Sermons at St. Nicholas:
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen, Christ is risen!
For the two previous Sundays, and including this Sunday now, we have been speaking about how to have a fulfilling spiritual life, and today I want to talk about the gospel in terms of this idea of spiritual sight. Now, you will notice on the bulletin, and you will notice in the official titles of the Sundays, we always say, “This is the Sunday of the healing of the man who was born blind.” But honestly, I think, and the gospel reading is very clear, if you read it—it is long—but if you read it several times, you will understand the real import of this reading is that it has a two-fold purpose.
So we might say, “This is the Sunday of the healing of the man who was born blind, and the non-healing of the Jewish leaders, who remained blind.”
The scriptures are very interesting, the way that they approach this idea of spiritual sight, of being open to spiritual truth, and drinking in spiritual truth. It could also be misunderstood, in the way it is presented. I just want to read a couple of verses to you from the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus is speaking in this gospel, and he is explaining why he speaks in parables. Now, today’s gospel reading is not a parable. It really happened. A parable is a story that has a spiritual truth. But he says something very interesting. Why does Jesus teach in parables? He says, “Therefore, I speak to them in parables, because seeing, they do not see, and hearing, they do not hear, nor do they understand.” Then he goes on to quote Isaiah, and of course, in our bible study we are studying Isaiah:
And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says, “hearing you will hear, and shall not understand, and seeing you will see, and not perceive, for the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them.”
The Scriptures have a way of saying that God closes their eyes. Sometimes it speaks of Pharaoh and the Old Testament says that God hardened his heart. But really, that is sort of a poetic way of saying Pharaoh chose to harden his heart. So it is with us. We have the choice, whether to see the truth and have our blindness removed, whether we hear the truth and have our deafness removed. We can choose to do that.
So I want to talk, in this Gospel reading, about three causes of spiritual blindness. Again, if we want to have a fulfilling spiritual life, we have to do the things that are necessary for us to be open to this truth, and so in this context of speaking about spiritual sight, if we do not want to be spiritually blind, let us look out for these three things: The first one in the Gospel reading that is presented to us is ignorance. Ignorance is an incredible cause of spiritual blindness, and I might even say, it is probably the greatest cause of spiritual blindness. If we do not open our minds and take the time to learn the truth, we will never learn it by osmosis, especially in this society.
In this society, at this particular time, if you want to understand something, you need to read, you need to study, you need to listen, you need to be open that teaching. So, in the gospel reading, in the second and third verse, it says, “And his disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man, nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.’”
Listen to the question again: Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? In other words, they posed the question in such a way, not to be open to any other answer. Obviously, if this man was born blind, somebody had to sin. Who sinned, this man or his parents?
But Jesus said, you are not asking the right question. You are starting with the wrong premise. You are ignorant of why I am here in the first place. I am not here to say this man sinned, or these parents sinned. I am here to do the works of God. So, his blindness is an opportunity to show the mighty works of God, that he can remove the blindness of this man. Do you understand? So, in our hearts, and in our minds, I think, unfortunately, sometimes we approach God and we approach church, with our preconceived notions. We seldom step out of that comfort zone to say, “You know, I really don’t know much about the bible, maybe I should read it. I really don’t know much about the teaching of the church, maybe I should learn it.”
We are very fortunate in this parish. We have had a bible study for nine years in this parish. Now, admittedly, not many people take care of it, so I assume that means everybody else knows the Scriptures very well, right?
But what does it really mean? What is means, is that we have to change our priority for what we want to know. We should never put ourselves in the position where we say, you know what? I know enough. I know enough about God, I know enough about the church. Or, let the priest take care of it, that is his job. You see? Sometimes that is our attitude. And it is not a healthy one.
I remember when my father had retired, and I will be perfectly honest with you, I would say my father read the scriptures occasionally, and certainly he provided the sermons and would prepare for the sermons, but I do not think he was necessarily a student of the scriptures. And I remember it was rather odd, after he retired, he really became a voracious reader of the scriptures, like I had never seen all my life. Ever since I was in high school, I would always walk around with a bible all the time and read the scriptures constantly, and I said to my dad, “All of a sudden you are reading the scriptures all the time. Why are you doing that?” He said, “I am getting ready for my final exam.”
