Before, The Man Born Blind, and After

The Gospel lesson of John 9:1-38 which gives us a narrative of Jesus healing a man blind from birth.  It is one of the Post-Pascha Sunday Gospel themes and so continues exploring in the Orthodox liturgical context the Resurrection of Christ.  The blind man is told by Christ to wash in the pool of water–a baptismal theme  important for the continued spiritual development of those new Christians who had just been baptized at Pascha.

In the Orthodox Church on this Post-Paschal Sunday we read John 9:1-38.  It is worth considering the verses right before and after that pericope as they help set the context of the Gospel lesson and give it additional meaning.  The scripture just before the blind man pericope, John 8:56-59, takes place in the Temple precinct and has Jesus saying to the Jews:

Your father Abraham rejoiced that he was to see my day; he saw it and was glad.” The Jews then said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” So they took up stones to throw at him; but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple.

The text relates a debate which occurs between Jesus and His interlocutors regarding the interpretation of Scripture.  Jesus maintains throughout His ministry that the Old Testament Scriptures are mostly a prophecy about Himself (see for example John 1:45John 5:39-47, Luke 24:25-49).   Jesus says Abraham spiritually saw ‘Christ’s’ day – He is making the claim that the way to read Torah is as a prophecy of Christ, but those debating with Him see the Torah more as Law or the Teaching about how to live rather than as prophecy referentially pointing to something or someone else.  Those arguing with Jesus not only disagree with Jesus about how to understand the Torah but they don’t at all understand Jesus.  They hear Jesus say ‘Abraham saw my day‘, but then twist His words around and incredulously challenge him as they know He is lying if He claims He has seen  Abraham.  But Jesus is telling them the Torah is prophecy (that is how Abraham saw Jesus), and Abraham was a prophet looking for the Messiah.  This is not something all Jews believed.   So they are rejecting Jesus’ interpretation of Torah and denying that the Torah is what Jesus says it is – prophecy of the coming Messiah.  Jesus tries to show them what Torah is about but they refuse to see.

The narrative of the man born blind is preceded by a question about what is Torah? and Who can interpret it?  The Jews are arguing the Torah tells them how to live, Jesus says Torah helps them see and He claims to be the light of the world.  In other words, Torah reveals Him and He reveals the meaning of Torah.

After this discussion, Jesus leaves the temple:   The temple was a sign of God’s presence in Israel — the Temple itself was a place for the people to encounter God, to encounter God’s message, to hear God’s prophecy, God’s word and to know what God is doing.  But in the temple the people have just shown they can’t see God there and aren’t interested in what God is doing and are not willing to hear what God’s message is.  Thus, they want to stone Jesus.  Torah offered them an encounter with the living God, but they turned it into words carved into stone (so too their minds and hearts turned to stone!  See  2 Corinthians 3).

In this Gospel lesson it is outside the temple that Christ gives sight to the blind man.  It is outside the temple that the blind man’s eyes are recreated.  Outside the temple  Jesus proclaims Himself to be the light to the world.  Those in the temple are still in darkness as is shown above in the conversation they have with Jesus.  In the temple they remain spiritually blind.  The Great Temple in Jerusalem with all its correct liturgical ritual fulfilling Torah and claims of being the place where God dwells on earth did not give sight to the blind, nor to the spiritual leaders of the Jews.  Without Christ, even with the Temple and even within the Temple,  there is spiritual blindness – the people cannot see what God is doing.   So Jesus says: “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.”  Those in the temple are judged, it is outside the temple that people are enabled to see what God is doing, in fact to see God.

Jesus claims to be the light of the world.  It is in Jesus and through Jesus that we see what God is doing.  When we see the Torah as prophecy we see what God is doing, we see Christ.  The Temple itself turns out to be no help to us in knowing God.

John 9:1-38

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.” 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.

