35 Blind Man - May 13, 2007

Acts 16:16-34

John 9:1-38


In this morning’s Gospel Jesus makes a blind man to see on the Sabbath, Saturday, the last day of the week. The people ask the blind man, “Where is he who made you to see?” The blind man answers, “I do not know.”

He is brought to the Pharisees who object to the healing taking place on the Sabbath, because the Sabbath is holy. It is a day of rest. Work is not to be performed on that day. They charge Jesus with breaking the Law and accuse him of being a sinner. The blind man is put on trial but as the trial proceeds, the blind man begins to instruct the Pharisees on the deeper meaning of the Law. “This is indeed a wonder,” he says to the Pharisees, “that you do not know where he is from [you, who are masters of the Law]. We know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, he hears him. Since the world began it has been unheard of that anyone opened the eyes of one who was born blind. If this Man were not from God, he could do nothing.” The Pharisees are outraged at the blind man’s impudence and they cast him out of the synagogue.

Jesus meets him and puts him on a trial of His own. But the focus of Jesus’ questioning is not directed to keeping the letter of the Law. He asks: “Do you believe in the Son of God?” The Son of God, of course, is the author of the Law. The blind man answers that he would believe in him if only he knew who he was. Jesus tells him, “You have seen him and you are talking to him.” Like St Thomas in the Upper Room, the blind man falls down in worship and says, “Lord, I believe!”

Reading this Gospel in the liturgical setting of Pascha we see the Sabbath on which the blind man is healed not as the Saturday of calendar time but as the Saturday of biblical time whose movements are not measured by the sun and moon, as is calendar time, but by the Spirit, who moves over the face of the waters as the Father speaks and brings the world into being by the creative command of his Word.

Christ was crucified on the Friday of calendar time, the sixth day of the week. His body lay in the tomb throughout the Saturday of calendar time, the seventh day of the week. And on the Sunday of calendar time, the first day of the week, he rose from the dead. But the One who dies and rises from the dead is the divine Word in whom all things were created. In these last days, he became flesh and dwelt among us. He came into the world and united the world to himself. He united calendar time to the biblical time.

On the Sixth Day of biblical time, God created man in his own image and likeness; on Great and Holy Friday, God the Word cried out from the Cross, “It is finished,” as he gave up his Spirit. What was finished? The recreation in his own image of man who had fallen.

On the Seventh Day of biblical time, God rested from his work of creation. On Great and Holy Saturday, God the Word lay in the tomb with his body as though he were asleep, resting, from his work of recreating the world by his death on the Cross.

On the First Day of biblical time, God created the heavens and the earth. On Sunday, Christ rose from the dead as on the Eighth Day, the First Day of the new heavens and new earth.

In the tomb of Christ, in the baptismal font, the ordinary days of calendar time open onto the extraordinary days of biblical time. In particular, they open onto the Last Day of the world, the biblical Sabbath, when God the Word is resting from his creative work that he completed on the Cross. That we are now in the Last Day, the Sabbath, of biblical time is what St John is telling us when he says: “Children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore, we know that it is the last hour.”[1] In the opening words of his letter to the Hebrews, St Paul speaks of calendar time as “these last days” because the days of calendar time are now rising and setting in the Seventh Day, the biblical Sabbath of God’s rest, the Last Day of the world.

Of course, only those who believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, can really see the silliness of the Pharisees as they object to the blind man being healed on the Sabbath. Jesus is the incarnation of the very One who on the Seventh Day “completed his work which he had done, and who rested on the Sabbath Day and blessed it and sanctified it because in it he rested from all the work he had created and made.”[2] If this is he who is healing the blind man on the Sabbath it must mean that this is the biblical Sabbath and that God is completing his work of creation. How is the healing of the blind man on the Sabbath a sign that God has come to complete his creation?

The Lord himself answers that question when he says: “This is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day."[3]

You know that the Church calls holy baptism, “Holy Illumination.” This tells us that in our baptism, our eyes were made to see what we didn’t see before, and that this newly illumined seeing is a sign that in some unseen way we have been raised up in the likeness of Christ’s resurrection “in anticipation of the last day,” if we are speaking in terms of calendar time, but “at the last day” if we are looking beyond calendar time to the biblical time that has been opened up to us in our baptism. The blind man was anointed with clay moistened by the Lord’s spittle. The clay is a symbol of the blind man being refashioned by the hand of the Word of God; the spittle that moistens the clay is a symbol of the blind man being raised up in the resurrection of Christ to eternal life by the Spirit of God. In the same way, we were anointed with blessed oil and we were illumined, we were made to see; but we were made to see like the blind man at the beginning of this Gospel. Like him, we do not yet actually see the Lord. And, we don’t know where he is just like the blind man, when asked, couldn’t say where the Lord was.

