O Delightful Sight

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When time began its motion, darkness engulfed the earth.

God poetically spoke His animating Verse.

Mindfully Light dawned

Before the sun ruled the day or the stars the night.

Before creating eyes to see, even Darwin would agree,

There was light.

The Voice made both the light good and the good light

To illumine all things, before there was sight

Or a sun to shine.

The first eyes could see but childishly not comprehend.

The clever serpent promised they would be opened

She would see what she now believed God had hid.

Right then darkly the eyes of her heart closed

Could Eve still see the fruit was good?

Sightless eyes delighted in the Garden Tree.

Then, Adam and Eve hid what God gloriously clothed

Hoping to blind the Omniscient’s eyes.

He played along. “Where are you?”

Like young children covering their eyes,

With certainty to watchful parents mirthfully proclaim:

“You can’t see me”  and truly believe the lie.

So Adam, so Eve hid among the trees

Covering themselves with  the leaves

Convinced the Creator could not see them or their deed.

Gospel truth: In this sunlit world a man born

Without his ancestors’ eyes to see.

Eve faithlessly believed her eyes were closed, was deaf to the Light.

The sightless man listened to the Word

As only the blind can do with heightened sense he hears.

His eyes opened.  He listened to Whom Eve would not.

The Invisible God can be seen?

With the eyes of faith 

The Blind Man saw the Word

He had obeyed.

In time, Paradise was also opened

By the Light of the World.

 

The Man Born Blind is Healed by His Creator

John 9:1-38  Jesus gives sight to the man born blind

St. Irenaeus (second century) interprets “that the works of God may be manifest in him” (John 9:3) as a direct reference to the continuing work of God as Creator of the human person:

‘Now the work of God is the fashioning of man. For, as the Scripture says, He made [man] by a kind of process: “And the Lord took clay from the earth, and formed man.” (Genesis 2:7)  Wherefore also the Lord spat on the ground and made clay, and smeared it upon the eyes, pointing out the original fashioning [of man], how it was effected, and manifesting the hand of God to those who can understand by what [hand] man was formed out of the dust. For that which the artificer, the Word, had omitted to form in the womb [viz., the blind man’s eyes], He then supplied in public, that the works of God might be manifested in him, in order that we might not be seeking out another hand by which man was fashioned, nor another Father; knowing that this hand of God which formed us at the beginning, and which does form us in the womb, has in the last times sought us out who were lost, winning back His own, and taking up the lost sheep upon His shoulders, and with joy restoring it to the fold of life…

As, therefore, we are by the Word formed in the womb, this very same Word formed the visual power in him who had been blind from his birth; showing openly who it is that fashions us in secret, since the Word Himself had been made manifest to men: and declaring the original formation of Adam, and the manner in which he was created, and by what hand he was fashioned, indicating the whole from a part. For the Lord who formed the visual powers is He who made the whole man, carrying out the will of the Father.'”

(Daniel B. Hinshaw, Touch and the Healing of the World, p. 38-39)

What the Blind Man Could See Even Without His Eyes

“And he who sees me sees him who sent me.” (John 12:45)

This past Sunday’s Gospel lesson was John 9:1-38  – Christ healing a man who had been born blind.   Several of the hymns from Matins today reviewed the events and point out that what was clear to the blind man was that the enemies of Christ were indeed “darkened in heart, mind and soul” and were willfully blind to the facts.  Christ’s opponents found the truth to be inconvenient for them and so they tried to change, distort or destroy the facts so they could hold to their own interpretation of events.

THE MAN ONCE BLIND SAW THAT THOSE WITH SIGHT WERE TRULY BLIND, DARKENED IN HEART, MIND AND SOUL, FOR WHEN THEY SAW THAT HE SUDDENLY WAS ABLE TO SEE, THEY QUESTIONED HIM WITH PERSISTENCE: HOW IS IT POSSIBLE FOR YOU NOW TO SEE THE LIGHT OF DAY?  YOU WERE BLIND FROM BIRTH.  YOU SAT ON THE ROADSIDES AND BEGGED!  HE TOLD THEM WHO HAD GIVEN HIM SIGHT, AND IN THE MIDST OF THEIR DARKENED ASSEMBLY HE CONFESSED YOU: THE SON, BEGOTTEN OF THE FATHER BEFORE THE AGES, WHO FASHIONED THE LIGHTS OF THE UNIVERSE, AND IN THESE LAST DAYS, IN YOUR COMPASSION, BY THE HOLY SPIRIT, FROM THE VIRGIN MARY, DAWNED UPON THE WORLD AS A MORTAL MAN!