[“Wash in pool of Siloam” – these words from the Gospel are being used liturgically in Orthodoxy as being a reference to baptism.  Baptism is not just for forgiveness of sins, but also for the healing of soul and body, it gives spiritual enlightenment, displays God’s work in our life, renews and regenerates godliness in us.  As we pray in the Baptism service:  “But show this water, O Master of all, to be the water of redemption, the water of sanctification, the purification of flesh and spirit, the loosing of bonds, the remission of sins, the illumination of the soul, the washing of regeneration, the renewal of the Spirit, the gift of adoption to sonship, the garment of incorruption, the fountain of life.

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.

What becomes obvious in the Gospel lesson is that seeing is  is not done only with the eyes.  Seeing can also mean understanding; one sees spiritually as well.  The healed blind man “sees” not only who Jesus is but also sees that the trouble with Jewish leadership is not that they can’t see with their eyes – they see clearly but don’t like what they see and so choose to blind themselves.  They can see Jesus and what Jesus is doing, but they refuse to accept what they see.  This leads them to put an evil interpretation on what is right in front of their eyes.  They are willing to blind themselves to the truth because they don’t want to admit Jesus is God’s revelation, and that the Torah bears witness to Christ who is the light of the world. They don’t want what Jesus teaches to be true.

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.

The blind man did not see Jesus first when his eyes were opened.  Rather his eyes were given sight and only later did this man physically see Jesus.  In fact when he sees Jesus with his eyes, he does not recognize Jesus!  But even before he ever saw Jesus physically, the man born blind clearly could see who Jesus is –the Messiah!  When at the end of  the Gospel lesson,  Jesus is standing right in front of the cured blind man he does not know he is talking to Jesus.  He came to faith, came to see and recognize Jesus as Messiah with the eyes of his heart, with faith, before he ever laid eyes on Jesus.  He sees the Messiah before he sees the man Jesus. That is the same way that any of us can see Jesus today.  The blind man is showing the way for all of us.  Even if we can’t physically see Jesus today we are like the man born blind and so can know who Jesus is and we can have him in our lives.  The Gospel is giving us encouragement – though we can’t see Jesus today, we know who He is and we know He is doing God’s will.  We know He is our salvation, our path to God, our union with God. We each are born blind, we don’t see Jesus, but we learn about Him, and even when we can’t see Him with our eyes we come to know Him and we come to see He is God’s Son and our Messiah in and through the saints and the Church.  As it turns out this person’s story is the story of each Christian.  This Gospel lesson is about you and you are in the Gospel.  The Gospel lesson tells us that physically seeing Jesus is of no advantage to a person – see also the account of the disciples who walk with the resurrected Jesus and don’t recognize Him in Luke 24.  Those living in the First Century have no advantage over us living in the 21st Century.  God is not visible to our eyes, but to our heart.  What we need to see is not the physical traits of Jesus but rather we need to see the Messiah, the incarnate God.  This is what an icon of Christ also reveals to us – not just a human, but the Messiah and Lord.

John 9:39-41

Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this, and they said to him, “Are we also blind?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.

If we don’t see our Lord, it is because we choose not to.  We can’t just use our eyes for this, we have to use our heart, our faith, our love.  If we think Jesus is nothing but a nice man or a miracle worker, then we aren’t seeing Christ.

Two additional notes:

1]  Jesus says the man was born blind so that the works of God might be made manifest in him — we so often see our limits or handicaps as deficits which depress us that we aren’t like others.  But in this Gospel, we see that whatever we don’t like about ourselves might also be used to display God’s power in us, it can even serve to protect us from committing the sins that everyone else does.  God might help any one of us overcome our limits and shortcomings in order to display His power to others through us.  Don’t put yourself down or feel sorry for yourself because you are not like others or feel you are somehow aren’t as good as others.  God may be protecting you from making the mistakes and sins others do, or God may use your “weakness to accomplish” His will.  As St. Paul said of himself:

And to keep me from being too elated by the abundance of revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I besought the Lord about this, that it should leave me; but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong.  [ 2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

2]  “Why me?” that’s the common questions we ask when something goes wrong in our lives.  The disciples ask Jesus about the man born blind – Why him?  What did he do or what did his parents do?

