Sunday of the Man Born Blind

Sunday of the Man Born Blind

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. CHRIST IS RISEN !!

   Who sinned? This is a question that people have been asking for a long time, from Job (some of the oldest texts in the Old Testament), to Jeremiah, to our present day tabloids.  We live in a calvinist society where we think (even though if we consciously thought about it we’d deny it), never-the-less we live and make policy as if those who were prosperous were blessed, and those who were not had somehow sinned, were bad, or were not worthy. We want to blame because it makes us feel safer; because, if somewhere in our mind, people are to blame for their misfortune, then somehow we are exempt. We hear of judges who excuse the crimes of the wealthy and dole out to the poor the harshest of sentences. Even though it is not our conscious thought, it is never-the-less written into our culture in ways we often do not notice. This sort of thought was not unknown in the ancient world — but there were passages from the writings and the prophets that rebutted it.

   Job does not sin, yet his wealth and children, and health are gone. His friends are sure that Job did something to cause this. Job did nothing to cause it — and he is vindicated in the end.

   Jeremiah: In those days they shall say no more, The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children’s teeth are set on edge. But every one shall die for his own iniquity: every man that eateth the sour grape, his teeth shall be set on edge. Jer 31:29-30. Ezekiel says similar things. 

   Yet this understanding still infected the disciples. And they had heard from the healing of the Paralytic Jesus say: Go and sin no more. It would have been easy for them to hear this in conjunction with their previous beliefs. 

   Yet, this man, Celidonius, did not go blind; he was born blind; he did not have the opportunity to sin. This got the disciples to thinking. . . . to them, suffering was somehow evil. . . Jesus points out that it is not so, that his suffering is not the result of evil. And through his suffering God is to be glorified.   . . .  That the works of God might be manifest in him. This is something we need to confront in ourselves. Many of us have had sufferings.  our suffering may not be the result of evil that we have done (though it may). As with Job, God is not the author of our sufferings. Yet as we allow God to transform us, God can take our sufferings and bring out of us a beauty we did not know was there . . . if we will only let Him. 

   Jesus, in the previous chapter of the Gospel told the pharisees that He was the Light of the world. Now, away from the pharisees for the moment He says “While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world. Part of the reason this Gospel finds its place before Ascension is that we know what will happen this coming Thursday. The Light of the world will return to His Father and will take to His Father an offering of our humanity that has been sanctified. And as Jesus had told His detractors, “The children of the bridal chamber cannot mourn So long as the Bridegroom is with them? but the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast.”

   And then, to show that He is the Word by Whom all things were created, He spits in the dust and makes mud or clay and re-fashions eyes for the man born with defective eyes; according to the exapositilarion from last night he had neither sight nor eyes, and they had to be made, not just healed. Unlike the Paralytic, He does not ask the man if he wants to be healed, nor does He promise healing. He simply sends him to the pool to wash as an act of obedience. And here again, water figures into the story. And the fathers understand the pool of Siloam to be a figure of baptism. 

   The man comes back seeing. He is illumined, not just physically but also spiritually. Having washed, he encounters Grace.

   Now, just as last week with the Samaritan Woman, the Blind man becomes an evangelist. For Jesus not only opened his physical eyes, but also his spiritual eyes. He was a simple beggar, but he confounds the pharisees (the doctors of the law) with his statements and questions — the same pharisees that were confounded by Jesus a week and a half ago in the middle of the feast. . . He could see. The pharisees, for all their physical sight, could not see. They were blind. 

Jesus healed on the Sabbath. The pharisees could not see past this. 

   The pharisees began to use all the rhetorical tricks they knew to somehow invalidate the miracle that had been performed by Jesus. (Some of those rhetorical tricks are still used today.) They wanted verification of his birth; they called his parents. “Is this YOUR SON whom YOU SAY was born blind?” It was as if they were accusing the parents of blinding their son after he was born. 

   Then when the parents verify their son and his blindness they try again: “GIVE GLORY TO GOD! We know that this man is a sinner!” They say ‘Give glory to God.’ but they are really asking the man to blaspheme God. 

   The man born blind responds with humility, saying only what he knows while not agreeing with their conclusions. Then they badger the witness, asking him what they’ve already asked. This simple beggar refused to be badgered. He then turns it back on the Pharisees: “Why do you ask again? do you want to be His disciples too?” 

   The pharisees are still trying to “prove” Jesus to be a sinner. The man born blind puts forth that a sinner could not do what He just did. Not even Moses healed a man born blind. 