Light was shining in the darkness but those opposed to Christ preferred the darkness so that they wouldn’t have to change their own beliefs or practices.

“And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.”  (John 3:19-20)

 

The man born blind is given not only his physical sight, but true spiritual insight.  He sees for the first time, but what he sees came not from his physical eyes but from the eyes of his heart and soul.  For he sees light for the first time and immediately recognizes Christ, the light of the world.  He was blind from birth but he was not willfully blind – given the opportunity, he could immediately see what those who had never been physically blind could not.

THE BLIND MAN WALKED THE STREETS OF LIFE LIKE ONE CONDEMNED TO ENDLESS LABOR IN THE PITS OF THE EARTH.  HIS FEET WERE BRUISED; HE HAD A STAFF INSTEAD OF EYES, AND THUS HE FLED FOR REFUGE TO THE GIVER OF LIGHT.  HE RECEIVED HIS SIGHT, AND THE FIRST THING HE SAW WAS HIS CREATOR WHO FASHIONED THE HUMAN RACE ACCORDING TO HIS OWN IMAGE AND LIKENESS.  HE CREATED ALL THINGS FIRST FROM THE DUST OF THE EARTH, AND NOW HE GIVES LIGHT THROUGH DUST AND SPITTLE, OPENING BLIND EYES TO THE SUN, IN HIS LOVE FOR MANKIND.

Usually, if we get dust or dirt in  our eyes, we cannot see and our eyelids want to close.  But when Christ puts the clay made from dust and spittle on the man’s eyes, the blind suddenly can see for his eyes were opened.  Dirt and dust did not block his view but opened his eyes to the spiritual reality that Christ is Lord, God and Savior.

Healing Our Bodies and our Souls

I was eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame.  (Job 29:15)

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The Gospel lesson of John 9:1-38 tells us about Christ healing a man who had been born blind.  We are also given in the healing miracles a chance to reflect on the nature of the human body and its relationship to the spiritual life.  I happen to be reading Jean-Claude Larchet’s newly published THEOLOGY OF THE BODY and will quote a few passages that struck me as a powerful witness to the meaning of today’s Gospel lesson of Christ healing the blind man.  Larchet writes:

“Without the soul, the body can accomplish nothing.  Likewise the soul without the body, though for different reasons: the body needs the soul in order to live and move, whereas the soul needs the body in order to reveal itself, to express itself, and to act on the external world.  For the body is the servant, the vehicle or instrument of the soul, essential to the exercise of its functions of relating to the world and manifesting its faculties in the conditions of the earthly existence.  In this setting, all of the soul’s activities, insofar as they reveal themselves, can only exist through the body.  Moreover, they remain unexpressed if the necessary bodily organs are unable to function properly.  Such is the case with some illnesses that prevent these organs from expressing certain of the soul’s capacities, something for which they had naturally been ordered.”  (Jean-Claude Larchet, THEOLOGY OF THE BODY, p 18-19)

So it is that each of us is a composite of soul and body, neither of these two substances alone make a human – it is only their union which cause a human being to come into existence.  Both are necessary for each of us to be fully human; neither substance can act alone without the other.  Whatever affects one affects the other.  Sin whether originating in the will or the body affects the whole human, body and soul.  And as Larchet notes when illness affects any part of the body, the soul’s capacities are denigrated.  Without the body’s physical eyes to see, the soul’s ability to navigate in the world is also affected, suffering limitation.  And so when Christ heals the man born blind, He is restoring or recreating the man’s full humanity – gifting this man so that his soul can fully experience the abundant life of grace.

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In the Psalms it is idols, not humans which are portrayed as being blind and not even as capable as any human being.

