21 - Certain Blind Man, Jan 22, 2017 (with audio)

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I Timothy 1:15-17

Luke 18:35-43

Next Sunday, dear faithful, is the Sunday of Zaccheus as we draw near to the end of the “Winter Pascha” with the Feast of the Meeting of the LORD in the Temple (Feb 2) and lift up our eyes to see now appearing above the horizon the top of the spires of the Gates of Great Lent. For, the Sunday after Zaccheus is the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee, the beginning of the Lenten Triodion.

Should we take note of how Jericho seems to figure in the two great fasting seasons of the Church? Very near the beginning of the Nativity Fast, we read the Gospel of the “certain man” who went down from Jerusalem to Jericho and was set upon by thieves and left for dead, until the Samaritan – the LORD Jesus Christ – came and had compassion on him, anointed him with oil and wine, and raised him up on his donkey and took him to the Inn (the Church) and left him with the Innkeeper with the charge to take care of him until He, the LORD, should return.

This morning, as we draw near the Gates of the Lenten Triodion, having read last Sunday of a “certain” ruler who was rich, i.e., an idolater, we read of this “certain” blind man sitting by the road that goes down to Jericho. He, too, is in distress. He is blind, and he has been reduced to begging. But, the LORD – the Good Samaritan – is passing by. It must be the same road; is it the same journey on which He came upon the man set upon by thieves? St Luke gives us to understand that this is the same journey; is it the same road on which He met the “certain” ruler of last Sunday? (Where was that “certain” ruler going in his idolatry? Would it not have been up to Jerusalem, if he met the LORD who was going down to Jericho? And, when that “certain” ruler went away sorrowful, where did he go if not on up to Jerusalem, if the LORD was going down to Jericho?)

We learn in the Book of Numbers that the plains of Jericho are where the Israelites played the harlot and went after the idols of the Canaanites. Led by Joshua, the Israelites had gone down to Jericho to purge the city of all its idols and all the behaviors and practices associated with idols. But, when Israel played the harlot, i.e., fell into idolatry herself, it meant that she had to be purged of her idolatry so that she would be holy to the LORD.

Does this explain why the LORD Jesus is Himself going down to Jericho? Is Jericho meant in the spiritual dimension of biblical theology to represent the human soul that is enslaved to the prince of the power of the air and all his host and all his pride, who is active in us and making us children of disobedience? Is Jericho an image of the tomb and of hell, where we dwell who are dead in our sins and trespasses?

We heard in the epistle this morning that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, i.e., idolaters. Is Jericho an image of the heart of sinners, so that we should see in His “going down to Jericho” His “coming into the world to save us sinners, us idolaters, who are dead in our sins and trespasses, to cleanse us of our sin, our idolatry, and to raise us up to our original destiny – becoming perfectly one with God – and to clothe us in our original beauty in the Robe of Light, the Robe of the Glory of God, the Robe of the Holy Spirit?

If so, and if this is the theological vision that St Paul lives for, then does he place himself at the front of the line of all sinners, i.e. idolaters, not with feigned humility but with genuine zeal – because if I see myself as the first of all sinners, am I not pushing myself through the crowd like the hemorrhaging woman that I might touch the hem of His garment and be delivered from the fear of death, the agony of my soul’s loneliness? Am I not rushing to the front of the line that my thirsty soul might drink from the waters of life – waters from the River of Joy is what the Church calls the Jordan – that the Savior gives freely to all who draw near? 

But, St Paul says, we have all sinned. We all fall short of the glory of God. We are all idolaters. The certain ruler who was rich, i.e., an idolater, the certain blind man, they are what I am. 

But an idolater, the prophets say, is no different from the idol he worships. That is to say, just like the idol, he is blind, deaf and dumb and paralyzed. He has eyes but he sees not; he has ears but he hears not; he has a mouth but he cannot make a sound. He has hands and feet, but he does not move. I.e., he is a spiritual corpse.

So, if we each one saw ourselves as the first of all sinners, would that not cause us to part company with the “certain” ruler and cease from going “up to Jerusalem” with him in our idolatrous self-righteousness, our arrogant entitlement, and to sit down with the “certain” blind man, seeing that, like him, we are blind. But, we are so blind, we do not see our own blindness. Are not our hearts turned away from the LORD and toward our idols: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life? These are what we see, and they blind us to our blindness because we love them as our gods.

The Church, in her ardent love for us and in her kind tenderness, gently calls to us this morning in this morning’s Gospel. The LORD Jesus is drawing near. That means our salvation – our deliverance and our healing – is drawing near. We are each one the “certain” blind man. Let’s wipe away the film of umbrage that covers the eyes of our conceit and look more closely at the blind man. We are looking as into a mirror at a reflection of ourselves. What do we do with this gentle, but firm, remonstrance of the Church? Do we walk away in sorrow with last Sunday’s “certain” ruler, or shall we let go all our excuses, come out from behind our masks, and let ourselves feel our inner longing for the eternal and sit down in sorrow with the blind man and call out with fervor to the LORD who is passing by on His way Jericho as into the hell, the tomb of our hearts to purge our idolatry? “LORD Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me, a sinner! LORD Jesus, Son of David, create in me a clean heart, put in me a new and right Spirit!”

We’re still weeks away from the Great Fast. But, the Church is beckoning to us even now: lift up your eyes to the hills, if you will, the hill of Golgotha from which comes our salvation! (cf. Ps 121:1) Gird your loins about you and begin to get ready for the Great Exodus of your soul to the Promised Land. Consider your strength and your circumstances and put together a fast that comes as close as you can keep it to the Fast prescribed by the Church. Examine yourself, your relationships: in what ways do I need to be more diligent in denying myself for the sake of the LORD? To deny ourselves for the sake of Our LORD is to love Him who first loved us and who denied Himself by emptying Himself for our sake in obedience to the Father that we might be restored to our original destiny and our original beauty. Does not my obedience to the LORD’s command to deny myself become incarnate in my life when I deny myself in love for my spouse, my children, my parents, my neighbor? How, then, can I do that, so that the Fast – even if my strength is not such that I can keep it all the way to the Church’s prescription – becomes the activity of the Cross in me, the Cross becoming embodied in me so that its power is unleashed in me, putting to death through my self-denial in obedience to the LORD’s commandment all that is earthly in me, chiefly my self-love and my idolatry?

I came upon this one morning in the Matins service: Take courage and do not fear. The struggle is so easy, the prize is so sweet. Yes, all of this is true to the degree that I turn the eyes of my heart to the LORD, for He opens my eyes and He fills all my desire with the riches of His good things, He enlarges my heart with the love for the Bridegroom in which I was created. It is a divine love, a love that is immortal. It is the love of the Mother for her Son, of the Son for His Mother, in which love He has destroyed the disobedience of my death by the obedience of His death. So, yes: if I live for that love and in that love, the struggle is easy, the prize is sweet. For the struggle, is it not, is the struggle of love for the Bridegroom. The prize, is it not, is to become perfectly one with Him in the love of God the Father and in the communion of the Holy Spirit in the joy of His Holy Mother and all the saints. Amen!