   And with that, this simple beggar shows himself to be wiser than the pharisees. And . . . they . . . can’t stand it. . ..  “You were utterly born in sin, and you dare to teach us?” 

They basically called him an S.O.B and threw him out. 

   Jesus then finds the man and completes his illumination. As He revealed Himself to the Samaritan woman last week, so now He reveals Himself to the man born blind. This is the first time that the man actually sees Jesus, though he recognizes His voice. Celidonius would later go with Lazarus (yes, the Lazarus that Jesus raised), and Massilia, helping two Saints who became bishops in Cyprus and in Gaul.

   Jesus makes a reference to the prophesy of Isaiah: See and in seeing perceive not; hear and in hearing understand not. . . . “. . .and those who see may become blind.” . . . The pharisees overhear that and respond with “Oh, so we’re blind?!” Jesus tells them that because they assume they can see that they are responsible for their sin as if they could really see it. Their assumption that they can see prevents them from exploring the many ways they are blind. This miracle had been done before them, and they refused to see. And Christ calls their refusal to see a sin. By their inability to bring to Christ their own blindness, they kept their spiritual blindness. 

   In seeing that the blind man was illumined in spirit: How do our eyes work for seeing the deeper things of God?

   What can we not see? What can we not even perceive that we aren’t seeing?

   We live in a culture that discourages self examination, of looking at ourselves, at what passions are driving us. Our culture would rather sell stuff to our passions than have us look at what choices the passions are making for us. We live in a culture that would rather make empty accusations than examine what has really happened. We live in a culture that would rather us not see. Yet, to grow spiritually we need to look at those very things. To break the cycle of greed, lust, envy we need to look into ourselves honestly and see the uncomfortable things (both good and bad) about us, . . . and own those things . . . and bring them to God . . .  and work with Him . . . to let those things be healed.  

   Sometimes our blindness is to protect ourselves from what would be too overwhelming to see. This blindness God can also heal. . ..  as we learn to trust God, what was overwhelming becomes possible to face. 

   But, God cannot heal our blindness if we think, like the Pharisees, that we can see; we must be humble and admit to our blindness. Only then, through prayer will God take away our blindness. And then seeing, we must deal with what we see. We must cleanse ourselves of the dust and the cobwebs and dirt that we could not see before. 

   To Him Who illumined both the Blind Man and Who illumines us be all glory honour and worship, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen


Samaritan Woman

Sermon Samaritan Woman

John 4:1 – 42

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: CHRIST IS RISEN !!!

   We have just passed the feast of Mid-Pentecost. We are more than half way to the feast of Pentecost. In the Feast of Mid-Pentecost at Vespers we read from Isaiah: “Ho ye that thirst, go to the water, and all that have no money, go; buy; eat and drink wine and fat without money or price.”

And in the oikos of the Kontakion we also heard: Thou didst bid all to come to Thee, All-holy Word of God: draw the water of immortality; it is Living Water.

   In the town of Sychar in Samaria Jacob dug a well and worshipped God. That well survived to the time of Jesus; indeed it is still there today. There have been many churches built through the years at this site. Today there is a beautiful Church that the  Jerusalem Patriarchate built over it. Under the altar the well is still working, and the water is most delicious.

   Jesus observed that He needs must go through Samaria. Most Jews of his day journeyed around Samaria. They were viewed as half-breeds who followed a new age mish-mash of 5 different religions. Yet, they looked for the Messiah. And as a foretaste of His later instruction to Go and teach, first in Jerusalem, then Samaria, then the world, He comes to Samaria. Yet there is something more going here. Jesus goes to the despised of His nation.

   And so He comes to Sychar, and it was mid-day — noon. Gathering water was a daily chore. It had to be done.  Most of the woman of the village came early. This woman was not welcome to come with them. She was, in a certain sense, an outcast. So she came in the heat of the day, when most were inside and resting, to fetch her daily supply of water. There were many reasons she did not fit in among her people. 

   And Jesus asks of her a drink of water. For a Jew to use the same vessel to drink as a Samaritan was to make them ceremonially unclean. And she is a woman; such a direct request was irregular. This was not what she expected. Jesus treated her as one who is worthy to enter into a conversation. 

   If you knew the gift of God… Samaritans only had the ToRaH. They did not have the prophets. She had never heard of the passage from Isaiah that I quoted earlier; she would not have heard about “Living Water”; so she was genuinely puzzled at His words. 