“The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but they speak not, they have eyes, but they see not, they have ears, but they hear not, nor is there any breath in their mouths.”   (Psalm 135:15-17)

8480132255_5cf28fbb2f_nThe idols are lifeless, and lack not just one bodily function or sense, but all of them.  On the other hand, the Law of the Lord, just like the Holy Spirit, enlivens every soul and gives sight even to the blind:

“The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes…”  (Psalm 19:7-8)

Each and every organ in the body serves a particular role in allowing us to fully experience God in this world and also to totally serve the Lord.

“Like Scripture, the Fathers often point out the role played in our spiritual life by the different members of the body.  They stress that their purpose is not merely physiological but also one of enabling us, in superlative fashion, to attune ourselves to God and unite ourselves with him.  This is above all the case with the senses, which should contribute to our perception of God in all sensible phenomena.  Thus, the eyes should enable us to see God in the harmony and beauty of creation and so to praise him and give him thanks.  The ears should enable us to ‘listen to the divine word and God’s laws,’ but also to hear God in all the world’s sounds.  The sense of smell should enable us to detect in every creature the ‘good odor of God’ (2 Cor 2:15); the sense of taste to discern in all food ‘how good the Lord is’ (Ps 33:9).  . . . Thus the spiritual function of the hands is to carry out for and in God whatever is necessary in order to do his will, to act on behalf of justice, to reach out to him in prayer (cf. Ps 87:10; Ps 143:6; Tim 2:8).  The task of the feet is to serve God by allowing us to go to where we may do good.  The tongue should proclaim the Good News and sing of God’s glory.  The heart is to be the place of prayer; the lungs are to produce the breath that regulates and supports it.”    (Jean-Claude Larchet, THEOLOGY OF THE BODY, p 28-29)

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And though we can both experience and accomplish goodness in and through the body and its organs and part, it is also true that the same body can be used to experience and accomplish evil.

“A worthless person, a wicked man, goes about with crooked speech, winks with his eyes, scrapes with his feet, points with his finger, with perverted heart devises evil, continually sowing discord; therefore calamity will come upon him suddenly; in a moment he will be broken beyond healing. There are six things which the LORD hates, seven which are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and a man who sows discord among brothers.”  (Proverbs 6:12-19)

Our bodies are fully capable of experiencing the Holy Spirit and theosis.  It is not only the soul which has a relationship to God’s Spirit for the body is created to be a divine temple for the Spirit. And as we see in the quotes above, there is an important relationship between certain parts of the body and the Holy Spirit.  Thus, at Chrismation, we anoint the head, ears, eyes, lips, nose, breast, hands and feet of the new Christian, saying each time, “The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit.

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“At the same time, the Fathers refer to the spiritual benefits that our body obtains from being directed towards God in this way, for, acting under the direction of the soul and in collaboration with it, the body too receives the grace of the Holy Spirit.  ‘For as God created the sky and the earth as a dwelling place for man,’ notes St. Macarius of Egypt, ‘so he also created man’s body and soul as a fit dwelling for himself to dwell in and take pleasure in the body, having for a beautiful bride the beloved soul, made according to his own image.’  This is simply to repeat in another form St. Paul’s assertion that the body is the ‘temple of the Holy Spirit’ (1 Cor 6:19).”   (Jean-Claude Larchet, THEOLOGY OF THE BODY, p 29)

God created our bodies to be the very means by which we can accomplish His will and grow in virtue and holiness.

“For the Fathers, it is by means of the virtues that we can become like God, and it is in this likeness to God, acquired by a collaboration between free will and the grace given us that we can ultimately become a partaker of divine life – a participation to which we are both destined by our nature and called by personal vocation.”   (Jean-Claude Larchet, THEOLOGY OF THE BODY, p 27)

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We become like God not by escaping our bodies, but by willfully making them instruments of goodness.  We become virtuous and holy in and through our bodies – and all who do with, in and through our bodies are potential means for us to unite ourselves to God.  We have the task to choose wisely what we do so as to invite the Holy Spirit into our bodies.

