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.

 

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Baptism or Blindness

If we take the Gospel lesson of the Blind man (John 9:1-39) in its context within the entirety of John’s Gospel, we note that in the verses right before John 9:1 from John 8, Christ is in the temple and the Jews get angry with Christ and want to stone him, but Christ is hidden from them (John 8:59), or hides himself .

So they took up stones to throw at him; but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple.  (John 8:59)

The Greek word “hid” is the same as the word used in Genesis 3:8-10 when Adam and Eve hearing God walking in Paradise hide themselves from God after eating the forbidden fruit.

And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.  But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.”    (Genesis 3:8-10)

There are interesting connections between Genesis 3 and John 8, one in the temple and one in Paradise.  We know there is a relationship between the Temple and Paradise – they are interrelated realities.

In Genesis Adam and Eve are like young children covering their eyes and saying to God: “You can’t see me.”  And God even seems to play along with them in Genesis 3:9 –   But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?”

In Genesis 3 it is clear that though they still hear God after their sin, there is no mention of Adam and Eve seeing Him walking in the Garden.  They think they are hiding from God but it is they who can no longer see God.   The awareness of their own nakedness is directly the result of losing sight of God. – they are exposed despite their trying to hide.

In the temple in John 8 – the people are hearing God in Christ who is speaking to them and they don’t like what they hear.  They angrily want to stone Him but they can’t see Him for He is hid from their eyes.  Christ is God incarnate, standing in the temple – and the temple was to be the place where one could see God’s face (see my Jesus Christ Seen in the Temple), but the people can’t see Him because they don’t want to hear Him.  Eve and Adam were not happy when they heard God walking in the garden after they sinned, but though they still hear Him, they don’t see Him but they childishly think He can’t see them.  We can think about the blind man confronting the temple leaders in John 9:27:

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 blind man comes to the point: the people knowingly and willfully refuse to listen to Christ.  That is why they cannot see Him for who He is.

As we move from John 8 to John 9 we read this:

So they took up stones to throw at him; but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple.    As he passed by, he saw a man blind from his birth.  (John 8:59-9:1)

The text moves smoothly and quickly from a group of people in the temple who cannot see Him to the man born blind from birth.  He too can’t see Christ, but he too does hear Him.  The temple is the sign of God’s presence and the place to see God’s presence, but they can’t see Christ in the temple.  They all are blind but not from birth but by choice – blinded by their refusal to hear.  But there is hope – the man born blind can come to see God – he will not only hear God in Christ, at the end of the lesson he sees Christ and so sees God.  If one is born blind not by any choice or because of anything they have done, and yet can be given sight, then those who choose to be blind should also be able to give up their blindness and to see God.

It is in the midst of the people being blind to Christ, that today’s Gospel lesson happens.

Is the Gospel suggesting that this man’s blindness is different than that of the people in the temple?  This man had no choice in the matter, he was born blind – an incomplete creation but not his fault nor the fault of his parents.  Rather, we see that physical blindness is not the obstacle to knowing God that spiritual blindness is.  Spiritual blindness is a choice.   Being physically blind is not an obstacle to seeing the invisible God!

The people in the temple cannot see Christ because of their own choices.   They refuse to believe Him and so he disappears from view.  The man born blind on the other hand is willing not only to listen to Christ but to obey Him.  And once the blind man obeys Christ, he is able not only to see  but to see God!  His eyes are opened as are the eyes of his heart, and so he sees God incarnate.    He is willing to give up his blindness and doesn’t choose to remain blind.  Thus God is able to work in him.

We all need to take note – we can stubbornly hold to our own ideas and remain blind to what God is doing in the world, in the Church, in the Scriptures.  We can angrily reject things Christ says to us because we disagree with them or don’t want to do them, or don’t want to change.

OR, like the blind man we can humbly give up our opinions and choose to obey Christ.

We can take hope that even if we are suffering from some illness, whether physical, emotional or spiritual, that we have not in fact been abandoned by God but that God will work in us to His glory.   AND we can learn compassion for others who are suffering from various illnesses, even if we believe the illness is a result of their own stupid sinfulness – from lust, gluttony, greed or drunkenness – and pray for them that God will work His power in them to God’s own glory.  This Gospel lesson is totally one of hope for those suffering physical ailment, mental illness or spiritual blindness.

