On the Sunday of the Blind Man, where we also commemorate the Holy Evangelist John (May 8 OS), Fr. Irineos discusses how we can put the lessons from today's readings (and John's Gospel) to work in our daily lives.
Draft Transcript below:
Sunday of the Blind Man
by Fr. Irineos Placek
Christ is Risen! Today is the Sixth Sunday of Pascha, appointed by the Church for the commemoration of the Healing of the Man Blind from Birth. Today in the menaion, we also commemorate the Synaxis of St. John the Theologian. After the Dismissal, we’ll sing many years to our reader, John.
In today’s Gospel, taken from the Gospel of John, we see some of the same continuity of message as we find in the other Paschal readings. Here, we have Christ, who come upon the Blind Man – a man we are told was blind from birth. This turns out to be a significant fact in two way. First, in terms of the validation of the miracle – it was unheard of for a person born blind to regain their sight. When a person was sighted, there a things that can cause a temporary loss of vision. If a person was sighted they could engage in a scheme – a fraud – to feign blindness and recovery. But here we have a man known to all to have been blind from the time of his birth.
In his Gospel, John tells us that there are many things Christ did and said – so many in fact that all the books in the world could not contain them all. But these things, he says, are written so that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name. And so considering the myriad of miracles and healings done by Christ, John chooses to record this one – the healing of the man born blind, because it is so remarkable that it would surely give faith to those who hear of it. Remember last week, we spoke of how the Gospel of John is evangelical – and this is a perfect example. This particular miracle is recorded only in the Gospel of John. It is a particularly compelling account that draws not only on Christ’s miraculous healing, but on the pharisaical rejection of him by the Jews, and culminates in the healed man coming to faith in Christ. It is a conversions story. Evangelism at its best!
A second interesting part in this reading is the conversation between Christ and his disciples regarding the cause of the blindness of the man. When they first encounter him, his disciples ask “who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?” Now this reflects a very Jewish approach to the question of illness and tragedy – the idea that these things are punishments meted out on people for their sins. We see this boldly on display later, when the Pharisees question the man about Christ. When the man defends him, the Pharisees utterly reject his testimony saying “Thou wast altogether born in sins, and dost thou teach us?” This is the same approach that was on the mind of the disciples when they questioned Christ. But Christ rejects this juridical approach, saying “Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.” Recall that in Deutoronomy 24:16 it is said: “The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin.” But the Jews had wandered far from the scripture. Now there are two important takeaways here: first, God does not heap punishments on the innocent for the sins of others. Since it is impossible to sin before birth, if sin was the cause of this man’s blindness it would have to have been the sins of another. But we know we are accountable before God for our sins. So this man’s condition was not the result of his sin or the sins of his parents. Christ’s explanation “but that the works of God should be made manifest in him” seems cold and, frankly, arbitrary. Are we to understand that God strikes people with grievous disease or disability just to show what he can do? Again, no. Not at all. We live in a fallen creation, and death, disease, tears and tragedy are a part of that. Within our broken world, though, is the opportunity for the glory of God to be made manifest. And such it was with this blind man. And let us know forget what Blessed Theophylact reminds us of: though this man was deprived of his sight for his early life, when he was healed, it was not only a healing of his physical body, but of his soul as well. He was transformed and came to believe in Christ. Which brings us back to John’s evangelical call “that believing ye might have life through his name. “ Surely this was a net gain to the blind man. What good is it to go through life sighted, if death can hold you captive? But by his faith he not only received his sight, but he received everlasting life! Now in the world we live in today, where we are assaulted constantly with temptation, vulgarity, egoism and materialism, we must always be on guard that we don’t fall into spiritual blindness! With our baptism and chrismation into the Church, we have been healed of that disability, but let us hold fast to the cure! The Apostle Mark reminds us “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” The blind man received his sight and his salvation. Already having our sight, let us be certain that we cling to our faith in Christ Jesus and strive toward salvation. Cling to the holy mysteries, given through the Church to strengthen us along the way. Cling to the examples of the saints, who suffered far graver circumstances than we do, but remained steadfast in their faith. And yes, cling to the wisdom of the blind man who silenced the Pharisees when he proclaimed “If this man were not of God, he could do nothing.”
Finally, and briefly, let’s turn again to a theme that has recurred throughout the Paschal readings – the requirement that we cooperate with God. Again, we have a miraculous healing. But again, it does not come without acceptance and work from the recipient. Christ makes a clay and places it on the man’s eyes. But he also commands him “, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam, (which is by interpretation, Sent.)” and we read that indeed, the blind man went his way, washed in the pool, and regained his sight. How easy it would have been for this man to just wipe the mud from his eyes and go his way. In his own words “Since the world began was it not heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind.” And Christ had not announced that was to be the outcome. But he heard, he obeyed and he was healed.
I don’t think I can preach on this enough. I really don’t. Man was not made to be passive recipients of grace. Nor does God’s abundant grace necessarily take hold in us, no matter how freely it is showered upon us. It requires us to be open to it, and to draw the most out of it. Like the blind man, we must go and wash in the pool. Like the paralytic, we must arise, take up our bed and walk. How do we do that? First, be preparation. Use the sacraments of the Church – confession, the eucharist, holy unction, to prepare yourself to receive the fullness of the grace of God, both imparted through those Holy Mysteries and externally. Second, cooperation. God gave mankind freewill. Despite the protestations of John Calvin, we can resist and fight against God. But if we cooperate, like the blind man the paralytic, that grace can work in us miracles of tremendous import. Third, evangelization. Now I don’t mean going door to door or standing on the street corner with a sign that says Repent, the End is Near! I mean living your life as a shining example of Orthodoxy. Loving your neighbor. Living in humility. Accepting burdens as gifts. Bear the fruits of your faith as works that glorify God. As Matthew says in his Gospel “Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.” By your life be that light shining in the darkness. Be the kind of person that when people meet you they know that there is something different about you. Something that they want a part of. This is true evangelism. This is grace actualized in your very life.
So brothers and sisters, as we return to this Liturgy, let us draw on all the lessons which the Holy Evangelist John gives to us. Let us, having been healed of our spiritual blindness strive always to be that shining light, through our cooperation with God’s grace, let us draw others to the light by our lives, so they may one day say with us:
Christ is Risen!