Cathedral of the Theotokos of Great Grace

Cathedral of the Theotokos of Great Grace

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Homily for the Sixth Sunday of Pascha

Christ is Risen!

Of our five senses, sight is probably the most dominant. When we lose our sense of sight, it can be devastating. Much of our independence is lost and we are left to rely on others for many things in our daily lives. But, as tragic as it is to lose our sense of sight, what is even more serious is the blindness of the heart. When we are spiritually and morally blind, our soul becomes steeped in darkness. Without the guiding light of Christ in our lives, the path to eternal life is obscure and we flounder about lost in the design of our own making.

Our Gospel reading this morning talks about a man who has been physically blind from birth. He has no idea what his parents look like. He has never seen a sunrise or a sunset all his life. The beauty of a rose or the blossoms of an orange tree is unimaginable to him. Most of his dreary life is spent begging on the streets of Jerusalem. The disciples ask Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man, or his parents, that he should be born blind? Jesus tells them that no one’s sins caused the man’s blindness. The man’s is, rather, an opportunity for God to make His works visible through the blind man.

And that is exactly what happens. Jesus takes this opportunity to heal the man and in this way confirms what John’s Gospel says about Jesus, that he is indeed the Light of the world. Without Jesus, we would all be in darkness. When Jesus said that He was the light of the world, he now proves it by restoring the sight of this man.

In the miracle of the healing of this blind man, Jesus draws a distinction between those who know they are blind and those who say they can see. The story ends with Jesus saying there is no excuse for the blindness of the religious leaders. It is not so much that they cannot see, it is rather the fact that they do not want to see. It is a lot like selective hearing. At times we only hear what we want to hear. Likewise, there is a difference between what we see and what we want to see. The Pharisees had a closed door policy when it came to Jesus. They could not see that Jesus was the promised Messiah and yet, the blind man came to see Him as the Son of God.

The Lord discloses many things about Himself every day to those who are open to His example and His teaching. In this instance, Our Lord was revealing Himself for Who He truly is, as God, in the restoration of sight in the blind man. But the Pharisees, who could see, missed it because of their blindness because of their spiritual blindness and the hardness of their hearts.

How many people do you know that do not believe in miracles? There are many who have difficulty in accepting the fact that a miracle has taken place and are stubborn in their refusal to see it for what it truly is. But miracles do happen and at times an even deeper but less dramatic miracle takes place that we tend to overlook.

The Pharisees were closed to the miracle that Jesus had just performed in the healing of the blind man. They were afraid to accept the fact that there was even a deeper miracle happening when many of the witnesses received the inner sight of faith and came to believe in Jesus. The Pharisees were afraid that if most of the people began to believe in Jesus, they would all lose their authority and their position in society.

In a way, I can understand why the religious leaders were skeptical of Jesus’ ways, words and actions. His spitting on the ground and anointing the blind man’s eyes with mud seemed a rather unorthodox way to heal someone of blindness. But, as unorthodox as that method may seem, Jesus does it purposely and deliberately. We can relate this incident to a previous one in the Old Testament. If you recall in Genesis, when God created Adam, He “shaped man from the dust of the ground.” (Genesis 2:7).

Jesus tells us that He continues to carry on the work of creation that began long, long ago but is not yet completed. In our Gospel reading this morning, Jesus uses the soil of the ground to rid the man of his blindness. “…He spat on the ground and made clay of the spittle and anointed the man’s eyes with the clay, saying to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.’” (John 9:6-7). The Pharisees, who had perfect vision, could not connect the two incidents. They were spiritually blind. What do you suppose causes spiritual blindness?

Spiritual blindness can take on many different forms. For example, we could be blinded by prejudice. We could be blinded by avarice, or ignorance, or indifference. Self-interest, ego and pride can blind us. Even politics can cause us to become spiritually blind. Do all politicians operate from a moral, ethical or honest platform? How many people hear can say that they trust all politicians? It is true that there are many who are honest and sincere and try their best to serve their constituents faithfully. But there are those who are voted into office and have compromised missed morals by giving into greed the lust for power and position.

The same holds true for bishops and priests. How many people can say they trust all bishops and priests? Read the newspaper and internet on any given day and one will inevitably find a story about a bishop or priest behaving badly. Certainly, many bishops and most priests are good, holy and righteous men who are striving to fulfill the duties of their holy office responsibly and faithfully, but there are also many who are self-serving, immoral and unethical whose actions bring scandal, embarrassment and dishonor to the Church.

