The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. John. (9:1-38)
In today’s gospel reading from St. John we have a truly miraculous story about a man born completely blind who gains his sight because of the Lord Jesus Christ. We begin with an important question of the disciples to the Lord Jesus. They ask the Master, “who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” This is such an interesting question because it points to something quite human about us. When bad things happen in our lives or in the lives of others, we are often very quick to place blame and to feel that the bad things might indeed be punishment from God. In this way we are similar to those who believe in the idea of karma. But the living God is not like us. God is love and He desires all men to be saved and to come to knowledge of Him and communion with Him.
Perhaps one of the first elementary steps in a spiritual journey should be to cast aside this juvenile tendency to see every bad thing as punishment from God. The Lord Himself says as much when he answers the disciples saying “Neither this man nor his parents sinned. But that the works of God might be made manifest in him.” Instead of seeing bad things in our lives as divine retribution, we are encouraged by the possibility offered by Our Lord that these things might in fact be a chance for the work of God to become clear and powerfully present for us. After all, how often do we acknowledge God when we have small problems that are easily solved by our own efforts? Yet how often do we acknowledge and pray when a situation seems hopeless? One points us towards ourselves and the other points us directly towards our Creator.
Now into this hopeless situation with the blind man we see the Lord Jesus Christ become present and act powerfully. Throughout this story we are reminded that there is not one type of blindness but two. There is physical blindness such as that of the blind man and then there is something that is far far worse, that is spiritual blindness. There is a clear juxtaposition between the man who has gained his sight and the Pharisees who are spiritually blind to the work of the Lord Jesus, the Son of God in their midst.
This theme of blindness and sight points to the ideas of faith and belief versus unbelief. For the Pharisees it was easy to see that Jesus had broken the sabbath in their narrow human terms, but it was not easy for them to see the miracle that He had performed with the eyes of the hearts. They questioned the man. They questioned his parents. Then they questioned this man again. None of the answers that were given to them were good enough. They refused to accept any idea or thought that was out of line with their preconceived notions and expectations. Sometimes we call this “cognitive dissonance.” It is a blind spot in our understanding regardless of what evidence is presented to us.
The Pharisees began to turn hostile towards the man who had been blind and as they questioned him, he in turn began to question them saying “Do you also want to become His disciples?” To this the Pharisees answer in a rather telling way. They reply “You are His disciple, but we are the disciples of Moses.” That is a sad statement. It’s not that Moses was bad. Moses is a great prophet and saint of the Holy Church, but one cannot compare the created with the Creator.
This statement by the Pharisees also reminds us of the gospel reading that we read on the Holy night of Pascha. The Easter reading that day is John Chapter 1 and the passage ends with these words “For the law came through Moses, but grace and truth through Jesus Christ.” What a verse! The law came first but it was meant to prepare us for the Lawgiver Himself!
That is the crux of the matter. For the Pharisees, the law was their god and their salvation. It was understood in the narrowest of terms and always used as an opportunity to point fingers and accuse and blame others, while excusing and justifying themselves. Satan himself would be proud because he is also an accuser. He accuses each of us in our daily spiritual struggles. He whispers in our ears and tells us that God could never love us. He tells us that we are wretched sinners and terrible people who have no hope whatsoever. But that is not reality. It is true that we are sinners, but there is more to the story through the One who poured out His grace upon us. St. Caesarius of Arles writes “What does the law do without grace, except make people still more guilty? Why? Because the law knows how to obey but not how to help; the law can point out sin, but it cannot take sin away from people.”
What can take away sin and abolish it completely from our lives and our existence? What can get rid of the darkness? Light. And if that is true in a dark room that receives a candle, how much more is that true when the whole universe receives the light of Jesus Christ? Faith in Christ welcomes this light into our hearts and sweeps away the darkness and the blindness. But let me remind you that faith or belief is not simply a mental exercise. It is a way of life. Belief is according to the New Testament Greek, a life changing conviction. It is even here in the text of the gospel. First the blind man believed in Christ and then we are told that “he worshipped Him.” Being an Orthodox Christian is a way of life and this life is one of worship. I’ve had the joy of bringing a few people into the Church and I want to tell you that the thing that saddens me most is to see those who are brought into the Church living their old way of life. Sometimes it appears that nothing has changed except for the fact that they come to the church on Sunday morning. But exercising our faith in Christ as an Orthodox Christian requires a daily effort. This daily effort is sprinkled with God’s grace and prepares us to become spiritually vibrant. We not only receive His light but radiate this light wherever we are.
Christ offers each of us these gifts. He freely shares them with us. Our natural response is to believe and offer our hearts to Him in unceasing prayer and worship. Christ is risen!