Sunday, June 01, 2008

The Blindman

+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen.

“Christ is risen!”

This morning we come to the wonderful gospel story [John 9:1-38] of the young man, born blind, who received his sight at the divine fingertips of our Lord Jesus Christ. During the years of His earthly ministry, Christ healed countless numbers of people of various infirmities but this case is notable because not only did the man receive physical healing, but spiritual healing as well. Believing in the Son of God, this young man received the enlightenment of his soul to become a true follower of Christ.

The sharp contrast between disbelief and faith, between spiritual darkness and noetic illumination is the main focus of this story. A third and vital component woven through it is the relentless grace of God which continually reaches out to those who dwell in darkness in the hope of bringing them to the light.

To explain what I mean, let us first consider the rather odd way in which Christ healed this man. To put it simply, what’s up with the “Here’s mud in your eye”? He who could raise Lazarus from the dead with His spoken word alone surely did not need to make a clay of dust and spittle in order to heal the eyes of the man born blind. But Christ had a very good reason for doing this, and to understand it, we need to put the story in context.

In the moments just before this event, Jesus had been in the Temple speaking with the Jews, but they were not at all in a listening mood. They had made several vicious accusations against Him and were working themselves up into a murderous rage. When at last He revealed His hidden divinity to them with the words, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, before Abraham was, I AM” they accused Him of blasphemy and took up stones to kill Him. “I AM,” you’ll remember, is one of the names of God. When Moses asked God His name that he might tell the children of Israel who had sent him to deliver them, God replied, “I AM THAT I AM,” and He said, “Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, ‘I AM hath sent me unto you’.” Therefore when Jesus testified to the Jews, “Before Abraham was, I AM,” they perfectly understood what He was saying and that He was claiming to be the eternal God. They took up stones to kill Him because they refused to believe that it was true.

By a divine miracle, and because His time had not yet come, Jesus passed harmlessly through the mob and leaving the Temple, immediately came upon this blind man. When His disciples asked Him if it was because of sins that he had been born blind, Jesus answered no, but rather that he had been born blind in order that the works of God should be made manifest in him. He then did something that was unmistakably a work of God. He who had fashioned Adam from the dust of the earth, forming it into clay and making that clay into a living man, again took dust from the earth and formed it into clay, to fashion living eyes for a man born blind. Only the Creator Himself could accomplish such a work. When Jesus had answered that this man had been born blind so that the works of God might be made manifest, He did not mean the works of God the Father, but His own divine works. He did this powerful and dramatic post-creative act to manifest His deity to the Jews and to prove to them that He truly was the great I AM who had created the world and had now come into it to bring light, redemption, and a new creation.

Witness therefore that great grace of God that reached out to the Jews—even the very ones who moments before had sought to kill Him for blasphemy—that reached out to them in the hope that they might see and understand and believe at last. Witness the great hardness of heart that prevented them from such belief, even when it became perfectly clear that Jesus really had given sight to a man born blind, and that such a thing could only have been done by the hand of God. In the end they cast the young man out of the synagogue in a fit of indignation, rather than humble themselves to believe what their own eyes had revealed to them. Thus, though they could see, they became blind through the denial of what they saw. The young man who could not see had his eyes opened to behold Jesus his Creator, and he worshipped Him. He became an enlightened holy one of God, while the others became blind and darkened blasphemers. The contrast between the two is stark and frightening.

I hope after reading a passage like this, our inclination is to pray, “Lord, do not deprive us of noetic sight, but grant us all the more to glorify You as Your grace enters into our lives!” That same grace of God that we saw working so hard against all odds to bring faith even to those who hated Christ, is constantly at work in our lives as well. The grace of God visits us frequently, with the purpose of building in us faith and love and obedience to God, and spiritual perception and understanding. It seeks to kindle within us a longing for God, and that deep desire to know Him and to worship Him with our lives. It calls us to make good choices in those lives that we might put aside sin and arrogance to discover that we actually can live in purity and humility before God. It beckons us to abandon every false love and inappropriate attachment in order to experience without competition the fullness of the love of God, and be utterly transformed by our communion with it.

Yes, the grace of God visits us daily to draw us to salvation. Our problem is that we don’t always recognize it as God’s grace when it does appear. We might tend to think of the grace of God as that which forgives us our sins, brings blessing into our lives, and perhaps even brings our car to a safe stop when we suffer a blown tire on the freeway. That’s fine, but the grace of God also takes other forms. Remember that the primary action of God’s grace is to bring salvation to us, and salvation requires that we follow the narrow and difficult way. Thus the grace of God often appears as opportunities to struggle and toil and to find our salvation.

The grace of God may frustrate some plan that you have made, challenge you in some area of life, take away something you value, or bring some obnoxious person or distressing situation into your life. It may even allow far worse things to happen to you, if in fact there is a greater good to be accomplished through them. The grace of God is not always warm and fuzzy but often reflects the harsh reality of what is necessary to save us. Immature Christians often unwittingly fight against the grace of God when it takes such forms because they have not trained themselves to surrender to the will of God, nor have they learned to accept all things as coming from His hand and as being ultimately good and beneficial. We may fight the grace of God simply because we are not yet oriented toward salvation and eternal life in our perspective, but still judge all things on the basis of how they make us feel right now.

Are we very much unlike the Pharisees in this? The grace of God appeared to them but not in a form they were expecting, and so they fought against it. Is it possible that we have ever done the same by fighting against things we didn’t like, never seeing that they were sent to us by God for our salvation? The truth is we will fail to recognize the grace of God in most cases until we train ourselves to look for it. “Teach me to treat all that comes to me throughout the day with peace of soul and with firm conviction that Thy will governs all”. That’s an excerpt from the 19th century morning prayer written by Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow. It’s a very good prayer to begin each day with, but also to keep in mind during the day when all those unexpected things pop up and threaten to disrupt our focus on heaven and distract us from our pursuit of salvation.

May we learn to look for God’s grace, that the eyes of our hearts may be fully opened. May we no longer be blind to God and His workings in our lives, but learn to recognize Him and follow Him in all things.

+To the glory of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.