a living death. We cannot look up the road of our life very far before we see the shadow of our impending death looming over the horizon. That we are in darkness is proved by the fact that we don’t know who we are beyond our family name, where we came from beyond our ancestors, or what is our destiny beyond the grave. We are spiritually blind. This is tragic enough. But an even deeper tragedy is how we are so quickly and easily satisfied with our blindness. We hunker down into the rut of our daily routine and there we stay, like the blind man in this morning’s Gospel sitting by the road, begging. We may not be begging for food; but we’re begging that our paycheck will keep coming so that we can live out our days in relative comfort in the rut of our daily routine, there by the side of the road.
Beloved faithful, this way that the blind man was sitting by is the way that Jesus was walking. Consider this particular way that we find him walking today as he draws near to Jericho. It is the way that leads to Jerusalem and to his Cross on Golgotha. And, it is the very same way the Church is walking today; for, look where the Church, the body of Christ, is now going in her liturgical cycle. From the waters of the Jordan, the Church, the body of Christ, is walking to Holy Friday and to Pascha.
Each and every man, woman and child is the blind man. We are the blind man. By the grace of God, we were brought to the baptismal font, some of us as infants, some of us as adults, and we were clothed in the Robe of Light there toward the west end of the temple. We did not clothe ourselves. Others put that Robe of Light on us. This symbolizes the grace of God that does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. We are illumined; we do not illumine ourselves. By God’s grace, we are made to see with the eyes of our soul the holy mysteries of God, our souls are made alive in the Holy Spirit. None of these mysteries of God are of the world. They are all of the Spirit. They are from above. They are higher than us, higher than our ability to understand or comprehend. We cannot manufacture or produce these mysteries. We can only receive them. And we receive them only as we ask for them – or when our parents and our godparents ask for them on our behalf, if we are infants – just as the blind man asked for his sight in this morning’s Gospel; for these mysteries of divine Light and Life are mysteries of divine Love and you cannot force love on anyone. Love can be given only when it is wanted and freely received. The Life and Light of God is given only to those who want them.
In this morning’s Gospel, the blind man is illumined, he receives his sight because he called on the Name of Jesus and asked for his sight. But that is not the end of the story. It says in the Gospel: “And as soon as he had received his sight, he followed him, glorifying God.” At your baptism, as soon as you were illumined and clothed in the Robe of Light, you were directed to follow the priest, first around the baptismal font and then Eastward, towards the ambon and the rising sun as toward the Holy Resurrection of Christ. You were given the precious body and blood of Christ from the Holy Chalice and you were united to Christ in body and soul. Having participated in the likeness of his death on the Cross in your baptism, and having been clothed with Light so that you could see the mysteries of God, you were led on the way of the Church that brought you to the Chalice and you become a partaker of the divine nature, a communicant of life eternal, a participant in the likeness of Christ’s holy Resurrection.
In all of this, the Church is setting before us the way that we must walk if we are to discover the Way, the Truth and the Life that is Christ, who unites us to Himself in whom we are made to receive the Life of his Holy Spirit. The way that we walk from the baptismal font to the chalice is the way that Jesus was walking as he neared Jericho: it is the way that led to his Cross on Calvary; it is the way we are to be walking in our everyday life; it is the very same way that the soul walks in death, the way that the Church describes as blessed: “Blessed is the way in which thou shalt walk today, O soul! For, you have loved Christ!”
Christ himself explains to us the meaning of this. He says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Believing in Christ, following Christ is no sentimental journey. It is the way of the Cross; and this is the way by which we crucify the desires of our flesh that we might die to the old man and be raised up in the New Man which is Christ, the New Man who is illumined in that Light of Christ and who is enlivened by that Life of the Holy Spirit that is in Christ and that illumines everyone who comes into the world. The way of the Cross is the way of asceticism: the way of prayer and fasting by which we put to death our greed, our envy, our conceit, that we might rise up to walk in the light as Christ is in the light, walking in the way of his commandments, the way of meekness, humility, compassion, of doing good even to those who hate us, of offering ourselves to God on behalf of others in the priestly prayer that by our suffering, by our prayers, others might be saved.
This is how we respond to the grace God showed to us at our baptism. We do not stay by the side of the road. We don’t turn back and hunker down again in the rut of our daily routine that we rose up from when we were illumined by Christ and made alive in his Holy Spirit. We rise up with the blind man, and we fall in behind the Lord to take up our cross and to go with him to his Cross, clothing ourselves in the commandments of Christ. Practicing the commandments of Christ in the ascetic life of the Church is how we show our love for Christ; it is how we believe in Christ; it is how we follow Christ to his Cross.
This is how we carry out our baptismal vow to unite ourselves to Christ in the likeness of his death that we may be united to him in the likeness of his resurrection. By taking up the ascetic disciplines of the Church so that they become the shape of our life, our life becomes a life of putting to death all those attitudes and deeds of death that manifest this life of the flesh that lives in the shadow of death: the attitudes and deeds of hate, anger, lust, greed and all the other soul-destroying passions of sin.
Living in this Life of the Church, the eyes of our soul may be illumined to see that Christ goes to his Cross not in weakness but in strength. The world sees the Cross as an instrument of death. The faithful see the Cross as the gate of the enemy that Christ has taken by storm. He ascends the Cross and conquers death by his death. The true Light in whom is the Life of the Holy Spirit strides into the darkness of hell and floods it with the living waters of his Holy Spirit. Those divine waters burn as the fire of God. They cleanse and sanctify creation down to the marrow of the soul. They fill the grave and the halls of death with the eternal Life of the Holy Spirit in the uncreated Light of Christ. Thus, the Cross becomes the passageway to God and to life eternal.
At the foot of the Cross, we take off the clothes of the old man. Death for those united to Christ by their faith is now but the final divesting of the old man. And when we step through the gate of the Cross and enter into the halls of death in Christ, we step into the Light and Life of the Holy Spirit unto life eternal.
This is the mystery of that belief in Jesus that is unto life eternal. This morning, the Church calls out to us as the Way, the Truth and the Life himself is walking the way that we must walk, the way of life that leads to the grave. Receive your sight and be illumined. Love Christ, believe in Christ by rising up and following him in the way of his commandments. Do what the Church – the body of Christ, and so Christ himself – is telling you to do. In the practice of his commandments, begin preparing yourselves for Great Lent and for the ascetic disciplines of Great Lent. This is how we will take up our cross and put to death the old man in us in order to follow Christ into his saving Pascha to the glory of God. Amen.