37 - Sixth Sunday of Pascha, May 24, 2009

Acts 16:16-34

John 9:1-38

This morning’s Gospel of the blind man is a baptismal Gospel; and so it is directed especially to us who have been baptized, and it teaches a lesson vital for us to hear and take to heart.

It says that Jesus saw a man blind from birth. This Jesus who saw the blind man is the Lord who formed our inward parts, who saw us when we were yet unformed, when we were being made in secret in our mother’s womb, wrought intricately in the depths of the earth, as the Psalmist says.[1] So when his disciples asked Him if the man was blind because of his sin or his parents’, the Savior could tell them from His divine knowledge of the blind man’s secret heart that neither he nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him. Obviously, Jesus is not saying that there is no original sin; otherwise, the man would not have been born blind. Jesus is referring rather to the Word He spoke to Moses in the book of Exodus, and to Ezekiel.[2] There sin is set in terms of the Law, which is centered on the commandment to love the Lord with all our heart and our neighbor as ourselves. In saying that neither the blind man nor his parents have sinned Jesus therefore is saying that they have kept the Law; they have loved the Lord. That is why the works of God can be made manifest in him, specifically the work of God that was accomplished in Christ’s Passion: the work of returning man to the dust of the ground whence he came in the death of Christ, in order to re-create him like a potter recasting a broken clay pot, and to raise him up in Christ’s Resurrection to create in him a clean heart and to put a new and right Spirit, the Holy Spirit, in him so that he may eat from the Tree of Life as he was commanded to do in the beginning and so become a partaker of the divine nature, as he was meant to be in the beginning. This was the prayer of King David[3] that is being answered in the healing of the blind man. So, why could the Pharisees not see it? This is the lesson of this morning’s Gospel to which we who have been baptized must give very close attention.

Jesus says to the Pharisees: “If you were blind, you would have no sin. But since you say that you see, your sin remains.”[4] I submit that the Lord is showing us in these words the gate that opens onto the Bridal Chamber of Holy Pascha. This is our heart not as a metaphor for strong feeling or emotion, but as the deepest spiritual reality in us, which is dead or alive, blind or illumined, depending on what we have given our love to in our secret heart. The gate that opens onto the Bridal Chamber of our heart is the grief of contrition (penthos) in which we draw near to God and pray: “Search me, O God and know me;[5] for, I am blind. I do not see.”

The Pharisees show no contrition, and so they can’t see the tragic irony that has become the substance of their life. They believe they have seen with their eyes the word of the Law of Moses, but they reject Jesus, the Word of God whom Moses was writing about, whom they see standing in front of them; and when He heals a blind man on the Sabbath, revealing that the Day of the Lord has come, they accuse Him of breaking the Sabbath and seek to kill Him. They go so far as to call the incarnate Word of God a sinner, and they show how deep their opposition is to Him that they say of the man born blind, who had not sinned according to the divine judgment of Jesus, that he was born “completely in sins,”[6] and they cast him out – as though they were God casting Adam and Eve out of the Garden, not seeing that they are casting themselves out of Eden.

And so the Pharisees can’t see how they have become the enemies of Zion, and that the Word God speaks through His prophet Isaiah against those who fight against Jerusalem is now directed at them: “The Lord shall close their eyes, and the eyes of their prophets and rulers, who see secret things.”[7] It’s not hard to see here a reference to the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden. As soon as they disobeyed God and ate from the forbidden fruit their eyes were opened, but not to see light in the Light of God. They were opened to see into the darkness of the nothingness from which they came, the secret things of Isaiah’s prophecy; i.e. their eyes were opened to see strange and fascinating doctrines of religion and philosophy that have their origin not in God but in the subtle idiosyncrasies of human imagination or even in the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is at work in the sons of disobedience.[8] In the very same way, the eyes of the Pharisees were darkened, for they could not see the Light of God, who is Christ, the Light of the world.[9] 

According to Isaiah, the Lord closes their eyes because they draw near to God and honor Him with their lips, but their heart is far from Him; their worship is vain, empty, because they teach the commandments and doctrines not of God but of men.” Their eyes, that is to say, are on the Law of God that the Tree of Life represents; but in their secret heart, their eyes are on the wisdom of the serpent’s tree, the wisdom of their own opinions. Their food and drink, i.e. the secret love of their heart, is not to do the will of the Father as it is for Jesus and those who love Him, but to dwell secretly on those secret things that proceed from the serpent’s tree, from the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life.