We act as if we believe in magic – do good and nothing bad can happen to you.  Jesus refutes this attitude and acknowledges there is a spiritual warfare raging in the world.   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.”    Jesus says there is a war going on between light and darkness,  and He is here to bring light to the world.   The blind man’s condition is not the consequence of some petty sin but rather is part of the cosmic battle in which evil wants to destroy life.  We are able to see heaven opened and to see how Light overcomes darkness.  We are able to receive the Light that is not overcome by the night and to enter that Light.

 

Seeking God Means God is Present

My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but thou dost not answer; and by night, but find no rest.  (Psalm 22:1-2)

 How long, O LORD? Wilt thou forget me for ever? How long wilt thou hide thy face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; lighten my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death; lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him”; lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken. But I have trusted in thy steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in thy salvation. I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.  (Psalms 13:1-6)

Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the LORD has comforted his people, and will have compassion on his afflicted. But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me.” “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have graven you on the palms of my hands …      (Isaiah 49:13-16)

Archimandrite Aimilianos comments:

“When we consider the anguish of the person who desires and seeks God, who feels deeply God’s absence, the same holds true. My anguish and my searching are themselves the presence of God in my life. To search for God means that I have already found Him, for God is already present in my searching. That I experience this anguish demonstrates that what I seek for truly exists and indeed is already with me, actively working inside me. Why, then, should I see anything other than this?” (Psalms and the Life of Faith, pp. 337-338)

 

First of all you must understand this, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own passions and saying, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things have continued as they were from the beginning of creation.” They deliberately ignore this fact, that by the word of God heavens existed long ago, and an earth formed out of water and by means of water, through which the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. . . . But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.  The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.  (2 Peter 3:3-9)

The Samaritan Woman: Coming to Faith and Ending Religion

So he came to a city of Samaria, called Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and so Jesus, wearied as he was with his journey, sat down beside the well. It was about the sixth hour. There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep; where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, and his sons, and his cattle?” Jesus said to her, “Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband; this you said truly.” The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain; and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ); when he comes, he will show us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”  Just then his disciples came. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but none said, “What do you wish?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” So the woman left her water jar, and went away into the city, and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” They went out of the city and were coming to him. Meanwhile the disciples besought him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.” So the disciples said to one another, “Has any one brought him food?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work. Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see how the fields are already white for harvest. He who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor; others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”  (John 4:5-42)

Fr. Alexander Men referring to the end of the Gospel lesson when the Samaritans come out to see Jesus writes that today we are all like these Samaritans in how we come to faith in Christ:

Samaritans surrounded the Jewish traveller, not caring that He was from a hostile nation, and led Him to their village; we do not know what happened then, but the most important thing in this story is the result. After listening to Him, they said to the woman: “Now we see the truth; no longer because of what you said, but because we have seen for ourselves.

So now all of us are in the same position: at first we believe in the words written in the Scriptures and in other books, then we believe in what other people tell us. But the happiest moment in our spiritual lives is when we come to know the mystery of God, the mystery of the Lord Jesus, as revealed in our hearts, no longer through the words of others but through our own instincts and our own profound experience. We, like the Samaritans, guess at what is true and ponder on it. But He is near us, He reveals His word to us. Only we must also be ready to hear Him – like that simple woman of Samaria, like everyone who has ears to hear and hears. Amen. (Awake to Life!, p. 78)

Fr Alexander Schmemann comments on the Gospel lesson and how it shows that Christ was declaring an end to religion not creating a new one for Christ is calling us to life itself:

Christianity, however, is in a profound sense the end of all religion. In the Gospel story of the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus made this clear. “‘Sir,’ the woman said to him, ‘I perceive that thou art a prophet. Our fathers worshiped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.’ Jesus saith unto her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father…but the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him’” (Jn. 4:19-21, 23). She asked him a question about cult, and in reply Jesus changed the whole perspective of the matter. Nowhere in the New Testament, in fact, is Christianity present as a cult or as a religion. Religion is needed where there is a wall of separation between God and man. But Christ who is both God and man has broken down the wall between man and God. He has inaugurated a new life, not a new religion. (For the Life of the World, pp. 19-20)

