|Homily 7th Sunday After Pentecost: the Healing of two Blind Men. Matt. 9:27-35|
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen; glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
There is a pattern emerging in the past few Sundays’ Gospel readings. In the past few readings we have seen men freed from the grip of demons, a paralyzed man is freed from the shackles of his own body, and today we see two men given their sight. In the upcoming weeks we will hear about the feeding of the five thousand, the Lord walking on water, and the forgiveness of sin and how we should forgive others to receive forgiveness. The readings culminate in the feast of the Procession of the Cross (which was carried through the city of Constantinople for healing), the Transfiguration, and finally the Dormition of the Theotokos. It may be off-season for Florida, but for the Church this is one of the busiest times of year! The Feast of the Cross and Transfiguration remind us of what was done for us by Christ (this is the feast of the Cross) and what we were meant to be before the Fall and what we can become again (this is the Transfiguration). The feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos shows us what it is possible for human beings to be, through the grace of God, fully divinized, filled with the Holy Spirit and become the likeness of God.
By men being freed from the possession of Demons we see that Christ has the power to free us from our own addiction to darkness. The healing of the man from his paralysis with his first being forgiven his sins, we are shown that Christ has the power to forgive us our sins and free us from the shackles of our passions and vices that hold us prisoners, bound to our bed of shame. Today we hear of two men who are given their sight so that we may know that our spiritual eyes may be healed and that we may keep a continual remembrance of God and say with the Psalmist, “I beheld the Lord ever before me.” (Ps. 15:8 LXX).
According to the teachings of the Fathers, St. Gregory Palamas in particular, we are to see the two men healed of blindness as representing the two peoples of the world, the Jews and the Gentiles. No one is left out of the possibility of being healed by their faith in the Lord. One of the main types of healing the Lord performed was that of curing the blind. So many blind people were healed that St. Gregory could say (and I can only think that he had a good sense of humor in saying this) “I doubt any blind person in Judea or the surrounding areas in those days remained sightless.” Indeed the Lord began His public ministry when he entered the Synagogue and read from Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me because of which He anointed Me. He sent Me to proclaim good news to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to preach liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind…”
The Lord told those assembled, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” The healing of the blind, as was said earlier, served as a sign of a greater healing: the healing of the eye of the soul. St. Gregory writes in his homily on today’s Gospel that “the Lord’s principal reason for coming to earth was not to open men’s physical eyes, but the eyes of their souls, which receive their sight through the preaching of the Gospel.” We are to seek first the kingdom of heaven and God’s righteousness and all other things that we need will be provided.
There is an important point to consider, as well, when we look at the quote from Isaiah that the Lord read in the Synagogue. He spoke of the “recovery of sight to the blind…” He spoke of recovery, not the giving of sight, but the recovery of sight as if those who were blind then had not always been so (though we know that some of them healed had been blind for their whole lives). When something is recovered it means that that which was recovered was once possessed. In other words, if we are to look at this spiritually, we see that mankind once had the correct spiritual sight, but that we lost it. How did we lose this sight? The Scriptures tell us:
6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.
It is ironic, isn’t it, that the opening of the eyes of Adam and Eve was when they truly became blinded spiritually. The eyes have been called the windows to the soul. Usually people mean that in a poetic or romantic way, but it is true in a very pragmatic, down to earth way as well. Note that Eve saw that the tree was “good for food and pleasant to the eyes…” Often the eyes are main point of attack for the evil one. Think about how much information we receive through our eyes whether it is through television, the internet, our text messages, movies, books, plays, art…the list goes on. Note that even gluttony can be enflamed by visual cues. The Scriptures didn’t say that Eve noticed that the forbidden fruit smelled really good or that it had a satisfying crisp sound when bitten (I, myself imagine that it was a mushy fruit). Indeed, the Church Fathers warn us that it is through the eyes that many of the attacks of the evil one will come.
