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I Timothy 1:15-17
“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” says St Paul. This blind man in our Gospel this morning is an icon of the sinner Christ came to save. The Church teaches us to see ourselves, with St Paul, as the first of all sinners. I am therefore the bind man who needs to be saved.
The prayer of the blind man: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” is the prayer of the Church. We call it the “prayer of the heart”. The faith of the Church is given in the work of this prayer: to descend with the prayer, “LORD have mercy on me the sinner,” into our heart, to come out of intellectual “belief” and into the heart, there to work out our salvation in fear and trembling (Phil 2:12); for, the heart is our true self (Jer 17:5/9 LXX); it is where we are blind, and it is in the “tomb of the heart” that Christ accomplishes our salvation.
In the bible, blindness is an image of idolatry or disobedience and death. Those who trust in idols are like them, says the Psalmist; they have eyes that do not see, ears that do not hear, a mouth that does not speak, hands and feet that do not move (Ps 114 & 134 LXX). They are a spiritual corpse. So, if I am blind in my heart, it’s because I am spiritually dead; and if I am spiritually dead, it’s because of my idolatry.
And, what are these idols that I serve? They are the passions: lust, greed, anger, vanity, pride. How do I serve them? In my love for money, in the impure images I indulge my eyes in and entertain in my mind, in the anger I give in to, in my self-love. What is the evidence of my spiritual death? It is given in my self-righteousness and spiritual pride, e.g.; my despair, in the unease that hangs over my soul like a gray fog. But, finally, it is given in the law of sin that is in my fleshly members: this is the death that awaits me and the corruption I live in now in the form of endless varieties of maladies and infirmities afflicting my soul and body in one way or another.
Listen to the Psalmist: “Create in me a clean heart, O God; put a new and right Spirit within me.” (Ps 50:10 LXX) Listen to Wisdom: “God did not create death. He created all things for being, the generations of the world for salvation” (soterioi: Wisd 1:13-14). See how salvation is to be created for being, for life, not for passing away or death. Salvation is life that is beautiful, good, brimming with joy and gladness, whole and vibrant with “no poison of destruction in it” (Wisd 1:14). To be saved, then, is to be created anew in the inner man. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners means that He descended into the root of our being, our heart, where we were dead in our sins and trespasses (Eph 2:1) to give salvation, life, even life more abundantly (Jn 10:10).
To receive this salvation of Christ, we cannot stay “in the city” of our head. We must come “out of the city” to sit with the blind man at the Path where Jesus is walking; or, to use another Evangelical image, to enter the closet of my heart and there, from out of the depths, take up the prayer of the blind man and cry out: “LORD, I cry unto Thee, hear me! Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
And there I must stay, in the lowliness and meekness of a broken and contrite heart, the ears of my soul trained to listen for the WORD of God coming that way!
Now, it says that as the blind man cried out, they tried to silence him. Dear faithful, does not the world try to silence us, assailing us and tempting us to lose heart, even to draw us out of our inner closet and back to the “city”, back to the ways of the old man: worry, fear, anger? For, the law of sin, says St Paul, is in our earthly members. It has become embodied in us as the law of death, corrupting us in our heart, at the root of our will so that we are weak, unable to do the good we want to do but doing the evil we do not want (Rom 7:19).
Do you see? It’s here in the heart – not in the head – that we work out our salvation in fear and trembling! Here in the heart, not in the head, is where we work to put to death what is earthly in us: our idolatry and the disobedience of self-love.
Within me is where the spiritual struggle is engaged. Our fight is not against flesh and blood, says St Paul, but against the spiritual rulers of darkness in the heavenly places (Eph 6:12) – i.e., in the head, in the realm of “religious belief”! But, at the heart of this struggle is my own will to stand up against the old idols that before I gave myself to. I mean the inner idols of the soul: gluttony, lust, greed, anger, envy, vanity. And, once the enthusiasm of my first love is worn off, what do I discover in this but that my will to lose my life for the sake of Christ and His Gospel is very weak, even beyond my competence while my love for the old idols is very strong! But, do not lose heart in this inner struggle of putting the old man in you to death, the holy apostles and holy fathers urge us; for the LORD says: I have overcome the world! As long as there is breath in you, says St Isaac of Nineveh, do not surrender your soul to defeat, even at the moment of your defeat! (Hom 9)
It says, the blind man cried out even louder: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And, it says Jesus was standing there, as though He were there all the time! And, indeed, the holy fathers say that to utter the Holy Name of Jesus makes Him present! Standing is the posture of fighting; so, Christ was fighting for him– even when the blind man could not see Him! The LORD commanded the blind man be brought to Him! In the beginning, the LORD commanded and creation [obeyed and] came to be (Ps 32:9 LXX). The LORD’s commandment creates life. The blind man obeys, and the LORD asks him: “What is your desire?” See how the LORD honors our will! Now the blind man’s prayer changes: “LORD!” he says. Such pathos! Everything is contained in that address! “LORD, that I may see (look up)!” Now the LORD gives another command: “Look up!” “Let there be Light!” And then He says: “Your faith has saved you.” The parallel between “What do you wish me to do?” and “your faith” shows very clearly that the blind man’s faith is his desire for the LORD’s commands that are life and light to those who obey them. And, it says, the blind man followed Jesus, glorifying God.
Can you see in this the “pattern” of the Christian life? The worship of the Church moves in a liturgical rhythm centered in the blind man’s “prayer of the heart”. During the week, as we struggle against the assaults of the darkness of the world, the Church gives the prayers of her daily services to say. These are penitential in character, like the blind man’s cry; they give voice to the soul’s anguish and they train us to call on Christ and His Holy Mother, e.g. “An unrestrainable urge for evil seizes me through the activity of the enemy and my own wicked habits. Help me, O Theotokos, that the most pernicious one not fall upon me utterly, depriving me of repentance through death!” But on Sunday, we come together in the victory of the LORD’s Sabbath Rest and what do we sing? Is it not the song of the blind man, now illumined, glorifying Jesus Our LORD and Savior? “We have found the true faith! We have seen the true light! We have received the Heavenly Spirit who has saved us!”
Can you see how, if I incorporated the liturgical rhythm of the Church’s worship into my daily life, the week day services and offices would shape my inner life in the way of repentance and teach me to call on the Name of the LORD every day, every hour, every minute; and how the Divine Liturgy would become the culmination of a week of penitential preparation, when my soul would receive healing from the wounds incurred during the week in the victory over hell and death of Christ’s Holy Pascha that I would eat and drink, and whose life-creating Light would penetrate into my soul in the words of the Church’s prayers and hymns? Do you see, if I were to fold my life into the worship of the Church, and the worship of the Church into my daily life, how I would be led into my heart under the protection of the Church and I would be refashioned in the way of repentance centered on the illumination of the will of my heart and the healing of my soul and body from death accomplished in the Holy Pascha of Christ who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first? Amen!