We do not want to cram for our final exam. I think that we want to make the scriptures, especially, first and foremost, a part of our lives as Orthodox Christians. If nothing else, by reading those daily readings that are on the calendar. You know, we will say, “Well, I read something and I do not understand it.” At that point, it is enough to read it. It is enough to get familiar with it. The understanding will come if you are open to it, and if you want to put the time into it. But simply to read it is, I think, the most important first step.
So, ignorance—ignorance is a tremendous cause of spiritual blindness.
Here is another one. Verse 16:
Therefore, some of the Pharisees said, ‘This man, Jesus, is not from God, because he does not keep the Sabbath.’ Others said, ‘How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?’ And there was a division among them.
The Pharisees said, “He is not from God.” The other people said, “He is a sinner.” One of the greatest causes of spiritual blindness, of our inability to see the truth, is simply cynicism—of looking at everything sort of with a spurned eye. You know, maybe we got burned. Maybe we had a bad experience in church 25 years ago. And we have closed that part of our heart off. Or maybe we read an article about somebody that did some bad thing, and therefore, we always keep the church, and God, at a distance.
This cynicism, I believe, is a cancer and a poison. It is a cancer and a poison because it will extinguish whatever light is in our heart, whatever trust that we have in the church and in God and in the leaders of the church. That cynicism simply poisons whatever goodness is really happening. We are blind to it. So we see everything with this cynical view and we say, “Oh, yeah, well he did this, but he also did that. He might have done a little bit of good, but look at all that bad he did.” And we tend to not only look at the church in that manner, but we look at everything in that manner. We become sort of negative, and we become poisoned with that.
So that cynicism—we have to be able to recognize these things in ourselves. If we have that cynicism in our heart, we will never be open to the truth, we will never be open to that love and that light that God wants to give us. He has to pour his Holy Spirit into a clean vessel, into an open vessel.
So let us not be cynical. Let us be positive and supportive and trusting, so that we can really experience the spiritual life that God wants us to experience.
The final one:
Then they said to him, the man that was healed, again, ‘What did he do to you? How did Jesus open your eyes?’ And the man answered them, ‘I told you already and you did not listen. Why? Do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciple?’ Then they reviled him and said, ‘You are his disciple, but we are Moses’ disciples. We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we do not know where he is from.’
The third cause of our spiritual blindness is this hardness of heart. Maybe the cynicism and hardness of heart are related. Maybe one causes the other. But this hardness of heart—again, if we are unwilling, as God says, to replace our heart of stone with a heart of flesh, God will never be able to manifest His work in our lives. Never! Because what is it that God wants to change in us? The heart, in Orthodox parlance, and in scriptural parlance, is really the center of our being, it is who we are, when it refers to our heart. We say, “He has a good heart, he has a bad heart, he has a hard heart. He is a good person. He is a hard person. He makes it difficult.” Why would we want to make it difficult on God to change us?
When we have this hardness of heart, when we hold onto whatever grudge it is, and we are unwilling to let that go, and unwilling to soften our attitude and soften our life, our spiritual blindness will remain.
These are very important truths that this very long gospel reading presents to us. If we take the time to look at it in this way, it becomes then, not just another story about healing, but it becomes the very principles of truth for what God wants to do in my life. God wants me to see the world, and the person sitting next to me, with new, bright, spiritual sight. But because of our ignorance, and our cynicism, and our hardness of heart, our spiritual sight is myopic. We are not able to see things the way God wants us to see them, and we might even say, the way they really are. It does not mean that we have to be naïve, it means that we have to be open to the truth.
So as we are going about our week, let us think about this Gospel reading. Let us think about our relationship to God, and our relationship to the church. How do I see it? Do I question everything? Do I cynically look at everything and say, “Well that will never work,” or “we did this before,” or “it will never happen.” Or can we be open, and can we be positive and hopeful that goodness really does exist. That God really wants to change us. That he wants to forgive us. That he dies on a cross, he shows his power over sin and death by raising from the dead, and that is what we continue to celebrate today. God wants us to have very clear and very bright spiritual vision, about Himself, and about each other, and about ourselves.
Let us be open to that. Let us remove all ignorance, and all cynicism, and whatever stones and hardness that are in our hearts. Let us remove that by whatever way possible. It simply is a matter of cooperating with the Grace of God, and a matter of our will assenting to that. Let us do that, and then we will see the true brightness of the resurrection.
To Him who is our life, with the Father and the Spirit, be glory, honor and majesty, always, now and ever, unto ages of ages. Amen.
Christ is risen!