On the Sunday of the Blind Man
Sermon by Fr. Antony Hughes for Sunday, June 1, 2008
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
Christ is Risen!
The story of the Blind Man holds one of those intriguing little mysteries we may never understand. Why did Jesus use mud to heal the man? We simply do not know.
One thing we learn from it is that Jesus treats everyone in full knowledge of personal uniqueness. Each human being is unique and unrepeatable with distinctive issues, concerns and needs. Thus everyone he met was worthy of his full attention. He met the needs of the person before him with wisdom and compassion understanding the distinctiveness of each one. As CS Lewis wrote, “God has an eternity to spend with each person alone.”
Therefore we can be sure that Jesus used mud not because he needed it, but because the Blind Man did. Perhaps it was a device to rivet the man’s attention to what was happening to him at that moment.
We come from what may be history’s most distracted society. We can’t stay focused on anything for longer than a minute (if that). We value the sublime art of multi-tasking as a marketable and prized skill, instill it in our children, develop it in ourselves and then medicate our poor, depressed, fragmented selves in order to keep the unhealthy ball rolling. I would be willing to bet that the Blind Man became completely focused when Jesus spat on the ground and anointed his eyes with the moist clay. It certainly would get my attention! Jesus met every situation with wisdom and compassion because he was fully aware and awake. The Holy Scriptures tell us that God “neither slumbers nor sleeps”. It was the intent of the Lord to heal this man’s physical eyes yes, but even more to awaken his spiritual sight.
Have you ever congratulated a woman on being pregnant when she wasn’t? If you have, like me, then you will understand how important attentiveness and wakefulness are!
Attentiveness and wakefulness give birth to wisdom. Attentiveness combined with the practice of stillness and compassion produces a sacred perspective. From this sacred perspective rises prayer, pure and unobstructed ending in a communion beyond words, beyond concepts, beyond anything the human mind can ever imagine. This is what St. Paul calls “putting on the mind of Christ.” I just attended an amazing conference sponsored by the Harvard Medical School on Meditation and Psychotherapy. Scientific research has begun to show that the brain actually frames itself around spiritual practice. Spiritual practice is transformative! One begins to see the world with spiritual eyes. All men and women become honored brothers and sisters, all of life becomes a sacrament; creation, great and small, becomes a sacred and precious conduit of grace; every waking moment becomes a doorway into the kingdom of heaven. In this way, through the presence of the Holy Spirit dwelling within life, becomes filled with grace, filled with light, inconceivably filled to overflowing with joy!
Of course, there is good spiritual practice and there is poor spiritual practice. As the scripture says, “By their fruits ye shall know them.” There is one, incontrovertible fruit that will always be present if a good practice is being followed. We will get to that in a moment.
The Lord told the adulterous woman after saving her life from the angry crowd, “Go and sin no more.” This means, practice the freedom you have been given this day and do not allow yourself to become enslaved again. In that same spirit the priest says in the prayer of absolution, “Having no more care for the sins you have confessed, go in peace.” “Go in peace” means go joyfully and practice the freedom you have just been given. The practice of freedom is precisely the practice of attentiveness and compassion towards oneself and towards one’s neighbor.
The Samaritan Woman was truly sinful and yet Jesus did not condemn her. He related to her his knowledge of her life in a dispassionate and non-judgmental way. She did not resist. The Lord did not create an atmosphere of fear for her. She confessed freely that he had told her “everything she had ever done”. How wonderful! And then he revealed to her heights of theology beyond anything we have previously seen in the New Testament, except perhaps in the Lord’s encounter with Nicodemus in the dark of the night.
Whatever else the mud was for, it helped to wake the Blind Man up to what was happening to him and who was doing it. In another “blind man story” Jesus has to repeat his healing method because the results were not complete. “I see men as trees walking.” I think there is more going on in the healing miracles of Christ than meets the eye. True healing occurs on many levels, physical, emotional and spiritual.
We are all sleeping. We are all, to some extent, blind. We need to be awakened. What is the incontrovertible sign of wakefulness?
Please take this quotation from my beloved Thomas Merton to heart as a clue, “The saints are what they are, not because their sanctity makes them admirable to others, but because the gift of sainthood makes it possible for them to admire everybody else.” If we cannot find it in our hearts to “admire everybody else”, to treat every person as Jesus treated the adulterous woman and the Samaritan Woman at the Well, then we know that we are still fast asleep. The one, sure sign of a truly Christian spiritual life is the absolute refusal to judge anyone coupled with the presence of unfailing compassion and wisdom.