We come to understand that Christ works for the glory of God – in having the blind man wash in the pool, we have an image of baptism and we come to understand that we are not baptized only because we are sinners.  We don’t baptize children because they are guilty of sin.   We baptize in order to manifest the work of God in the person.  We baptize infants that they might in fact experience the glory of God and be opened to their own spiritual nature.    Baptism is not God’s reaction to human sin, but God offering to work His glory in each of us.

And note, that the man born blind did not have to know everything before washing in the pool to be freed of his blindness.  Neither do we need to know everything before being baptized – that is why we believe the baptism of infants is essential to their spiritual lives.  In the text we see all kinds of things the man doesn’t know:

He doesn’t know where Jesus is

He doesn’t know whether Jesus is a sinner or sinless.

He doesn’t know who Jesus is, even when Jesus is speaking to him.

So too we baptize children so that God’s glory can be manifested in them.  Baptism is a spiritual birthing, we grow into it.  We baptize not just because there is sin in the world, but because each of us born in this world through natural birth have the means to be born again in a spiritual birth.

As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. I tell you this, brethren: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.  (1 Corinthians 15:48-50)

Today’s Gospel lesson helps us understand the purpose of baptism which is not a reaction to past sin but a door into the future kingdom.  Baptism makes it possible for us to move beyond being merely flesh and blood, beyond being genetic beings or evolutionary beings, beyond the limits of self and society into the divine life, into eternal love, to being fully united to God.

The obstacle to our seeing and knowing Christ is not physical ailment, but spiritual blindness.  It is an obstacle that can be overcome in Christ.

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 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)

 

The Blind Man (2013)

The Gospel Lesson for the 6th Sunday of Pascha is John 9:1-38, the healing of the man born blind.

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. Athanasius of Alexandria reminds us there is a very particular reason why God chose to become incarnate and live in the world:

“‘He became human that we might become divine.’ Athanasius goes on to claim: ‘he revealed himself through a body that we might receive a conception of the invisible Father; and he endured ignominy from human beings that we might inherit incorruption’ (On the Incarnation, pg. 54). In other words, to see Christ is to gain insight into divine transcendence. And to enter into his Passion through accepting the Christian way is to gain access to divine life.” (Norman Russell, Fellow Workers with God: Orthodox Thinking on Theosis, pg. 41)

Part of the mystery of the incarnation is that the invisible, indescribable, ineffable God became human in order to reveal His divinity to us.   In revealing Himself as human, the Son of God reveals both God and humanity to us.   To understand and enter into the mystery which is God, we must become united to Christ who is God in the flesh.  We are in Christ able to see God.

Jesus said, “If you had known me, you would have known my Father also; henceforth you know him and have seen him.”

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied.”

Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?  (John 14:7-9)

St. Irenaues then says our life is seeing God, and in seeing God in Christ we are given life:

“For the glory of God is a living man, and the life of man consists in beholding God: for if the manifestation of God affords life to all living upon earth, much more does that revelation of the Father which comes through the Word give life to those who see God.” (John Behr, ASCETICISM AND ANTHROPLOGY IN IRENAEUS AND CLEMENT,  p 109)

Seeing God

In John 9 we learn a Gospel lesson from the man who was born blind but who is given the gift of sight by Christ.  Toward the very end of that pericope, Jesus finds the man whom he has healed – the man has been expelled from the synagogue community for giving honor to Christ for healing him.

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 implication in John’s Gospel is that an encounter with Jesus is an encounter with God.  To truly see Christ is to see also God the Father.  Thus the man born blind sees God, even though at the beginning of the pericope he is physically blind and can’t ‘see’ at all, and after his eye sight has been given to him, Christ is nowhere to be seen.

Only at the very end of the Gospel Lesson after he has come to faith and an understanding of who Christ is, does He come face to face with Jesus the Son of God.  Only when he has professed his belief about Jesus, confessed his faith in Jesus despite the persecution from the unbelieving community, does he experience the revelation in which he sees Christ.