Sadly, a goodly number of bishops and priests today are like the Pharisees of old. Even if they numbered only ten among thousands, that number is too great and can do, and has done, a great amount of damage to the Church. Such clergy are like a fast-growing cancer that creates tumors throughout the body and slowly kills its vital organs. It is a sad thing to have to admit, but our Church is infested with bishops, priests and deacons who are like vampires that suck the lifeblood out of the Body of Christ. They are spiritually blind and because of their blindness, they wreak havoc throughout the Church, causing damage wherever they go. These individuals have lost sight of Christ and so they must encounter Him again. They must seek Him out and ask Him to forgive and heal them.

How many of us here today are suffering from spiritual blindness? How many here are suffering from the affliction and sickness of hard-heartedness? Spiritual blindness may have something to do with fear. When we try to be just, when we try to look out for the poor, to avoid gossip, or try to help out others who are in need of our help, there may be some people who would be annoyed with our Good Samaritan act. We might feel uneasy with their annoyance and do nothing or try to please them by giving in to their way of thinking, or even worse, to their immoral and unethical ways. That is when bad things happen.

Bad things do not just happen without a reason. So, people begin to find reasons for many things that happen to them. And they begin to blame themselves for those things. “I couldn’t hold on to a job, so I must be a big-time loser.” “My children have left the Church and are in trouble with the law, so I must have been a bad parent.” Everything that happens in our lives has a reason behind it. Generally speaking, sin is usually the culprit for our lack of heart as well as our lack of faith.

Sin can also be a cause of much of our spiritual blindness. It actually blinds us to many of the good things that God would like us to enjoy in life. For example, did not God place Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden? In that garden they had no cares or worries. What words would you have had for Adam and Eve after they were evicted from the Garden? Perhaps you might have said something like this: “It was Paradise, Adam and Eve! What more could you ask for?” There were all kinds of fruit trees in the Garden and you were free to eat of every fruit except one. But no! You weren’t satisfied. You wanted more! Satan came along and blinded you to the point where you could only see the forbidden tree and the craving for the fruit of that tree was overpowering. You just had to have it, didn’t you? And so you fell into Satan’s trap! What were you thinking?”

Is that not how criminals are born? Is that not how home ground terrorists operate? They strike back at the community or country that gave them life. They, like Adam and Eve, fall into Satan’s trap and despite all the good things that have been provided for them, turn their backs on their country and try to destroy the very hand that feeds them.

I would like you to think about this for a moment. What has Jesus done for us? Why are you and I here in this Cathedral this morning? Most of us come here for a reason every Sunday and some come even during the week. We are here because we believe that Jesus is the Light of the world. By the grace of God, Jesus comes into our lives and changes us. he heals us of our spiritual blindness. He gives us eyes of faith to see and believe in Him even though we do not deserve it. That, and more, is what Jesus does for us. That is why we are here every Sunday – to worship and thank Him for all His mercy and goodness.

Jesus said, “For judgment have I come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.” Does that sentence make any sense? What is today’s Gospel all about? Is it about a blind man being healed? Or is this a story about those with sight going blind?

Many of the lessons we hear in the Gospel are in the forms of parables. Today’s Gospel is no different except that it is a parable with a paradox. Just when we think He means one thing, Jesus flips our perspective and we see something else. When we first heard this morning’s Gospel, we heard the story of a man born blind, of Christ healing that man’s physical blindness. But what have I been talking about? I have been talking more about spiritual blindness. Because, as you see, that is what today’s Gospel reading is really about - the spiritual blindness that affects many of us.

Today’s story about the blind man is the story of our own spiritual growth. We are the blind man as we grapple in our lives for guidance and direction. The problem is, we are looking for that guidance and direction in all the wrong places and from all the wrong people. We should be looking for guidance and direction only from God. We must ask God daily to show us the way. We must ask God to heal our spiritual blindness so that we can clearly see the way before us.

The world offers us a false sense of security. It directs in ways that do not lead to salvation or true happiness but rather to perdition and destruction. All the roads of the world lead to destruction and the culture of death. That is because the roads are attractive, smooth and easily navigable. There appear to be no obstacles or curves, only a straight freeway. The only thing is, that freeway leads straight to hell.

In order to get to where we truly want to be, we must first be cured of our spiritual blindness. To grow more spiritually we, like the man in this morning’s Gospel, have to be challenged. We must face struggle. We must face opposition. We must stand up for the truth and live it as Christ has done. We must understand that we live in a world filled with deceit, with false images of happiness and contentment. We must fight against the life-destroying poisons of consumerism, commercialism, sexual relativism, moral and ethical laxity, greed, and the allure of power and wealth.