The Lord Opens the Eyes of the Blind

the LORD opens the eyes of the blind.

(Psalm 146:8)

  Sermon Notes on John 9:1-38  [the Sunday of the Blind,2016]         

As the Lord passed by, he saw a man blind from his birth. 

There are all manners of blindness in this Gospel lesson.  The man born blind has one form of blindness – a physical blindness, but there are many forms of blindness which inflict humans as the Gospel lesson reveals.

 And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 

The disciples have a blindness as well.  They cannot see the truth about this man and try to see him from a particular point of view – a view which assumes all disease and deformity is caused by sin.  Thus they think it might be possible even to determine who the sinner is that caused the physical blindness.

Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him. We must work the works of him who sent me, while it is day; night comes, when no one can work.

 Now we are going to see what the lesson is about.  The man’s blindness is going to reveal God’s works!   The illness is not about sin.

Note: Jesus says that this illness is NOT the result of sin, either of the man’s or his parents, and we can assume not his ancestors’ either.  Here we have a confrontation with any who hold that “original sin” explains everything about sickness and illness.   Many Christians think original sin explains every ailment of humanity  Here Jesus is showing us a different way to understand this illness!  Original sin will not explain this one man’s blindness.

Jesus says it is imperative to do the work of Him who sent Jesus during the daylight.  This is interesting, because it is the Sabbath Day, and for the Jews they’re not supposed to work until after the Sabbath Day ends – after dark.  Jesus is speaking figuratively, the day is the time when God’s work is to be done.  We are supposed to do God’s work on the Sabbath.  We are not freed from the obligation to serve God on the Sabbath day! Doing God’s work on the Sabbath means more than simply resting, though Jesus will give this man rest from his illness.  Christ points out everyday is the day for doing God’s work.  God is always working in His creation.

As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

 Jesus said we must do God’s work while it is day, and then says He is the light of the world.  We must do God’s work wherever Christ is present – wherever the church is, wherever we who are the Church, Christ’s Body, are!  Wherever Christ is there is light, day, time to do God’s work.  We are supposed to be where Christ is.

 As he said this, he spat on the ground and made clay of the spittle and anointed the man’s eyes with the clay, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent).

 Many Patristic writers since the time of St. Irenaeus (2nd Century) saw in the act of Jesus spitting on the ground (on the earth) a reference to the Genesis 2 creation story in which God forms the human being from the dirt of the ground.  It is as if Jesus is completing the act of creation for this man.  The assumption is that it is really the pre-Incarnate Christ who creates Adam.    Now, in this Gospel lesson, the man was born incomplete, with no sight, but the Fathers seem to assume he has no eyes.    Christ finishes the act of creation for him – forming eyes from the dirt just as He formed the first human.  Christ literally becomes light for this man – granting him sight.  Or one might see in Christ’s activity Him literally bringing about the new creation.

  So he went and washed and came back seeing. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar, said, “Is not this the man who used to sit and beg?” Some said, “It is he”; others said, “No, but he is like him.”

 Back to blindness – now the neighbors aren’t sure what or who they are seeing.  Is this their neighbor or not?  They’ve known him all their lives, and yet now are are looking at him but can’t see him.

He said, “I am the man.” They said to him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash’; so I went and washed and received my sight.”They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

 No one sees Jesus!   He really is like God, invisible

 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes. The Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight. And he said to them, “He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the sabbath.”

 It’s the Pharisees turn to be blind.  The man describes an act of God – taking clay and healing his eyes which never worked before.  This is not restoring sight to the blind, but giving him sight for the first time.   The Pharisees can’t see God in this at all.  The only thing they can see is a violation of their understanding of Torah.  They are blind to what the healing might represent.  They declare first, before any further investigation, this is not from God.  They are not willing to see what might be true.  Here they engage in willful blindness.  They choose not to see what is in front of their eyes.  It is not that it would be impossible for them to see it, they decide not to see it – others try to warn against total blindness: 

 But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” There was a   division among them. So they again said to the blind man, “What do you say about him, since he has opened your eyes?” He said, “He is a prophet.”

