The Joy of Gazing With Our Eyes

blindmanSunday, April 30/May 13, 2018
Sunday of the Blind Man
St. Ignatius Brianchaninov
American Mother’s Day

Acts 16:16-34
John 9:1-38

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen! On this sixth and last Sunday of Pascha, let us take stock of all that we have witnessed in this season of the Resurrection. We are presented in this morning’s Gospel with a most awesome miracle, the healing of a man blind from birth, and we are invited to behold the resurrected Christ in one last and final image, as the Light of the World. These past six Sundays have been a banquet for the senses: In the second (first after Pascha), the disciple Thomas touched His living side; in the third, the myrrh bearing women heard the message of the angel; in the fourth, the paralytic felt the ability to walk again; and last Sunday (the fifth), a woman from Samaria tasted water that satisfied her thirst forever. On this sixth and final week, a man born blind sees Him Who is the Light of the World and he receives from him enlightenment of both body and soul. Through all of these wonderful proofs of his resurrection, our Lord has turned frightened fishermen into apostles, sinful women into bold evangelists, and blind and lame people into those who could see and walk.

In the story of the man born blind, we are presented with, “… two recoveries of sight and two types of blindness: one sensory and the other spiritual.” (St. John Chrysostom, quoted in ACCS, vol. IVa, p. 336) Those who could see outwardly suffered from a spiritual blindness which made them incapable of recognizing a miracle that was as plain as day. The Pharisees in this Gospel claimed that they could see both outwardly and spiritually and because of their presumption, they failed to take joy in a truly marvelous event. It was one thing when the Lord healed the paralytic man and brought back strength to legs he already possessed. But for the blind man who never possessed the gift of sight, the Lord created something out of nothing, surprising the man, his parents, and all who knew him to the extent that some could not even believe that he was the same person. The transformation of the man was complete, for the inner eye of his mind was enlightened along with his physical senses. He professed belief in the Son of Man and worshiped Christ as God.

ignatius-brianchaninovI find it easy when I read this passage to cheer for the blind man and chuckle at the rantings of the Pharisees. My favorite bit is when they are in the midst of interrogating him, trying to trap him into giving up his alleged game, and he responds in a rather cheeky way, “I told you already, and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become His disciples?” (John 9:27) But we must resist this high-mindedness toward the Pharisees lest we miss our own spiritual blindness, our own self-delusion. St. Ignatius Brianchaninov (whose memory we commemorate this day) defines spiritual deception as:

… the wounding of human nature by falsehood. Spiritual deception is the state of all men without exception, and it has been made possible by the fall of our original parents. All of us are subject to spiritual deception. Awareness of this fact is the greatest protection against it. Likewise, the greatest spiritual deception of all is to consider oneself free from it. (On Prelest, accessed at oprelesti.ru)

It is this self-deception that leads the Pharisees to be so put off by this profound healing that they try to deny or reinterpret it to fit their falsehood. By the same token, the simple, humble faith of the blind man allows him to embrace Truth that enlightens him through and through.

What is the condition of your eyes this morning? What spiritual blindness is keeping us from truly seeing and experiencing joy in the resurrection? St. Cyril of Alexandria imagines the ecstasy of the newly healed blind man:

From now on I am able to look at things that formerly I could only hear about. Look! The bright light of the sun is shining around me. Look! The beauty of strange sights surrounds my eye. A short time ago I scarcely knew what Jerusalem looked like. Now I see the Temple of God glittering within it… And if I stood outside the gate, I could look around the country of Judea and recognize one thing as a hill and another as a tree… I as well as others shall acknowledge the great Creator. (quoted in ACCS, vol. IVa, p. 329)

1280-89507969-rosesSo many of these ordinary things are imbued with a hidden grace that those with eyes to see can behold, eyes unclouded by deception and self-importance, eyes that have been transfigured by their Creator. As it says in the Akathist Glory to God for All Things:

It is the Holy Spirit who makes us find joy in each flower, the exquisite scent, the delicate colour, the beauty of the Most High in the tiniest of things. Glory and honour to the Spirit, the Giver of Life, who covers the fields with their carpet of flowers, crowns the harvest with gold, and gives to us the joy of gazing at it with our eyes. O be joyful and sing to Him: Alleluia! (Kontakion 3)

And finally C.S. Lewis makes it clear that such joy cannot be demanded, manufactured, or controlled. Rather it comes as a gift from a most gracious and sovereign Creator:

I call it Joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and Pleasure. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again… I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. But then Joy is never in our power and Pleasure often is. (From Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life)

Knowing then that joy and spiritual sight are outside of our power, we must have the humility to ask for it and not presume like the Pharisees that we have already reached enlightenment. May He Who rose from the dead, who made the lame to walk and the blind to see, heal our spiritual infirmity and enable us to glorify the resurrected Lord in purity of heart. Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!

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