Sermon – Sixth Sunday of Pascha 2022
Today is the Sunday prior to the Feast of the Ascension that will be celebrated in our church with the Divine Liturgy this Thursday, June 2nd at 10 a.m. The eve of the Feast of the Ascension is the conclusion of the festal season of Easter and is the “Leave-taking of Pascha.” A Great Vespers will be held at 5 p.m. that will conclude the Paschal liturgical cycle, when the image of the crucified Christ will return to the Holy Cross. Each Sunday, since Holy Pascha, we have been reading lessons from the Gospel of St. John, beginning with chapter one on the night of Easter.
Today’s Gospel lesson is remarkable: The Healing of the Man Born Blind was among the lessons read on the Saturday night of Easter, at the time when Christian catechumen’s were baptized. It was chosen for the purpose of focusing upon the themes of the Feast of the Resurrection, namely: washing, illumination, healing, faith, conversion and salvation. The uniqueness of this miracle, chosen among the baptismal lessons is that it highlights Christ’s work in unity with the Father as a “new creation.” The unusual miracle that dumbfounded many was unique because it is about a man whose choice was not to be blind. He was born blind and the Lord worked a miracle.
All of us, like the blind man in today’s lesson, have contemplated at one point in our life: who we are. We have perhaps tried to understand something about what God intends for us to do – why we were born of a particular linage, have certain predetermined traits, characteristics, dispositions, abilities or disabilities. In all honesty, we don’t have all of the answers in this life. You and I are not God, and may have to consider it a matter of “luck.” That is to say, live with “the cards that we have been dealt.”
In a hymn from last the Saturday Vespers service we heard these words: The blind man thought to himself and said: I wonder if I was born blind due to the sin of my parents? Have I become an example of the faithlessness of the Gentiles? I cannot stop asking: When is the night, when is the day? …I have never seen the sun shining, nor have I seen my Creator in any form whatsoever. I beseech Thee, O Christ God, to look upon me and have mercy upon me.
You may recall that in the Gospel last week, the paralytic had been paralyzed for 38 years, sat at the edge of the pool – the pool that… and when the Lord saw him he said, “Do you want to be healed?” At the end of the lesson we are told that on another occasion the Lord found the man at the Temple and admonished him to stop sinning in order that nothing worse would happen to him. In contrast to the lesson we hear today, the paralytic’s illness we understood to be tied and related to sins he committed. This was not the case for the blind man.
Today’s Gospel lesson is found within the full context of a section of St. John’s Gospel where our Lord is teaching in the Jerusalem Temple courts during the Feast of Tabernacles – following the Feast of the Passover. On the final and most important day of the Feast, the Lord boldly declared that He is the only source of living or life-creating water (7:37-38); that He is “the light of the world (8:12); that He was sent by the Father (8:16); that the Jews who failed to recognize him were not the true descendants of Abraham (8:39). And then if that was not enough to anger His audience, at the end of chapter eight in St. John’s Gospel, we hear Him state that “Before Abraham was, I AM” (8:58). This statement infuriated his listeners that they began stoning him because He used the name of God for Himself; the name of God that was revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. Upon leaving the Temple, Jesus immediately performs the miracle that demonstrates the truth of all that He claimed to be: He causes a man who was born blind to see, and imparts something even greater: spiritual sight.
St. John tells us that “as Jesus passed by, He saw a man that was blind from birth” (v. 1). Note that the man was not brought to Jesus. Nor did the man approach Jesus asking for mercy. It is clear that in this case Jesus took the initiative. The dialogue that follows between the Disciples and Jesus (vs. 2-3), clears up a misconception that was a common superstition of that time: the belief that the man’s blindness was a judgment upon him for the sins of his parents or the result of his own sins.
In first century Palestine, the opinion of certain Epicurean philosophers was very prevalent. The Epicureans believed that the soul had a pre-existence, and that any sins committed in this pre-existent state then descended in an immaterial manner into the body. Jesus, rejected such a belief and clearly stated, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him” (John 9:3).