Interesting that they even ask the healed man what he thinks.  They aren’t going to accept his answer.  Are they asking him to be blind, and deny the truth of what happened?  They ask the blindman to tell them what he sees about his healing and the invisible man who healed him. They want him to see things as they do, but he is no longer blind.

The man does not come to the Pharisees saying he was healed.  Rather, others who knew him previously to be blind brought him to the Pharisees to see how they might explain a man who was born blind, but now is able to see, and the healing happened by an action on the Sabbath.  How will the Pharisees explain the phenomenon?

The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight, until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight, and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but how he now sees we do not know, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age, he will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if any one should confess him to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age, ask him.”

The blindness is increasing.  Now the people who knew him as a blind beggar, seem to think it is all some kind of fraud.  Now they demand that the parents tell the truth – was the man born blind or not?  Has he fooled them all by only claiming to be blind all his life?

The parents can see that this is their son, and they know he was born blind.  They also can see that telling the truth is likely to get them into trouble with the religious leaders.   The leaders are not only blind, but deaf as well.  They have heard the answer to their question, but refuse to accept it thus making themselves deaf to the truth.

  So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and said to him, “Give God the praise; we know that this man is a sinner.” He   answered, “Whether he is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I know, that though I was blind, now I see.”

 The formerly blind man, sees clearly now – not only physically, but the truth of what his interrogators want.  He sees these people for what they are.  The healed man speaks truthfully, he doesn’t know if Jesus is a sinner or not – Jesus might be, but that does not change the reality that Jesus healed him.    The healed man is not denying God healed him.

 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He  answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not    listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you too want to   become his disciples?”

 The religious leaders are clearly both blind and deaf.  They won’t hear the answer/truth.  Their minds are closed, blind to truth and so they can neither hear it or see it or bear it.  Now other words of Jesus come to mind:

 With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah which says: ‘You shall indeed hear but never understand, and you shall indeed see but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are heavy of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should perceive with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn for me to heal them.’  (Mark 13:14-15)

It is not God who wishes this on His people, but it becomes obvious that willful blindness and deafness are a real aspect of life, even for religious people.

 And they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Why, this is a marvel! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if any one is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. Never since the world began has it been heard that any one opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 

 God is not deaf to the pleas/prayers of the righteous.  God is not blind to what is going on.  Jesus is not just righteous, He is not just from God.   He is God.  The formerly blind man sees more clearly what is before his eyes.   The man is not denying God, but cannot deny that Jesus healed him.  He sees God acting in Jesus.

 They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out.

 Now we are back to the opening question of the Gospel lesson, who sinned?  Jesus already dismissed that thought.  This is not a question about this man sinning.  Any claims to “original sin” or total depravity are held only by those who oppose Christ.

 Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who speaks to you.” He said, “Lord, I believe”; and he worshiped him.

 The man is able to see Jesus clearly.  The opponents of Jesus have revealed their willful blindness.   We see all these levels of blindness in this one Gospel lesson – physical, mistaken, intellectual, religious, social and willful.  We also encounter the Light of the world, and one who can see.

The Healing of the Blind Man

For the 6th Sunday after Pascha, we proclaim the Gospel lesson from John 9:1-38, Christ’s healing the blind man using clay He made with spittle.

The Gospel lesson opens with these words:

As the Lord passed by, he saw a man blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him. We must work the works of him who sent me, while it is day; night comes, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” As he said this, he spat on the ground and made clay of the spittle and anointed the man’s eyes with the clay, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing. 

From the early days of Christianity this miraculous sign of the blind man was understood to represent the defectiveness of the world of the Fall.  He is blind from birth as his eyes have not formed.  What Christ does in making the clay and anointing the blind man’s eyes is to complete the creative act, thus making the man whole.  Christ was believed in the early Church to have been the creator of the first human in Genesis 2.  It was the pre-incarnate Christ who formed Adam from the dirt of the earth.  Christ again in John 9 takes dirt from the earth to heal, to make whole, the blind human whose creation was incomplete.  As Christ notes, the issue here is not sin, but rather that the glory of God might be made known in him.  This is not just about the Fall, it is about the restoration of creation.  Really, this Gospel lesson seems to reject the notion that “original sin” can explain the reason for all illness and deformity in humans.  It is only the leaders of the synagogue who cast  the healed man out of the synagogue who hold to an idea of “original sin” and see this healed man as being totally depraved!