But wait: are we talking about the Pharisees or about us? I submit that this is the lesson for us in this morning’s Gospel. The Pharisees may well not be they; the Pharisees may very well be we, especially when we begin to think that we are “well-pleasing to God because we have been “saved”, for this is exactly how the Pharisees thought of themselves.

Christ’s Word sown in our hearts through our Baptism directs us to look into our secret heart to see what we really love, to see if it is not our eyes that are closed because it is we who draw near to God with our lips, while our hearts are far from Him. In our secret heart what do we give our time and energy to; what are the secret things our eyes are looking at in our “inner man” where we think no one is looking? The mystery of God hidden before the ages and revealed in these Last Days in the Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ, or the secret things of the darkness, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life? What is the food and drink our secret heart loves? Is it the Living Bread that comes down from Heaven; the Living Waters of the Spirit that flow from the side of Christ in His Holy Church? Or are we eating and drinking the secret things of the darkness?

I submit that the Church this morning is directing us to look into this morning’s Gospel as into a mirror, to see who it is that catches our reflection, the blind man or the Pharisees, in order to expose any hidden spiritual arrogance still blinding the eyes of our heart, and to set us before the gates of our secret heart so that we can pray like the blind man, as the Church herself directs us to pray: “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. Lord, I am blind, I cannot see.” See how the Church, by the prayers she teaches us to pray, draws us away from the spiritual pride of the Pharisees and teaches us to become like the blind man of this morning’s Gospel: sinners who love God in whom the works of God’s Holy Pascha can be made manifest.

For when the healing sorrow engendered by the prayers of the Church is taken to heart and made truly our own, we discover the hidden truth about ourselves: in our secret heart we are not righteous; we cannot see; we do not love God as He commands, we love the lusts of this life; we all are born blind. This confession is the beginning of repentance in which we in our secret heart begin to turn to God. When the prayers of the Church sprout and take root in our secret heart, we begin to die to the life of this world; it loses its luster for us, because our eyes are opening to the New Day that has dawned in Christ’s Holy Resurrection. The eyes of our heart are illumined; and we begin to see in an unseeing way, to quote St John Climacus, and to know in an unknowing way, Jesus Christ, the Light of the world, who is in our midst, shining victorious in the Light of His Heavenly Kingdom that was sown in our hearts like a mustard seed in the mystery of our Baptism.

In the unutterable and exalted joy of Christ’s Holy Resurrection, we take up our cross – these are the ascetic disciplines of the Church – in order to put to death the Pharisee in us, so that we may become like the blind man: sinners who love God in whom the works of God can be made manifest, so that in the love of God we may trample down all carnal desires and enter upon a spiritual manner of living, and draw near to God in our secret heart. This is how our eyes are opened to see the secret things of Christ hidden before the ages, and we become like the blind man witnesses, martyrs, to the Light of God that shines in the darkness, proclaiming even to those who hate us and revile us the love of God in the unutterable and exalted joy of Christ’s Resurrection: “A Man called Jesus made clay and anointed our eyes and said to us, ‘Go to the pool of Siloam and wash.’ So we went and washed; and we unworthy sinners were graciously united to the merciful Christ in a Baptism of Living Water and Fire, the Baptism of the same Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead; and now we see! We have seen the true Light! We have received the Heavenly Spirit! We have found the True Faith, worshipping the undivided Trinity, who has saved us!” Amen.

[1] Ps 139:13-16

[2] Eze 18:20 & Ex 20:5

[3] Ps 51

[4] Jn 9:41

[5] Ps 139:1

[6] Jn 9:34

[7] Isa 29:10

[8] Eph 2:1

[9] Jn 9:5