In Christ and Christ in Us

Commenting on the words of St Paul the Apostle, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him”   (1 Corinthians 2:9), St Symeon the New Theologian writes:

Image 1These… eternal good things… which God has prepared for those who love Him, are not protected by heights, nor enclosed in some secret place… They are right in front of you, before your very eyes… [they] are the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ which we see every day, and eat, and drink…” (ON THE MYSTICAL LIFE,  Vol 3, p 112)

What God has prepared for those who love Him, He does not hide but rather freely gives to His servants in a form that we can receive.  Not only does God not hide what He has prepared, but He enters into our lives, into our selves, into our bodies, into our hearts so that we can experience it and be both enlivened and enlightened by it!

The Eucharist is the presence of that same body born of Mary and now, through the Resurrection, entirely ‘spiritualized,’ i.e., moved and quickened by the Holy Spirit.  The New Testament accounts of Christ’s Resurrection tell, after all, of a change, not of a simple resuscitation (1 Cor 15:42-54, John 20:11-19, Luke 24:13-31).”  (Alexander Golitizin, ON THE MYSTICAL LIFE,  Vol 3, p 115)

Christ enters into us to reveal Himself to us.  It is a revelation which St Symeon says Christ made to him when He said these words to the saint:

“I am the kingdom of God that is hidden in your midst… though by nature I cannot be contained, yet even here below I am contained in you by grace; though I am invisible I become visible… I am the leaven the soul receives… [I am] He who takes the place of the visible Paradise and becomes a spiritual paradise for My servants… I am the sun Who rises in them every hour as in the morning and am seen by the intellect, just as I in times past manifested Myself in the prophets…” (ON THE MYSTICAL LIFE,  Vol 3, pp 110-111)

The same Son of God who revealed Himself to the prophets, now reveals Himself to us in the Eucharist as well as in the Eucharistic assembly, namely the Body of Christ.

The Incarnation and the Resurrection

Through His Resurrection, Christ put an end to death, changing it into a necessary passage to immortality. Seen in this perspective, death frees us from the demands and conditions of the fall. Death, the fruit of corruption and “corruptibility,” allows us to move beyond time, which in turn abolishes the corruptibility of death. There is one condition, however: that this movement be an entrance into the Kingdom already present in this world. This is what allows Death to open onto eternity.

According to St. Irenaeus of Lyons:

This is why God cast [Adam] out of Paradise and sent him far from the tree of life; not because He kept this tree of life form him out of jealousy, as some have dared to maintain, but He acted out of compassion, so that man might not remain in sin forever, so that the sin which weighed him down might not be immortal, so that evil might not be without end and thus without remedy. He kept him from his transgression, therefore, by introducing death…giving him an end through the dissolution of the flesh which would take place in the earth so that man, having “died to sin” [Rom 6:2], might be “alive to God” (Adv. Haer., III, 23, 6).

Through His Incarnation, the Logos of creation penetrated matter, His own work. The Infinite became incarnate and subject to space; the Eternal entered time. By coming into the world Christ transformed time and space, effecting a revolution with profound consequences. As God-Man He did not merely assume the corporeal limitations of our condition, He surpassed them. Destined to die by virtue of His Incarnation, whereby He entered into time and space, the crucified Christ bears the suffering and death of every person throughout time and space. Through His Ascension and Resurrection, He leads us beyond the cycle of time, to the never-setting sun.”

(Michael Quenot, The Resurrection and the Icon, p. 210)

Melitio of Sardis: Homily on the Pascha

For, himself led as a lamb

and slain as a sheep,

he ransomed us from the world’s service

as from the land of Egypt,

and freed us from the devil’s slavery

as from the hand of Pharaoh;

and he marked our souls with his own Spirit

and the members of our body with his own blood.