“We need to return to the oft-repeated concern that ‘man shall not see me [i.e., my face] and live’ (Exod. 33:20, Judg. 13:22). We begin by noting that worldly reality is capable of experiencing theophanies, though not of producing them; the God-world relationship is of such a nature that God can appear without disruption. The intensity associated with certain theophanies does not happen because God stands in some fundamental disjunction with the world, requiring much ‘sound and fury’ to occur in God’s wake. Some of the most ‘face to face’ comings of God are very quiet, it should be remembered, even childlike. There is a certain ‘nexus’ here that cannot be denied. Although God and world are categorically different, they are not as irreconcilable as repelling magnets or oil in water. Statements about not seeing God and living seem to contradict such basic understandings, however, or at least qualify them in an important way. It has often been pointed out that Scripture does not say God cannot be seen; rather, it assumes God can be seen, but one cannot live if this happens. The issues is always a matter of life, not visibility. Even then, it seems that God is capable of allowing God to be seen by certain individuals who live to tell about the experience.” (Terence E. Fretheim, The Suffering of God, pgs. 91-92)

In Christ the unutterable truth that one cannot see God face to face and live, is irreversibly altered.   God reveals Himself to the world in Jesus Christ, and the eyes of all of those born blind to this truth are opened.

Post Paschal Sundays (PDFs)

I’ve assembled into single documents the blogs that I’ve posted each year concerning the Sundays after Pascha: St. Thomas Sunday, the Myrrhbearing Women, the Paralytic, the Samaritan Woman, the Man  born Blind, and the Fathers of the 1st Ecumenical Council.  Links to the PDF for each year are listed below.  (2008 was the year I began blogging, it is interesting to me how I changed my blogs through the years as I understood the medium – started with just reproducing texts, slowly added links and photos with less text).

2008 Post Paschal Sundays 

2009 Post Paschal Sundays

2010 Post Paschal Sundays

2011 Post Paschal Sundays 

2012 Post Paschal Sundays

Jesus Christ the God-Man

Jesus said, “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.  (John 9:5-7)

St. Athanasius of Alexandria  (d. 373 AD)  wrote:

“The very saliva of Christ was divine, healing, and life-giving because the Incarnate Word ‘adopted’ all the properties of the flesh and made them His own. It was He Who both grieved for Lazarus and then resurrected him. God was born in the flesh from the Virgin, and Mary is the Bearer of God. The flesh, which was born from Mary, did not become consubstantial with the Word, and the Word was not joined to it. Mary was chosen so that the Lord could receive ‘from her’ a body that would be ‘similar to ours’ and not consubstantial with the Godhead. ‘From Mary the Word received flesh, and a man was endangered whose nature and substance were the Word of God and whose flesh was from the seed of David, a man from the flesh of Mary.'” (St.Athanasius of Alexandria in The Eastern Fathers of the Fourth Century: Volume VII, pg. 49)

Seeing the Other’s Sin as a Way to See Oneself

The Sunday of the Blindman

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.   (John 9:1-3)

Many parents when seeing some tragic accident happen or while watching a news story about the tragedy have their children ask them, “what happened?”  The parents may offer a synopsis of what they know about the accident, but often are also evaluating – stupid kid, probably was drunk.  We try to make sense out of tragedy; it gives us some comfort to realize that there are perfectly reasonable explanations for why bad things happen.  But as the Book of Job demonstrates, sometimes the way we try to comfort ourselves in giving reason to personal tragedy are simply wrong.

The apostles in the Gospel lesson try to make sense of the blindness of this man, but there may be no reasonable explanation for it.  Trying to make sense of the man born blind’s disease, the apostles follow Job’s friends who were more trying to comfort themselves (“I won’t be next, I’ve done nothing wrong”) than to comfort Job (for they were convinced he had sinned badly).

In the Scriptures we read that St. Paul identifies himself as the foremost of sinners.  We also see the Wise Thief on the cross confessing his own sins before asking Christ’s mercy. Here is a quote from THE PARADISE OF THE FATHERS Vol. 2 regarding looking at the sins of others, and considering one’s own sins.

“If you see, moreover, a man who is a murderer, and a thief, and an adulterer, and one who sheds blood, you should think of your own final judgment.  For if this murderer at the end of his life confesses Christ, he will proceed me into the kingdom of heaven.  If you remember this is true of everyone, you will be less likely to judge them, and more likely to remember your sins.”

The tragedies of others, especially if caused by their sinfulness should give us reason to remember:  “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”