The Lord has given us the opportunity to heal the blindness of the eye of our soul. At our baptism it is said that we are illumined. For that moment after our baptism we have our true eyesight back. If we were adults when we were baptized, we know that we didn’t keep it long, though we kept the capacity for it (whereas before the incarnation that capacity was severely limited). Our sins darken the eye of our heart, of our soul. Children hold that innocence longer by their very nature, but they too will lose their innocence eventually. In baptism and Chrismation, though, our nature was regenerated to a state which is able to have its sight restored. When we repent, when we go to confession, when we partake of the sacraments and receive grace, we are cleansed a bit more and our spiritual eyesight becomes a little sharper. But we are called to guard the entry way to our soul. We are told by the desert Fathers that we are to guard all of our senses from corrupting influences.
The temptations to sin, intrusive thoughts, come from many places. St. Thalassios lists three places through which thoughts arise: “through the senses, through the memory, and through the body’s temperament. Of these the most irksome are those that come through the memory.”
Reading this statement of St. Thalassios opened my own eyes to the nature of some temptations. While we can try our best to protect ourselves from what we see now and in the future, what we have already seen remains with us. In other words, whatever things we let in through the senses in the past (and this is primarily through vision), will, as they say, come back to haunt us. The Lord told us to “pluck out our eye” if it causes us to sin, and by that He did not mean to literally cut out our eye, but to cut off the things which cause us to sin.
The Lord was speaking about preventing further corruption by sinful things which a person allows in through their sight. By following this path one can prevent a larger storehouse of memories to disturb us from coming into being. Anyone who has tried to pray in stillness, though, will know that past sins and images, even ones that we have forgotten, can come back to us, prompted by the evil one, to disturb our prayer. This is when the battle is engaged and one must struggle on and force one’s attention back to the prayer and to pay close attention to the words of the prayer without images and without distractions. Guarding our senses now will aid us in pure prayer later.
However, not all the memories and images that we allow in, come from things we see, but rather, how we see. How do we look at things? How do we look at other people? These “images” will come back to us as well.
What do we see when we look at someone different from us? Do we pity them if they are downtrodden or feel sorry for them? If they are downtrodden or pitiful, then that is a good start, but it is only a start, though.
If we want to make progress we are to look past the pity, look past the difference in social standing, look past the differences in race or culture, look past the dirt or filth of a homeless person, or the poverty of someone in need. Sometimes when we look at someone with pity then we do not see them as one of us, but an unfortunate “them.” Christ became one of us so that His image in all of us would be made clear and clean. When we look at anyone else, it is Christ’s image that we are looking at. We are all made in the image of God and so there are no “thems.” There is only us: all in the image of Christ. Even our enemies are images of Christ, though in Christ we have no enemies. Empathy, co-suffering, is the Christ-like way to approach others who are suffering. We are called to bear one another’s burdens.
On the other hand, do we envy someone? This is the origin of the idea that there is an “evil eye.” That is envy at work. Do we despise someone for their ugliness or their beauty: for any reason at all? If we allow these images, these distortions into our hearts, these are the memories and images that will come back to haunt us as surely as pornography or the memory of past sins will as well.
We have a choice before us, to guard our sight which Christ restored to us in His Incarnation; we can allow the light of Christ to illumine our way before us, or we can allow ourselves to be flooded with images of corruption. As the Lord said, 22 “The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”
I will close with the eloquent words of our father in Christ, St. Gregory Palamas.
Let us too, brethren, follow the light which illumines both soul and body. Let us make our way towards His brilliance, and “let us walk honestly as in the day of the Lord” (cf. Rom. 13:13). Let us glorify Him with good works, and cause those that see us to give Him glory. Let us flee from the darkness which is opposed to the light, that is, the devil, the patron of sin. As the Sun of all righteousness, integrity, peace, compassion, long-suffering, love, and all the virtues, this light makes those who devote themselves to Him partakers of the light.
© 2010 Fr. Philip Kontos