The question the Gospel is directing us to ask ourselves is this: if we have been illumined in our baptism and raised up in the likeness of Christ’s holy resurrection, how can we come to where the blind man is at the end of this Gospel: fully illumined, actually seeing the Lord, knowing where he is and who he is, worshipping him in his holy resurrection, i.e. partaking of his divine nature in love in the nuptial mystery of Holy Eucharist?

At our Wednesday evening Adult Education last week we were considering the Gospel for the Second Sunday of Pascha, when St Thomas sees the risen Lord in the Upper Room and worships him as Lord and God. We noted that the risen Lord was not a ghost for he was risen in the same body that was crucified. St Thomas could touch him and feel him with his hands. And our theological doctrine teaches us that Christ’s crucified and risen body is of the same substance as our bodies. The Lord exists in his body, in our body, both in the Eighth Day of his resurrection and in these last days that move in the biblical Sabbath, the Seventh and Last Day of the world. This tells us that Christ’s resurrection is not an abstract idea. It is as real as our body. And, this tells us that just as the days of calendar time open onto the days of biblical time, so also our body opens onto the risen body of Christ. We become fully illumined in Christ, then, somehow in this body.

Look again at how the blind man was made to see. He was given a command. “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.” He obeyed and was made to see. We obey the command to go wash in the pool of Siloam like the blind man when we obey Christ’s commandments: repent, bless when reviled, love your neighbor as yourself, give your love and your energy to the things of the Spirit and not to the riches of the world, focus on the beam in your own eye and not on the speck in your brother’s eye, pray like the Publican and not like the Pharisee.

I think it is significant that the blind man found himself teaching the Pharisees. Where did he get his knowledge? He had not yet ‘seen’ the Lord. He still didn’t know where he was or who he was.

He got the knowledge from his own inner experience. The eyes of his heart were made to see truths of God that the Pharisees, masters of the Mosaic Law so they thought, could not see because he had done what the Lord told him to do.

We have been baptized. Our eyes were open as were the blind man’s, and in these last days we were raised up in the likeness of Christ’s resurrection on the Eighth Day, the First Day of the new heavens and new earth. But perhaps like the blind man at the beginning of this morning’s Gospel, we don’t know where the Lord is or who the Lord is. Perhaps we are like St Thomas; we don’t even believe that he is raised from the dead. Perhaps we are like the myrrh-bearing women; wanting to show our love to God but wondering how the stone of our impurities and passions that blocks us from our heart will be rolled away.

I think the Gospels for these eight Sundays of Pascha are not only proclaiming to us the resurrection of Christ; they are also teaching us how to enter into the reality of it, here and now: how to discover the ordinary days of our calendar time opening onto the timeless Eternity of the Spirit in the Eighth Day of Christ’s holy resurrection. What I hear the Church teaching us in these Sundays is that it isn’t about seeing the Lord and then believing in him: it’s about believing in him even though we do not see him by practicing his commandments. Then, we shall behold Christ with our eyes but in a way that is not of this world. As our holy Tradition testifies, “Beloved, we are God's children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”[4]

By practicing the commandments of Christ, our eyes are open to see the ordinary words of Scripture opening onto the extraordinary Word of God in whom all things came to be. By practicing the commandments of Christ, our eyes are open to see the ordinary days of calendar time opening onto the extraordinary days of biblical time passing over from Great and Holy Friday into Sunday, the Eighth Day of the week, the First Day of the new creation in Christ’s holy resurrection. By practicing the commandments of Christ, our eyes are open to see our ordinary earthly bodies opening onto the risen body of Christ, cleansed and refashioned and made alive in the Holy Spirit of God.

As beloved children of God who have been washed and illumined in the holy waters of the baptismal font, let us go wash in the pool of Siloam, let us take up our bed and walk, let us make our way to the tomb of our heart as to a bridal chamber, let us make our way to the Upper Room, let us give the Lord to drink from the waters of our love by turning in our mind and hearts to the conscientious practice of his commandments, in the hope of his promise that we will be clothed in that same light with which he clothes himself as with a garment: the light of life in the timeless eternity of his Holy Spirit.

[1] I Jn 2:18

[2] Gn 2:2-3

[3] Jn 6:40

[4] I Jn 3:2