The belief of the Epicureans reminds me of some today who enjoy captivating people’s attention, going around talking about their own interpretation or superstition of what they believe God’s will is; especially when people are in search for answers that are never easy, if even possible to find.
If you or I feel the need or have the desire to pray for someone, we should do just that and never presume to know what God’s will is. There are times when things of prayer are best never to be discussed with others. If God motivates you to pray for someone, do that. Don’t talk about it. Remember your conversation is with God. You and I should never presume to know more than we do. One who prays should not go witch hunting. Nor should you or I take upon ourselves burdens which is not ours to carry. You and I are and will be accountable to God for what are our own responsibilities.
In today’s lesson the followers of Christ were admonished to make use of the day in working out their salvation, for the night of their death will come when they will no longer be able to work. In verses 4 and 5 of today’s lesson we hear Jesus say: I must work the works of Him who sent me, while it is day: the night comes, when no man can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world. The Son of God is the light of the world. His work on coming into the world is to enlighten every man (John 1:9). He must do this “while it is day”, that is, as long as He is in the world (9:5). The “night comes, when no man can work” is that time when Christ will be delivered up by sinful men who prefer darkness, and He will go away. [Remember that later in the Gospel, at the time of Jesus’ betrayal, it was night, and at His crucifixion, “darkness fell over the whole earth” (Luke 23:44).]
Just prior to performing the miracle, the Gospel records that Jesus spat on the ground and made clay of spittle, then anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay (recall the creation of Man in the Book of Genesis) and sent him to wash in the pool of Siloam. This instruction made by Jesus was not without purpose. First, remember that Jesus had been at the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem. Part of that feast involved bringing a large urn of water from Siloam on the first seven days – but not the eighth day, for the rites of purification. These rites were a figure of the true purification, which is in Christ. St. John Chrysostom comments that Jesus intended to prove that He was not estranged from the Law and Old Covenant. Further, the significance of using water from Siloam was to commemorate the Hebrews wandering in the desert when water miraculously came out of the rock of Horeb, when by God’s command, it was struck by Moses (Exodus 17:1-6).
The remainder of St. John’s Gospel speaks of the blind man’s spiritual healing. This part of the miracle can be best summarized by the church’s Wednesday morning ode of the canon: When Thou didst open the eyes of him who could not see the perceptible light, Thou didst enlighten the eyes of his soul as well. Thou didst move him to glorify thee, for he had come to know Thee as the Creator, who out of compassion did appear as a mortal man. The blind man goes from his knowledge of experiencing the physical miracle to a complete conviction about Jesus as the divine Son of God.
What follows is poetically described further in last Monday’s morning hymn: Blindness [came upon] those who supposedly had eyes that saw, for darkness seized their minds and souls and enshrouded their thoughts when they beheld the man who was blind regain [his] sight. The Apostle Paul quotes the Law and the Prophets in writing the Romans to describe God’s own doing. He first quotes Deuteronomy 29:4 and Isaiah 29:10 – God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes so that they could not see and ears so that they could not hear, to this very day. And then quoting David’s prophesy: May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see, and their backs be bent forever (Psalm 69:22, 23). This, the Apostle goes on to say was accomplished by God in order that those who were not Jews would be saved (Romans 11:11), and also that those who considered themselves “chosen” might be made envious.
The dialogue heard between the blind man and the Pharisees that follows, not only confirm the healing. What happens is that the blind man affirms his faith and conviction in declaring that the One who gave him sight does the will of God and did something never done before: “He opened the eyes of one born blind” (vs. 30-32). He has “to be of God” (v. 33).
In conclusion, we have heard about a man whose choice was not to be blind. He was born blind and the Lord healed him dumbfounding many, some who willfully chose to be blind; those who could not accept the truth, having great difficulty with what they witnessed and heard. Their minds rejected what is difficult for them to acknowledge. Third, and perhaps, the most shocking of all, we heard about God who prevented some from seeing and understanding. For it was God’s purpose that those who were perceived as the ones condemned and outside of the promise would not be excluded but those who were “chosen” and ultimately saved.