This morning’s story of the blind man can easily be our story. We can be like Him and acknowledge Jesus for Who and what He is or, we can be like the Pharisees, whose spiritual blindness kept them in hardness of heart and unbelief. If you cannot accept, endure and work through tests and challenges to your faith, then you are just like the Pharisees: bitter, cynical, unbelieving and hard-hearted.

In the end, our life in the Church should be our rock because no intellectual argument can replace the experience of God. It is in the Church that we find God living and true. Christ lives and reigns completely in the Church and reveals all things to us as His disciples, that is, of course, if we are not suffering from spiritual blindness.

Each of us needs to find ways to experience God more fully in our lives. One way is to make sure that our participation in the Divine Liturgy is what it is supposed to be. If we are here thinking about matters of the world and not focusing on the worship and praise of God, of giving Him thanks for His many blessings upon us, then we must change our behavior and ask god to heal our spiritual blindness. Another way is to pray more. How is your prayer life? Do you set aside time every day to speak privately with God? If not, this is something that you must correct. Another way is to read the Scriptures and spiritual literature, especially the writings of the fathers and mothers of the Church and the lives of the Saints. And then, there is going out and doing something unselfish for another person. Goods works are the fruit of faith; they manifest a deep and healthy faith rooted in the Gospel and the laws of God.

Remember those times in your life when you were spiritually connected, both to God and the Church? How God felt real to you? How your vision for the future seemed clearer? What is different from then and now? The difference is that you had some experience – a spiritual one. What do you need to do to get back to your experience with God? We cannot ask God to do tricks for us, as that removes our free will from us. However, we can ask God to remove our spiritual blindness.

Let us not be like the Pharisees in today’s Gospel. As a person gains physical sight, in the world this can be wealth, power, and position, they lose their spiritual sight. The Pharisees represent the part of us that does not accept, and sometimes even rejects straight away, spiritual experience. It is our “wiser” arrogant intellectual side that insists that spiritual development fir into our rules. Under its influence, we resist transformation, even when we witness it. We dismiss what we do not control that is threatening. We rationalize away God’s will.

Given the comparison of the man’s physical blindness and the Pharisee’s spiritual blindness, the message is very clear. The spiritual blindness is much worse. The reason it is much worse is that it is harder to imaging or be worried about. But spiritual blindness is much more dangerous than physical blindness. But it is hard for us to believe. It is especially hard for us in the Church, who are supposed to be people of faith, to believe when our spiritual leaders are so corrupt and disingenuous. They are the spiritually blind leading the spiritually blind. They do not see or understand the Truth. They do not experience God in their lives, they only pretend to. Rather, they consume themselves with the pleasures and vanities of this world, seeking their own material gain and comfort while their flocks and the Church suffer great indignities and injustices because of them. Because they do not believe, the faithful come not to believe. Their spiritual blindness causes great harm in many ways.

The world in which we live is an illusion. It is a deception. It is not real. We have deluded ourselves into believing we see something that is not there. The good light of the world, and there is much in it, is hidden from our eyes because of our spiritual blindness. Being aware of our spiritual blindness, like being aware of and admitting our addiction to drugs, alcohol, sex, money or material things is the first step to spiritual recovery. The Gospel calls it repentance. This happens when the man asks this Stranger to heal him. Our greatest danger is that we listen to the voice of the Pharisee within us; that we ignore Jesus and His love even as he stands right in front of us. We might think it takes a lot of work to find Jesus and gain that experience, but the truth is it actually takes a lot of work to ignore Him.

Are you the blind man gaining spiritual insight, or the Pharisee denying what you know is spiritually true? All of us are a mix of both. And yet, ultimately that will be our judgment. It will not be standing before the throne and making a pitch for our heavenly worthiness after death. Judgment takes place when we have Jesus standing in front of us, leading us, and we refuse to see Him. We rationalize it away. We listen to the voices of evil within, and call that religious. Jesus said, “For judgment I came into the world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.” The man in the story was blind so that two thousand years later we can learn about spiritual sight. Those who had sight and could see back then never really did see. The same holds true today. Those who see really do not see at all.

Let us all pray to God that he opens our spiritual eyes, and we see our true spiritual selves in this material and false world. And let us each ask God’s guidance and courage to follow the path that sight offers us.

Christ is Risen!

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