19 - The Blind Man on the Road to Jericho, Jan 15, 2012

I Tim 1:15-17

Luke 18:35-43

One sees in this morning’s Gospel a picture of what we read in last Sunday’s Gospel: “The people (laos, laity) sitting in darkness have seen a great light; for, a great light has dawned on those sitting in the region and shadow of death.” As well, this morning’s Gospel is a picture of the Lenten journey to Pascha we are about to set out on as we take up our cross and follow the Lord Jesus Christ to His Resurrection and into the Heavens that were opened on Theophany by way of Golgotha through the ascetic disciplines of the Church.

Jesus, in this morning’s Gospel, draws near to Jericho as the great light rising above the horizon on those sitting in darkness and in the region and shadow of death. The blind man is an image of the faithful soul who responds to that Good News of the prophet. Through the hearing of faith, he hears that “Christ draws near on the road to Jericho; and he calls upon the Savior with his whole heart, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” So also we draw near to Christ in the fear of God, with faith and love, and we call out to Him, O Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner! “I believe, O Lord, and I confess, that Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God, who camest into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first.”

Is it notable that the city of Jericho that Jesus is drawing near to in this morning’s Gospel is the same city that that “certain man” went down to from Jerusalem, and was set upon by thieves who beat him and stripped him and left him for dead on the side of the road? If so, then the blind man along with that “certain man” is an image of the “darkness” that covers the region lying in the shadow of death. It is the darkness in which the world lives, a darkness of suffering and blindness. The suffering is the fear and anguish of this life; the blindness is of the heart that has been set upon by the evil powers of darkness through its own sins and transgressions. In its suffering and blindness, it lies by the side of the road that leads down to Jericho, or rather to hell like a corpse. It still has inner eyes, but they do not see; it still has inner ears, but they do not hear, they have become the eyes and ears of a spiritual corpse. Lying in darkness, in the region and shadow of death, the heart can neither see God nor the things of God. It cannot hear God or understand the things of God. And in its blindness, it seeks comfort from its suffering by falling down in worship before the wisdom of its own opinions as pronouncements from God, or it declares its own darkened mind to be the measure of all things. This is the idolatry of the human soul that has rendered it into a spiritual corpse which, like the immaterial and material idols that it worships, has eyes but sees not, has ears but hears not.

Beloved in Christ, we are the blind man in this morning’s Gospel; for, as St Paul teaches us to pray, even as we approach the chalice, we are the sinners, of whom I am first, whom Christ came to save.

Coming to the Church in reverence, in the fear of God, with faith and love, we have come like the blind man to the road that leads to Jericho, or rather to hell, or rather through hell to the Kingdom of Heaven, through the cave of Bethlehem and into Eden, through the waters of the Jordan and into the Promised Land. For, here in the Church, we hear, as did the blind man in this morning’s Gospel, the Good News that Christ Jesus is passing this way! “Christ is in our midst!” He is drawing near to Jericho. He is drawing near to hell to save sinners, of whom I am first, to raise up the fallen, to give sight to the blind, to give life to those in the tombs. In the radiant joy of His Holy Resurrection, Christ in His Church is even now drawing near to us who are on the side of the road to Jericho.

The world wants to crowd around us and divert us from the Lord Jesus Christ lest we follow Him and become illumined, and in the power and victory of His cross we follow Him and put the old man in us to death. But the ears of God are bent towards the cry of our heart. And in the sacred season of Great Lent, the Church will teach us to cry out like the blind man from the depths of our heart: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!”

Yes, we have been illumined in our baptism. But are we not like Adam and Eve? They were raised to life from the dust of the ground by the loving goodness of God, but in their egotism, they went their own way and partook of the forbidden fruit. Are we not like Israel? Raised by the power of God to life in Isaac from Abraham and Sarah who were as good as dead, Israel forsook God and went after the idols of their neighbors. We were raised from death to life and we were illumined in the waters of our baptism, but have we not disobeyed God in countless ways and indulged ourselves in the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life?

Except that, when we were raised from death to life in our holy baptism, we were raised up into the life of God. The uncreated Light of Christ’s Holy Resurrection was sown in the depths of our hearts as in the cave of Bethlehem, as in the waters of the Jordan, as in the tomb of Pascha. To draw near the side of the road as did the blind man in this morning’s Gospel, we descend into our heart. The path that leads to heaven is found in our heart, for He Who Is the Way, the Truth and the Life united Himself to us at the point of the heart in the mystery of His Incarnation. This descent is made through prayer and fasting and obedience to the commandments of the Savior; and the Church, especially in Great Lent, takes us by the hand and leads us into our heart that we may discover, if we but follow the Church and do what she tells us to do, the great mystery of our nature and destiny that was hidden in God from before the ages: “Christ is in you!” The same power that raised Him from the dead is working in you, if you will but draw near to the side of the road, descend into your heart, and in the inner stillness of prayer in the Church call out from the depths of your heart: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!”

This implies, of course, that we must first acknowledge that we are blind; and this means laying down our hubris, our conceit, our spiritual pride. We must take off the rags of our worldly lusts and conceits, just as at our baptism, and stand naked before ourselves and before God, and “see” that we are blind, that we are darkened because of our sins and transgressions, and in that spiritual vision, call out from the depth of our heart: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” “I believe, O Lord, and I confess, that Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God, who came into the world to save sinners of whom I am first.”

A saintly elder of Mt Athos gives to the beginning monk advice on fasting that surprised me, but which, after thinking about it, deeply resonated with my soul. To the person who finds himself rebelling against the fast, he does not say, as I expected him to say, that this is because you are fasting too strictly and that you should lighten your fast. He says that this is a sign that you have not confessed all your sins.[1]

There are practical issues bound up in this advice that could be harmful to us if we presume in our vanity to understand it and so misapply it. I share it with you to encourage you this Lent to keep the fast to the degree you can and to join that with a reverence of mind in which you come to the sacrament of confession in the fear of God, with faith and love; for this is the principal means by which we draw near the road to Jericho to “see” the spiritual reality of the Kingdom of Heaven that is now at hand.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the holy season of the Great Fast is but weeks away. We can receive this Gospel of the Blind Man on Christ’s road to Jericho as the counsel our holy Mother is offering to us, her children from the baptismal font, on how to discover the sacred path that descends into our heart and see with the eyes of faith the Savior drawing near to us in His goodness and mercy. Let us begin now to turn our mind toward the spiritual work ahead of us and start becoming mindful of our egotism and spiritual pride. We can begin now to turn away from the sensual distractions by which the world seeks to keep us noisy and mindless inside. And, we can begin to prepare our home and our soul in the sacred stillness of the Church, the cave of Bethlehem, the tomb of Pascha, that we may begin to make our descent into the waters of the Jordan, the waters of our baptism in the light of Christ and begin to “see” our blindness, the sins that we cannot see when we are caught up in the noise of the world, and begin even now to call on the Savior in our heart: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” In the light that dawns on us through that prayer, we can begin even now to draw near to the path of our heart in the fear of God, with faith and love, in preparation for the fast of Great Lent in accordance with the words of John the Baptist: “Prepare the way of the Lord. Make straight his paths.” Let us prepare the way of our heart. Let us make straight the paths of our mind, our eyes, our ears, our feet, our hands, our tongue. The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. Christ draws near. Christ is in our midst. Christ is in you! The Church wants to open our eyes so that we can see the beauty of Pascha. Amen.

[1] Elder Paisios of Mount Athos, Epistles, p. 79