The Man Born Blind
Sermon Preached by Father Antony Hughes on the Sunday of the Blind Man (June 1st, 2003)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
Christ is Risen!
This is the last Sunday we will say this to one another. The Leave-Taking of Holy Pascha and the Feast of the Ascension occur this week. But remember, every Sunday Liturgy with only a few exceptions, is a celebration of the Resurrection of Christ. Although we say goodbye to the Feast we never say goodbye to the Resurrection.
This week we come to the fifth of the signs St. John offers as illustrations of the deity of Jesus Christ. The healing of the man born blind seems to illustrate most particularly the saying of the Lord that occurs in John 8:12 and 9:5, "I am the light of the world." The light of Jesus is contrasted with the blindness of the people both of the blind man himself as well as the unwillingness of others, including the Pharisees to believe.
The theme of water appears again when Jesus instructs the man to go and wash his eyes in the pool of Siloam. Illumination comes by means of water. It is well known that the Gospel of John reflects on the words and works of the Lord sacramentally. In the language of the Church baptism in water brings salvation. St. Peter says this most directly in his first epistle,
…he (that is, Jesus) also went to preach to the spirits in prison who had
once been disobedient while God patiently waited in the days of Noah
during the building of the ark, in which a few persons, eight in all, were saved
through water. This prefigures baptism, which saves you now. 3:20-21
So we all have been illuminated by the Holy Spirit through baptism. "To be baptized is to die and rise again with Christ, in him. To die to the death that is so deeply entwined with our life." (Clement, ROCM, p. 103) The water closes over us like a tomb and yet this tomb becomes the place of rebirth through the descent of the Holy Spirit. And from this watery tomb we rise again, born anew. The Church has always understood this to be the meaning of the words of Christ recorded by St. John, "Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot enter the kingdom of God…You must be born from above." (John 3:5)
But this great gift of God may remain dormant in us if we desire it, if we do not seek to activate it. The heart lit by God may burn low and become a tiny spark if we do not fan it and feed it with faith and good works. If we do not place upon this spark kindling, that is prayer and acts of mercy, then it will never burst into flame and we will find ourselves, even after illumination, stumbling in the dark like blind men.
This light, this flame, this fire comes from the face of Christ Himself, for he is the Light. It is He who lives in us and who becomes our new life as St. Paul says, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me!" This is what the Lord means when he tells his disciples that the kingdom of heaven is within. Where Christ is there is the kingdom. We do not look up or down to the right or left to find our Lord for he has set up his kingdom within, in the depths of our beings, in that mysterious place the Scriptures and the Holy Fathers and Mothers of the Church have rightly called "the heart."
And since it is not far away we can at any and every moment gain access to it. In faith we make the descent from the busy, cumbersome and anxious world of our perceptions to the interior place of our redemption, gathering and quieting our thoughts as we go so that we can offer our whole selves to the God who dwells within without distraction and then the peace of God begins to reign in us and we become ourselves peace-makers. The peace of God that grows within the heart and mind of the one who seeks cannot but overflow and become a fountain from which all can drink. Did our Lord not say, "Out of your bellies shall flow rivers of living water?"
We do this not for ourselves, but for all. Patriarch Ignatius told us when he was last here that when we are baptized we are baptized not for ourselves alone, but for the sake of the whole world. We cannot keep this great gift to ourselves. But first we must open the gift, we must fan and feed the flame. We must purify our hearts. We must make peace within so that thousands around us can be saved, as St. Seraphim so beautifully teaches us. Think of the words of our Lord. "Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God." "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." This is the work of every Christian and this is the work of all of us together.At every Liturgy, at this very Liturgy, let us from this moment on, with illumined minds and hearts joined together at the Table of God, be open to receive Him so that the grace that is in us will become operative. Now is the time. Today is to day of salvation. Even now we stand in the doorway of the Kingdom and we must decide whether or not we would like to enter in