Christ has the man wash in the pool of Siloam to show how the waters of baptism make us whole again, giving us the eyes to see the truth about God.

Fr. John Behr explains a bit about the ancient teaching concerning this Gospel lesson, beginning with the comments of St. Irenaeus of Lyons.

 

“Christ healed the man blind from birth (John 9). It was not merely by a word that he was healed, but ‘by an outward action, doing this not without purpose or by chance, but that he might show forth the Hand of God that had at the beginning moulded the human being’ (haer. 5.15.2). So, just as ‘the Lord took mud from the earth and formed the human being’ (Gen. 2:7), Christ spat on the ground and made mud, smeared it upon his eyes, ‘pointing out the original  fashioning, how it was effected, and manifesting the Hand of God to those who can understand by what [Hand] the human being was formed out of the dust’ (haer. 5.15.2). As, in Christ’s words, the man was born blind not because of his own sin or that of his parents, ‘but that the works of God should be manifest in him’ (John 9:3), so Irenaeus sets this particular work within the intentionality of the economy as a whole: For that which the artificer, the Word, had omitted to form in the womb, he then supplied in public, that the works of God might be manifested in him, in order that we might not seek out another hand by which the human being is fashioned, nor another Father, knowing that this Hand of God which formed us in the beginning, and which does form us in the womb, has in the last times sought us out who were lost, winning back his own, and taking up the lost sheep upon his shoulders, and with joy restoring it to the fold of life. (haer. 5.15.2; cf. Luke 19:10, 15:4-6).” (Irenaues of Lyons: Identifying Christianity, pp 162-163)

A Man Born Blind, Jonah, Job and A Believer

And his disciples asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  (John 9:2)

The question the disciples ask the Lord Jesus in John 9 has taken on new and personal meaning with me.   When some hear that I have been diagnosed with Stage 3 lung cancer, they often ask two questions:

Were you a smoker?

Is there a history of lung cancer in your family?

The questions are logical – people trying to make sense of the lung cancer diagnosis.  Obviously if you were a smoker (you sinned), the lung cancer is the consequence of your behavior.   Or if your family has a history of lung cancer, then it is your ancestors who passed the gene along to you (parent’s ‘sin’).   What the logic does of course is put the person at ease, for if there is a clear cause and effect of sin to disease, my interlocutor can feel safe that the world is reasonable and logical.  People get lung cancer because they smoked/sinned or the inherited the sin from their parents.

Such logic helps people get through the day and helps them avoid thinking about their own mortality, but we all know the world is a bit more unpredictable than our reason allows.  The Holy Prophet Job  got his story in our Scriptures.  Retributive justice is not always at work, or the only force at work, or may not even remotely be the cause of the effect.

My history is I was not a tobacco smoker, and there is no known history of lung cancer.  There is no doubt some cause for the lung cancer, but as the doctors have told me, we will never know what caused my lung cancer to begin.

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Believers in the ancient world did not have an explanatory category of “natural causes.”  For me in the scientific world, I can see there are natural disasters whose causes can be explained by natural forces.  The right collection of natural forces will produce a tornado or an earthquake or an epidemic.  I don’t have to think that every event is caused by an angry God.   The ancients, lacking a “natural disaster” category tended to interpret all things as acts of God.  What was not ever certain was exactly what caused God to act in a particularly destructive way.  Many theories were proposed: sin, icons, lack of icons, unwillingness of people to change, people too willing to change.  The Prophet Jonah, one can recall, was distraught that God didn’t destroy the city of Nineveh.  He proclaimed the city would be destroyed, hoped it would happen, and then was disappointed that God didn’t do it.  Jonah laments what he knows about God: “I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.”   (Jonah 4:2)  Sadly many people today share Jonah’s lament and don’t want God to be merciful, abounding in love and ready to relent from punishing.  They prefer the God of retribution not the God who is revealed by Jonah or by Jesus.

