|33 - Man Born Blind: Paschal Ascent to Pentecost, June 2, 2019|
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The LORD says that this man was born blind “so that the works of God might be made manifest in him.” Listening to Our LORD’s WORD this morning in this liturgical season of Pascha, we see the blind man immediately as an image of Mankind.
And, this is confirmed in the prayers of the Church. We learn that this man born blind is a “living sign of Israel’s faithlessness,” or of her idolatry. His blindness from birth reflects our soul’s spiritual blindness. And, the substance of our spiritual blindness is our enslavement to sin.
This refers us back to St Paul: “I am carnal,” he says, “sold under sin.” I’m not spiritual anymore; my “heart” where I am deep, beyond all things (Jer 17:9 LXX), has become “desperately corrupt” (Jer 17:9 RSV). My “default” inner orientation is no longer toward the transcendent, spiritual depths of my soul; it’s toward the flesh that is like a flower of the field, here today, gone tomorrow (Ps 103:15-16).
But, “God created man to be immortal,” says Wisdom. “He made him to be an image of his own eternity” (Wisd 2:23). Death, blindness is not natural to us.
St Paul goes on: “I do not understand my own actions. Nothing good [i.e., blindness] dwells within me, in my flesh. I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do” (Rom 7:14-19).
Sin, turning away from God, has disabled my will and darkened my soul with spiritual blindness, forgetfulness and ignorance of God. It manifests itself in me in emotional and mental disorders of all kinds that can afflict me, that I can even be born with. As St Paul says, sin or spiritual blindness has become embodied in me. It manifests itself in all the physical deformities and illnesses that constantly threaten to overtake me, or again, that I can be born with. Spiritual blindness has settled in us and over us like leprosy, like cancer, its pallid symptoms manifesting in loneliness, sadness, nervousness, worry, depression, despair.
The eyes of Adam and Eve were opened, it says, and they saw that they were naked. They were stripped of the Robe of Glory, the Holy Spirit. They were clothed now in darkness. They were spiritually blind.
Their sin, their turning away from God, devastated them in both their soul and in their body. We are their sons and daughters. Through no guilt of ours or even our parents, we are born in this spiritual devastation, born blind spiritually and physically in so many different ways. And, when our eyes are opened, when our consciousness develops, we see that we are naked; that is, we see no Robe of Glory. If we did not have the saints and their icons that we could see, we could believe that there is no such thing as a Robe of Glory, our nakedness is all we would know.
The goal of many ancient religions, and of philosophy was to liberate the soul from the body in the belief that the body was a tomb, alien to the naturally divine soul. But, in the Christian Faith we believe that man is body and soul, and that in both our soul and body we are dead, in spiritual darkness (Eph 2:1); because we understand death as separation from God.
Let’s take careful note, then, of how the LORD heals the blind man this morning, and when; for, it is an image of what happened to us in our baptism in the Paschal mystery of Christ.
The eyes of the man born blind were opened by the WORD of God who became flesh of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary. He heals the blind man this morning with His bodily hands and by means not just of His spittle and the Pool of Siloam, which may be images of His Holy Spirit, but also by means of the clay, which may be an image of the Most Beloved Panagia, and of His Bride, the Church, and of the mystery of His Incarnation. And, we learn that He opened the eyes of the blind man on the Sabbath, the Day that He, as God, rested from creating the world, which He finished on the Cross. The Pharisees complain that Jesus was not keeping the Sabbath. But, in fact, He kept it perfectly. The Sabbath is the day the re-creation of the world begins, as is hinted at in Gen 2.
The serpent opened the eyes of Adam and Eve, and they saw they were naked. The LORD opens the eyes of the man born blind, on the Sabbath. And, given the liturgical season of Pascha we’re in, I cannot help but believe that this is connected to the Angel of the LORD rolling away the stone to open the LORD’s Tomb at the Midnight of the Great and Holy Sabbath.
I am caught by the fact that, when the eyes of the man born blind were opened, he could not say that he knew Jesus. Let’s say that he could not say because he did not yet see Jesus directly; he did not yet know Jesus personally, immediately. He could say only what Jesus had done: “He made clay and anointed my eyes and He said to me, “Go to Siloam and wash; and, when I did, I saw!” (v. 11) The man born blind did not know Jesus until later, when he saw Him. After he was expelled from the synagogue, he encounters the LORD; he sees Him in His Holy Temple, that is, in the body He received from the Holy Virgin. Seeing Him, he immediately knows Him as the Christ, as Mary Magdalene knew Him when she saw Him and heard Him call her name. And, like Mary Magdalene, he worships Him.
Do we see in this the inner movement from Pascha to Pentecost? Like the man born blind, we say on Pascha morning what Christ has done: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death!” He has opened my eyes that were blind! But, at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descends on us and abides in us as Fire or as Light, as Sight by which we are able to see. Might the real meaning of Pentecost be this hidden joy that we are granted to see Jesus the True Light in the Light of the Holy Spirit, the Robe of Glory in which we were originally clothed?
Going back to when the LORD refashioned the eyes of the man born blind and the man did not yet know Jesus, but only what He had done. Even so, what the man born blind did know was real, for it came from his immediate experience. “This I know,” he says; “I was blind, now I see!” (v 25). And he becomes a teacher to the teachers of the Law. Experience teaches the readers of books. The heart teaches the mind. “This is a marvel,” he says to them: “You don’t know where He came from and yet He opened my eyes! Never ever has anyone heard of anyone opening the eyes of one born blind. If this man were not from God, He would not be able to do anything!”
As I said, the opening of the eyes of the man born blind is an image of our baptism and so of Pascha. All the words that tell the Gospel story this morning are of the creation. Our baptism, then, is the mystery of our re-creation, the healing of our death and our blindness in the liturgical and sacramental mystery of the LORD’s Pascha.
Our baptism is not in the past tense; it’s in the perfect tense. When we came up from the Font, we did not leave it behind. The rituals of baptism—confession, turning westward to renounce the devil, then turning eastward, vowing to unite ourselves to Christ, receiving the Faith of the Church and reciting it now as our own, then following the Priest, an image of Christ, to the Font, being washed in the Font, being clothed with the Robe of Light, anointed with Holy Chrism, drawing near in faith and love, ascending to the ambon to receive the Body of Christ as our food and drink, the Body that has trampled down death by death and given life to those in the tombs—these baptismal rites were the fashioning in us, as the Savior this morning fashions the clay to give new eyes to the man born blind, of the skeletal structure, the bones of the New Man that “came to be” in us in those “living waters.” They carried the breath of the LORD who, through those rites, breathed His Spirit into our mortal bodies and into our dead souls and made us truly living. Can you see in those baptismal rites how our life is united to the LORD’s Pascha and transfigured into an ascent in His Holy Spirit up to “our own land” as we read from Ezekiel on Holy Saturday?
So, how is it that we still suffer from emotional and physical issues? Let’s not be blind like the Pharisees. This is a truth that can be seen only through the immediate experience of our eyes being opened. In His death, Jesus, the True Light, the Resurrection and the Life, filled our death and our blindness with Himself. Can you see, then, how, when we unite ourselves to Christ, our dying and our suffering, our blindness is transfigured by the Spirit of Christ dwelling within us into the Cross by which our death is destroyed and the eyes of our soul are opened? How does one come to see such a divine mystery in oneself? The LORD tells us: by acknowledging that we are blind; for when we confess our blindness, do we not speak the Truth? And, if we speak the Truth, do we not step into the Light of the Holy Spirit and see Christ directly? May it be so!