45 - THE IRONY OF THE GOSPEL, July 23, 2023

Romans 15.1-7

Matthew 9.27-35

This morning, we see the spiritual irony of the Gospel in the healing of the two blind men. The irony follows from the power of self-determination that is essential to our having been created in the image and likeness of God.

We see two blind men; yet, look more closely and you may see others who are blind: they are the Pharisees who could not see Jesus as the Son of God, even when they saw Him giving sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, speech to the dumb, making the lame to walk, even raising the dead to life.

We therefore see in this morning’s Gospel two kinds of blindness: that of the Pharisees who believed they could see, and that of the two men who knew they were blind. The latter followed Jesus and came to Him in the house. The Pharisees did not.

By now, surely, we see the house to be an image for the heart. The blind men following Jesus and coming to Him in the house of their heart we can see as an image of prayer in the way of the Church: descending with our mind into our heart to stand in the presence of the LORD, acknowledging that we are blind, deaf, mute, crippled, paralyzed. That is, we strive to stand mindfully before the LORD in humility, contrition, and brokenness of heart. We begin to acquire the humility and brokenness of heart the LORD does not despise when we begin to see and to confess that we are blind, deaf, dumb, crippled, paralyzed; and when we begin to mourn in a broken and contrite heart, and we begin to cry out to the LORD from our heart: ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ These are the blind, the deaf, the dumb, the crippled, the paralyzed, even the dead, whom the LORD heals and raises to life. They are those who draw near to the LORD in the fear of God, with faith and love. They are those who confess that they are blind, that their souls are crippled and deformed because they are sinners.

The sicknesses and diseases mentioned in our Gospel this morning are listed in the prophets as the symptoms of idolatry. Idolatry is spiritual fornication, giving ourselves to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life. The two blind men in this morning’s Gospel, then, represent all those who are fleeing the corruption that is in the world through the idolatry of lust that they may become partakers of the divine nature.

But the corruption that is in the world through the idolatry of lust does not originate in the flesh; it originates in the heart. ‘For from within the heart,’ the LORD says, ‘come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander’ (Mat 15:19).’ Deeper and more debilitating than physical blindness is the blindness of the heart. It is this deeper blindness that we see in the Pharisees who thought they could see. But what they were seeing was the conceit of self-righteousness. And, we do not see them following Jesus to draw near to Him in the house of their heart. They do not cry out to Him, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Instead, they accuse Him and malign Him, calling Him a prince of the devil.

Even so, the LORD does not revile them in return. But neither does He heal them of their blindness, not because He doesn’t want to. Does He not pray for them on the Cross as they are crucifying Him: ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!’ He does not heal them of their blindness because they don’t want to be healed. They do not see that they are blind, and in their self-righteousness, they do not draw near to Him crying out to Him to have mercy on them.

This is the irony of the Gospel: we begin to see when we see that we don’t see. The irony is spelled out for us in St John’s Gospel when the LORD says to the Pharisees: ‘If you were blind, you would have no sin; but because you say, ‘We see,’ your blindness remains’ (Jn 9.41). That is, if you saw that you were blind, you would follow me into the house of your heart, acknowledging that you are blind. You would begin to mourn. Then, I could make you see, because you would want to see.

Here, I think, we begin to uncover the root of the matter. The LORD asks the blind men, ‘Do you believe I can do this?’ They answer very simply, ‘Yes, LORD!’ Let us note that they were crying out to Jesus: ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on us!’ Now they address Him as, ‘LORD!’ Even in their blindness, they are seeing beneath the physical veil of the visible to see the invisible identity of Jesus as the Son of God incarnate. There is knowledge here, a vision, that the Pharisees do not see, a knowledge that is the direct manifestation of the blind men’s faith. In this, we see that to believe in the LORD is to know Him. Faith, that is, is not blind. Faith is true knowledge.

More than this: faith is the movement of love. To believe in the LORD is to love the LORD. The LORD says to the Jews: ‘This is my Father’s will: that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him has eternal life; and I will raise Him up on the Last Day’ (Jn 6.40). You see from this word of the LORD that faith is not blind. To believe in the LORD is to see the LORD – not with the bodily eyes but with the inner eye that is the lamp of the body. But what catches me in the LORD’s word to the Jews is that through this ‘believing in the LORD’ one receives eternal life.

Can you see that faith is more than ‘believing’, more than a cognitive function? St Maximos the Confessor (d. 662 A.D.) tells us why we receive life when we believe: faith, he says, is a relational power, it’s a relationship.’ That is, it’s a power that comes from the heart knitted in love to the God who first loved us, the God who is Himself Life and Light, so that to believe in the LORD is to unite oneself in love to Life and Light, that is, to knowledge, to vision. Therefore, St Maximos continues, ‘faith is active and strong, because (as the power or energy coming from the heart’s longing for God) faith effects the complete union of the believer with the God believed in, a union that is immediate (of the heart, our personal center) and beyond nature (of the heart, it a union that is deep, beyond all things, Jer 17.9). Faith is knowledge that cannot be rationally demonstrated (because it is of the uncreated Light that infinitely transcends the light of the mind). It is a supernatural relationship (in the heart, in the deep, beyond all things) through which, in an unknowable and so indemonstrable manner, we are united with God in a union that is beyond intellection’ (a union that is in the deep, beyond all things).

The two blind men followed the LORD into the house, crying out to Him. So did all the sick who were seeking the healing of the LORD’s salvation. In this, we can see the hope and longing that are essential ingredients of biblical faith. We see that faith and hope in the LORD are the dynamic expressions of the soul’s innate love for God.

Dear faithful, from our own experience, we can say that so long as we are following after our lusts, we do not see that we are blind. We don’t cry out to the LORD to have mercy on us. We have no desire to draw near to Him because we like living outside in the self-righteousness of our lusts. Instead, we stand afar off, the eyes of our soul fixed steadfastly on the west. If we acknowledge Him the LORD at all, it’s to accuse Him or to judge Him according to the self-righteous conceit of our opinions, to the point that we regard Him as a devil, because we project onto Him all the evils of our own heart, and we reject Him because, in our self-righteous blindness, we see Him as a devil who hates us and seeks to destroy us. We do not see Him as the Son of God incarnate who loved us and gave Himself for us.

To believe in God is to live in love for Him.  In this love for God who first loved us, the more we acknowledge and confess that we are blind, the more the eyes of our soul will open. We will see the Son of God, Jesus, according to the will of the Father; we will live in hope, the hope of faith that is sure and steadfast because it is grounded not in the judgement according to appearances, but in the judgment that is according to Truth, Who is the LORD Jesus Himself.

‘May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant us to live in accord with Christ Jesus, that we may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen!’ [Rom 15:5-6]