I believe in a merciful and loving God.  I’m not blind to the suffering of the world. I’m experiencing it myself.  As a believer, I have to wrestle with the real world, and faith in the God of love.  I accept a modern scientific world that some events can be explained by natural causes.  I don’t always know where God’s hand is in these events.  I know God created this world.  God continues to love His creation, despite the many problems created by natural causes.  God could have created a different world, but He apparently finds this world a good world in which to love us.  Mortality is part of this world, God loves us anyway.  Our Christian faith is that God enters into the human condition and dies in order to save us.  God does not avoid death.  God does not ask us to suffer something He Himself is not willing to suffer.

This week I began my second round of chemotherapy.  Yesterday I received two different chemos aimed at destroying the lung cancer cells.  I’ve experienced many of the serious side effects of the chemo.  I reported that in a previous blog: Walking Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.  My first week after treatment was a whole lot rougher that what I’m currently experiencing, though I recognize that symptoms come and go throughout the chemo process. And while things are better this week compared to the first round, better is neither good nor normal.   Psalm 107 comes to mind again.

Some were sick through their sinful ways, and because of their iniquities suffered affliction; they loathed any kind of food, and they drew near to the gates of death. Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress; he sent forth his word, and healed them, and delivered them from destruction. Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to the sons of men! And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!  (Psalm 107:17-22)

This week, though I experience that loathing of any food, I am thankful to the Lord for His steadfast love and His wonderful works.  Christ is present even in the suffering of the world.

And to the question the disciples asked at the beginning of John 9 and at the beginning of this blog,

Jesus answered: “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him.”  (John 9:3).

The story of Job is lived many times in the history of the world.

Sunday of the Blindman (2015)

The Paschal season in the Orthodox Church offers us several weeks to sing and absorb the message: Christ is risen form the dead, trampling down death by death.  And every year we read the Gospel of the man born blind in the context of our celebrating the resurrection of Christ:

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him. We must work the works of him who sent me, while it is day; night comes, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”(John 9:1-5)

The Gospel begins with the disciples attempting to impose a moral order on the world they live in.  A man born blind – even before he had a chance to sin, he is already afflicted with disease.  Is the universe really so unfair, unreasonable and random that someone can be afflicted without having done anything wrong?  Doesn’t that very idea cast doubt upon not only the goodness of God, but God’s very existence?

The disciples endeavor to place a moral order on what they see – there must be a reason for the man’s blindness!  Perhaps forgetting that the story of Job is part of their scriptures.  The innocent are at times victimized by irrational forces in the universe.

The disciples expecting order in God’s universe, want to make sense of a baby being born blind – surely there must be a just reason which caused and thus explains such a tragedy.  God would not be so unjust as to inflict blindness of an innocent baby!  If a tragedy like blindness occurs it must be part of the moral universe: retribution for sin.   The book of Job, however, shows even a righteous man – not just an innocent man – can suffer, however unfair and unjust that is.   Suffering is not always related to retribution, but is always related to the distorted world of the Fall in which powers, some alien or hostile to God, do operate.

We cannot always know the reason for suffering.  Job never learns the truth about his suffering.  His faithfulness to God remains even without that knowledge.  Knowing God is enough for him.   He believes in God and that is Job’s righteousness

The book of Job is good Lenten reading.  It prepares us for understanding how it might be possible that Jesus is Lord and Christ, and yet God, His Father, allows Him to suffer.  There is no retribution there, no loss of love.   They mystery of incarnate love, revealed in Jesus Christ, gives hope and meaning to Job and to all who suffer.  Suffering does not mean or imply that one is forsaken by God.  That is a lesson of Job and Jesus and the man born blind from birth.

Christ is the light of the world, even for those physically blind.  Christ is the light of the world, even when we can’t quite see Him.  Christ is the light of the world even for those spiritually lost, or who are walking, whether fearfully or hopelessly, in darkness.

It does happen that our need for a moral order in the universe and for complete justice cause us to impose a meaning on events and an understanding of the universe that are not theologically correct.  It remains a fact that some things in the universe are beyond our comprehension.  Our effort to impose a moral order on events in fact take us further away from understanding God or the universe.   We who are so impatient, have to wait on the Lord.  Thankfully, God is not limited by or to our sense of justice, purpose and meaning.

