|38 TO BELIEVE WITHOUT SEEING, May 21, 2023
Acts 16.16 – 34
Remember what the LORD said to Thomas in the Upper Room: ‘Blessed are those who believe without seeing.’ Perhaps one of the notes playing in all of these Pascha Sunday Gospels has been how one believes in Christ risen from the dead without seeing. That note may be coming to a crescendo in this morning’s Gospel.
Blindness in this morning’s Gospel seems to be an image of the death that spread to all men through the sin of Adam (Rm 5.12). Sin in Greek means ‘missing the mark.’ In this morning’s Gospel, ‘sin’ seems to refer to the willful choice to offer one’s love away from God to a ‘target’ that is a false god, an idol.
Now what the LORD says to His disciples, ‘This man is not blind because he or his parents sinned,’ makes sense. He is saying that all of us are born into this life of death before any of us sin. And, in the interplay in this morning’s Gospel, full of spiritual irony between the physical blindness of the blind man and the Pharisees who could see but who were blind to Jesus as the Christ, we ‘see’ that everyone lives in the blindness of death, whether or not they sin, or worship a false god.
Perhaps, in the suffering of his blindness, the blind man could see that what one believes in one’s head changes nothing in the ‘rhizome’ of life where we all live. Whether we believe this or that, we are all still dead, we are all still blind. We all still sitting in the region and shadow of death.
It says that as the LORD was passing by He saw a man blind from birth. Where is the LORD going when He passes by?
Remember that, having beheld the Resurrection of Christ, our reading of Holy Scripture is transfigured. We read the Holy Scripture from inside the LORD’s empty Tomb where, with St John, we ‘see’ and believe and understand the Scriptures (Jn 20.8-9). From inside the LORD’s Tomb, our souls uplifted by the fragrance of His Holy Resurrection like the incense that rises up in our worship, we ‘see’ that it is the risen LORD who is passing by on His way to the Mountain of His Ascension in Galilee (Mt 28.16).
For, it says that it was the Sabbath. This morning’s Gospel is an icon revealing to us what the LORD was doing when He was in the Sabbath Rest of His Tomb, and what He is doing even now in the deep of our heart in our everyday life if we are in Christ. He is coming to us in the blindness of our death to open our eyes in the Light of His Holy Resurrection. It is an icon of Christ trampling down death by death and giving life to those in the tombs – opening the eyes of those who were blind.
The Church is the Body of Christ risen from the dead. In the Church, Christ is in our midst visibly and audibly and tangibly, for He is embodied in the liturgical and sacramental worship of the Church. And in His Church, His Body, the risen LORD Jesus Christ would lead us through the ‘desert’ of our everyday life all the way to the ‘outlet of the sea’ (Eze 47.12), to our own grave. For it’s in our grave that we come to the summit of the mountain of our life either to ascend with Christ into the Light of the opened heavens in the final opening of our blindness, or to descend with our false gods in the darkness of our chosen blindness.
The LORD, then, is on His way to His Ascension in Galilee, and He sees this blind man. He sees you and me, our souls in the darkness of hell, because we have been born blind. Even before we sinned, we were born into this life that is headed for the grave the instant we are conceived in the womb.
Blessed are those who believe without seeing, the risen LORD said to Thomas in the Upper Room; blessed are those sitting in darkness who choose to turn their face to the East and walk in the Light of the rising Sun. Even in their spiritual blindness, they know that they are in the presence of the Sun because they can feel the warmth of His rising (Ps 18/19.6) shining on the face of their heart.
One observes how quickly the blind man obeys the LORD’s instructions, without hesitation. Is this not the behavior of one who is suddenly filled with hope, whose heart feels the warmth of the Sun? Does not this behavior of the blind man in and of itself testify that the LORD is ‘the Light of the world’ (Jn 9.5) filling even the nethermost regions of hell with His Light?
Note then that the LORD goes about healing the man born blind exactly as He had directed Israel through Isaiah: ‘Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good, … though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.’ [Isa 1:16-18]
Do we not submit to Holy Baptism in the Church because we want to be washed clean and united to Christ? And when we were raised from the Font, we were raised from darkness and illumined; our blindness, our death, was washed away. We put on Christ the True Light as a Robe of Light. And then we were given as our food and drink the very Radiance of the eternal Light of the Wisdom of God (Wisd 7.26; Heb 1.3). We were given the Resurrection and eternal Life of God as our food and drink; for we were given to partake of Christ Himself risen from the dead; and so we became communicants of the divine nature, partakers of the Light’s own Glory and Virtue. The eternal Light of divine Wisdom began to knit Himself into the fabric of our earthly life and into the bones and muscles, the nerves and organs of our mortal bodies. He was no longer shining on us but in us, and we began to live in His Spirit that came upon us like a mighty wind into the valley of our dry bones (Eze 37.1-12).
The LORD says in one place, ‘I judge no one.’ And yet, His very coming is judgment, for He says in the same place: The light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil [Jn 3:19]. And He says to the man born blind: ‘For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.’ [Jhn 9:39]
The Pharisees say to the LORD this morning: ‘We’re not blind are we?’ And the Savior says: ‘If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say that you see. Your blindness remains’ (vv. 40-41). That is, ‘If you do not acknowledge your blindness, you will continue to pursue the wrong target, the god that is not God, and you will remain in the darkness of your death.
Here is where I see the LORD telling us how we come to believe in Him without ‘seeing’ Him. We come to believe without seeing by acknowledging and confessing that we are blind, and living in that confession. This to me is profound. There is much to ponder here, worth pondering the rest of one’s life.
To believe ‘without seeing’ is to turn the face of one’s heart willfully away from sin, away from willfully choosing to ‘see’ oneself ‘as though’ one were a god (Gn 3.23), away from choosing to direct one’s life to a false god, and choosing to orient one’s life to the East, choosing to turn one’s face to the rising of the sun. One can believe without seeing because even in one’s blindness, one can feel the sun warming one’s eyes (Ps 18/19.5).
As we see in our Gospel this morning, the Savior’s warmth shines on us in the form of a commandment. The commandment of the LORD, says the Psalmist, is full of light; it illumines the eyes (Ps 18/19.8). All the commandments of the LORD, says the LORD, are one commandment: to love the LORD our God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind, and our neighbor as ourselves.
If this is so, then His commandment to us who are blind is to wash and cleanse ourselves of our love for false gods, for this is what blinds us. If we choose to follow His commandment, already in that first choosing, we are beginning to direct the love of our soul to the East, away from the West. Now His warmth begins to shine full face on our stony heart, our dead heart, and our heart begins to be transfigured into a fleshy heart, a living heart, a loving heart. Our heart is the eye that is the lamp of our body, the LORD says. If our heart becomes light our whole body is light, our whole being is saturated in the Light, the Love of the God who first loved us.
In that love, in that Light, we see Light, we see love. In that Light, we know love without seeing because we have ‘believed,’ because we have chosen to turn the face of our heart to the East and that the love of our heart might be made warm with the warmth of the love of Christ, from whose warmth no one is hidden (Ps 18/19.6). Amen!