It is he that clouded death with shame

and stood the devil in grief

as Moses did Pharoah.

It is he that struck down crime

and made injustice childless

as Moses did Egypt.

It is he that delivered us from slavery to liberty,

from darkness to light,

from death to life,

from tyranny to eternal royalty…

It is he that was enfleshed in a virgin,

that was hanged on a tree,

that was buried in the earth,

that was raised from the dead,

that taken up to the heights of the heavens.

He is the lamb being slain;

he is the lamb speechless;

he is the one born from Mary the lovely ewe-lamb;

he is the one “taken from the flock” (cf. Ex. 12:5; 1 Sam. 17: 34),

and dragged “to slaughter” (cf. Isa. 53:7),

and sacrificed “at evening” (cf. Ex. 12:6),

and buried “at night” (cf. Ex. 12:8, 10),

who on the tree was “not broken” (cf. Ex. 12:10),

in the earth was not dissolved,

arose from the dead,

and raised up man from the grave below.

(Melito of Sardis, Homily on the Pascha, from Paul M. Blowers’s The Bible in Greek Christian Antiquity, pp. 98-99)

Ezekiel 33:11

Say to them, As I live, says the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel? (Ezekiel 33:11; see also Ezekiel 18:31-32)

St. Romanos the Melodist offers us Christian insight into Ezekiel‘s prophetic words:

“Now I shall make all known to you and I shall prophesy to you, All-Holy, unblemished.

For fall and resurrection,

your Son is set, the life and the redemption and the resurrection of all.

The Lord has not appeared so that some may fall while others rise,

for the All-Compassionate does not rejoice at the fall of mortals.

Nor has he now come to make those who stand fall,

but rather he is here hastening to raise those who have fallen,

ransoming from death what he himself fashioned,

the only lover of mankind.

(On the Life of Christ: Kontakia, p. 31)

And from the desert fathers we find a very motherly and earthy understanding of the Ezekiel prophecy:

A brother asked Abba Macarius, “My father, I have fallen into a transgression.” Abba Macarius said to him, “It is written, my son, ‘I do not desire the death of a sinner as much as his repentance and his life’ [see 1 Tim 2:4 and 2 Pet 3:9].

Repent, therefore, my son; you will see him who is gentle, our Lord Jesus Christ, his face full of joy towards you, like a nursing mother whose face is full of joy for her child when he raises his hands and his face up to her. Even if he is full of all kinds of uncleanness, she does not turn away from that bad smell and excrement but takes pity on him and lifts him up and presses him to her breast, her face full of joy, and everything about him is sweet to her. If, then, this created person has pity for her child, how much greater is the love of the creator, our Lord Jesus Christ, for us!   (St. Macarius The Spirit Bearer: Coptic Texts Relating To Saint Macarius, Kindle Location 269-279)

The unconditional love of a mother for her child is a most exquisite image of God’s love for us.  God is not repulsed by the filth of our sins but desires to embrace us with God’s eternal love if only we will allow ourselves to be so embraced.

The Myrrhbearing Women Seeking the Lord

There are some, Dearly Beloved, who seem to be seeking the Lord, but since they are slothful, and strangers to virtue, they do not deserve to find Him; nor, when found, to see Him. What however were these holy women seeking at the tomb, if not the Body of the Lord Jesus? And you, what is it you are seeking in the Church if not Jesus, that is, the Savior? But if you wish to find Him, the sun being now risen, then come as these women came; that is, let there be no darkness of evil in your hearts; for the desires of the flesh, and works that are evil, are darkness. They in whose hearts there is darkness of this kind see not like light, and understand not Christ; for Christ is the Light.

Therefore, drive the darkness from you, brethren; that is, all sinful desires, and all evil works, and provide yourselves with sweet spices, that is earnest prayer, saying with the psalmist: Let my prayer, O Lord, be directed as incense in thy sight (Ps. cxl. 2).

(St Ambrose, The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers, p. 218)