Do not think that every affliction befalls people on account of sin, because there are some who are pleasing to God who are still tempted. It is written that the impious and lawless will be persecuted [Ps 36.28 (LXX)]; it says as well that “all who want to live a godly life in Christ will be persecuted [2 Tim 3.12].”   (St. Mark the Monk, Counsels on the Spiritual Life, Kindle 2137-2139)

Blind + Mystery

 “We might more clearly portray the nature of mystery with an example. For a man born blind, a two-dimensional representation is a mystery. He does not have what it takes – sight – to comprehend this reality. Sight is required for a person to understand how a two-dimensional representation actually does represent something that is three-dimensional. Since he does not have the means to see, it is a mystery how this flat something is a likeness, let us say, of his brother. In fact, that it is a likeness of his brother is something that he must be told, and then he must take it on faith. He may have some idea of what his brother ‘looks like’ since he has, for example, felt the features of his brother’s face with his hands. Yet, the photo remains a mystery for him. It is beyond the power of a man born blind to understand this. However, we note that not every aspect of the photo is a mystery. Even the man born blind can feel its flatness. Even the man born blind can feel the smoothness of the glossy print or the lesser smoothness of another kind of photo paper. He can even perceive it is paper, not wood. Even the man born blind can smell the photo, comparing it with other papers, with other flatnesses he experienced this way. Thus, it is possible for some aspects of even the greatest mysteries to be understood, at least in a limited way.”   (Father Laurence in In The Spirit of Happiness: The Monks of New Skete, pps. 148-149)

The Blindman and Eyes of Faith

The Sixth Sunday after Pascha commemorates the healing of the blindman as reported in John 9:1-38.

As the Lord passed by, he saw a man blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him. We must work the works of him who sent me, while it is day; night comes, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” As he said this, he spat on the ground and made clay of the spittle and anointed the man’s eyes with the clay, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar, said, “Is not this the man who used to sit and beg?” Some said, “It is he”; others said, “No, but he is like him.” He said, “I am the man.”

They said to him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash’; so I went and washed and received my sight.”They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.” They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes. The Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight. And he said to them, “He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” There was a   division among them. So they again said to the blind man, “What do you say about him, since he has opened your eyes?” He said, “He is a prophet.” The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight, until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight, and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but how he now sees we do not know, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age, he will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if any one should confess him to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age, ask him.”

So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and said to him, “Give God the praise; we know that this man is a sinner.” He   answered, “Whether he is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He  answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not    listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you too want to   become his disciples?” And they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Why, this is a marvel! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if any one is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. Never since the world began has it been heard that any one opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out. Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who speaks to you.” He said, “Lord, I believe”; and he worshiped him.

“St. John Chrysostom, who, like all the Spirit-bearing Fathers, saw things invisible and heard things ineffable, assures us that the only true senses are the spiritual senses of faith. Interpreting Christ’s words, Blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear (Matt. 13:16) , he writes: ‘Christ does not bless the outward (that is, physical) sight, because that of itself does not see miracles, but rather the inward sight. The Jews saw a blind man (who had been healed), and they said: ‘It is he – it is not he.’ (cf. John 9:8 ff). Do you hear how they are in doubt? … While we, who were not present, do not say, ‘It is he – it is not he’, but rather: ‘It is he.’ Do you see that being absent does one no harm when one has the eyes of faith, and being present does one no good when the eyes of faith are lacking? For what good did it do the Jews that they saw Christ? None at all. We, therefore, have seen more clearly than they did. When the Lord taught the Jews, He spoke in parables because, as He said, ‘While they see my miracles, they do not want to see, and while they hear my teaching they do not want to listen’ (cf. Matt. 13:13). The faithful see and hear Christ and follow Him because they know His voice (cf. John 10:4), even though centuries have passed since His coming in the flesh.”   (Hieromonk Gregorios, The Divine Liturgy: A Commentary in the Light of the Fathers, pg. 164)