Sermon for the 8th Sunday after Pentecost (2015)
Last Sunday, we heard in the Gospel reading and in the homily afterwards on the subject of spiritual blindness. The theme of blindness occurs constantly throughout the Holy Scriptures, both in the Old and the New Testament, and also throughout the writings of the Holy Fathers and especially in the hymnography of the Church. It is one of the most central metaphors for the relationship between fallen humanity and the Lord God, in large part because it demonstrates with particular clarity and potency the existential condition in which we have found ourselves after our fall into sin. We are not simply diseased, injured, weak or unwell; nor is it simply a question of our many and grievous transgressions, which cause us to stand condemned before the Dread Judgment Seat. Although both of these aspects, both of these metaphors of our condition are true and important, there is something deeper to the matter which the imagery of blindness can reveal to us.
The man who is blind is, on a basic level, totally cut off from an entire realm of reality. He walks each day through a world of which, in one of its chief and most significant aspect, he knows absolutely nothing. Perhaps he once had the gift of sight, and possesses a gradually fading memory of what the world looked like; or perhaps he cannot even begin to understand when others attempt to describe to him the world that is quite literally as clear as day to them. In either case, in a fundamental way his experience of reality is not simply broken or impaired, but is missing entirely.
Such indeed is the entire world in which we live today. The light of Christ has been all but blotted out, and although some of us can remember a world in which it still shone dimly, for more and more people today the very idea of a spiritual reality is totally foreign. It is not that they reject such a possibility. They have simply never seen it; many of them have never even heard of it, and to try to speak to them of it would seem to them as strange as if a city of men born blind were suddenly told that they could not see.
But blind men, having been deprived of sight, live in the world of the other senses. Their hearing, their touch, their smell, their taste, become refined and perfected. These senses quite literally become their world. And so it is also with spiritual blindness: having been cut off from spiritual reality, this shadowy world of the senses becomes all that we know. We become immersed in it entirely, and even if we believe intellectually that there is a higher world, we still live and walk in this one.
It is vitally important for each one of us here to recognize that these things are true not only of the pagan world outside the walls of this monastery, but also of each one of us ourselves. We were all born into this world, we have all been immersed in it, and none of us have emerged anywhere near unscathed. We must try, with God’s grace, to see within ourselves the blindness that has come upon the world around us, lest we like the Pharisees be condemned as those whose sins remain while we continue to insist that we can see.
All of these things are contained in today’s Gospel. As the reading begins, Christ takes compassion upon a great multitude and heals their sick. The disciples are with Him, seeing—as each of us has seen—the clear reality of God’s grace working in their midst. Then arises a question of earthly concern: how will so many people find enough to eat? The disciples at once return to a worldly way of thinking; though they have just seen how the grace of God provided for the people infinitely more than anything nature could have ever given, yet they instinctively turn away from Christ towards earthly means in order to provide something as banal and ordinary as an evening meal. Though their intentions are far from bad, yet through their reliance upon their own powers and through their long and habitual immersion in this fallen world, they tragically end by even trying to separate the multitudes from Christ, the only Source and Giver of both earthly and heavenly life.
How often is the same true of us! Indeed, nearly the whole of the Gospel narrative, and nearly the whole of our own lives in this world, is one example after another of the abundant mercy and grace of God being poured out upon the uncomprehending and ungrateful heart of man.
And yet the Lord does not stop. He does not grow impatient. If He rebukes, He does so only with love and compassion. He is not vindictive. He never turns away. And even when we crucify Him, He answers by giving to us His own broken Body and spilled Blood unto salvation and life everlasting—the very miracle which is foreshadowed in today’s Gospel account.
So let us open our eyes. And if we find that we cannot, let us pray for a grateful heart, without which we will truly remain forever blind. And let us pray to the saints we celebrate today: to Holy Fathers of the Six Ecumenical Councils, who ever placed heavenly truth above earthly reason, and to the Holy Archangel Gabriel, he who stands in the presence of God, that we will be given to see and to remain in the heavenly realm in which we are standing even now as we celebrate the Divine Liturgy. And let us try as often as we can to remember that, though we might return again and again to walk in darkness, yet “the Light of Christ enlightens all.”
+ Through the prayers of our holy fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us. Amen.
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