   She meets Jesus’ respect for her by answering with respect, she calls Him “Lord”. Yet she adheres to custom, observing that He had no separate vessel with which to drink apart from the jug she carried.  She can’t yet hear what Jesus is saying to her. She questions, for although she returns His respect, she does not imagine that He is greater than Jacob who gave this well. 

   Jesus is setting forth for her noetic water — not the physical water that must be renewed constantly. “The water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

   She is occupied with her own predicament, shunned by the rest of the town, she must trudge to the well in the mid-day heat to get her daily water. She only sees that having water might be easier. “Lord, give me this water that I may thirst no more…” While she is concerned for her physical needs she gives a window into her spiritual needs. She is thirsting not just for water, but for something. She has not found it. She has looked for it in relationships with men. Each time her thirst has not been slaked. But this man is different. He treats her with gentleness and respect. 

   Jesus then shows He is ready to offer the Living Water by asking her to call her husband, as if he might also receive the Living Water. 

   It may not have been that big a stretch to guess why she had come in the heat of the day to the well — however, Jesus knowledge of the details took her aback. She had 5 husbands: the Samaritans had the 5 books of the ToRah. The Samaritans had 5 gods with whom they were unfaithful to the God of Israel; she had 5 husbands — and yet there was something she was looking for was not in any of these. 

   “Lord, I perceive you are a prophet.” She was looking for something;  she was thirsty for the truth, and had been looking for that in all the wrong places, that she had a genuine thirst for the living water — a thirst that Jesus was uncovering in her, even as He spoke to her.

   So she did not act shocked or indignant that Jesus knew all about her. She perceives that this is not just an ordinary man who confronts her, that makes her thirsty — thirsty for something that her life clearly wasn’t giving her. So she starts asking questions — things that had been troubling her, things that she could not make fit. She no longer cares for her physical thirst — now she begins to look towards a deeper thirst. She asks a question that indicates that she is seeking that which is holy: “Where should we worship?” Jacob came to the mountain when he was escaping Esau after he stole his blessing. In her religion’s understanding they did not ask what circumstances Jacob came to the mountain.  She can only go so far. She wants to know “who is right?”. 

   We do that often: “Who is right?” We seem to care more for THAT question and whatever answers we may contrive to it . . . rather than “what is for our health and salvation?”

   Jesus doesn’t answer her question of “who is right?”; instead He moves her past the to something infinitely deeper.  

   The hour is coming … In John’s Gospel “hour” is mostly pointing towards Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection. The hour is coming and now is, when both the worship that the Samaritans do and the worship the Jews do will be set aside for something greater, that time when the Temple would be thrown down — that time when the Kingdom would be inaugurated in our time and history; He tells her of a time beyond time: Worshiping God in spirit and in truth; of a time when the Liturgy of what we celebrate on earth would be what was already celebrated in the heavens. Jesus says Salvation IS of the Jews — NOT  salvation WILL BE of the Jews — for Salvation sits before her at the well. 

   Then this woman (we don’t know her Samaritan name; in baptism her name is Photini), excited by His word, sets forth her expectation of the Messiah. Even without the prophets the Samaritans get this expectation from the words of Moses. 

   Whereas, Jesus leaves most of those He encountered the question: Is this the Messiah? For this woman He plainly reveals Himself to this woman. He says, “I AM, the one speaking to thee” — not ‘I am He’ as our English translation suggests. Jesus uses the Name of God to her. 

   This had to startle her.

   But she has little time to indulge being startled. Just then the Disciples return. St. Kyril of Alexandria says of this: 

The disciples are again astonished at the Saviour’s gentleness and they wonder at His meek way. For He did not think it right to shun conversation with the woman in the manner of some who are fierce with intemperate religious scruples, but He unfolds His love for mankind to ALL, by showing that He, being in all respects One Fashioner, does not only impart the life through faith to men, but also to women.

   Now she no longer cares about her physical thirst, but leaves her water-pot as the disciples had left their nets, and goes to her city to be its evangelist. She does not give her message in declarative statements, but rather wants to draw them out the Christ, not to her message. Her question “Is this not the Christ?” was a rhetorical question demanding the response: “YES.” And like the disciples she says “Come and see.” Instinctively she knows how to give the message in a way that will encourage her townsfolk to check Jesus out. She did not want them to trust her report, but to come and see for themselves. She becomes the first apostle to the Church of the gentiles, the first bearer of the Gospel to them. 

   Photini will, in time, become a powerful preacher of the Gospel to her land. After the martyrdom of SS. Peter and Paul, she and her family will go to North Africa as an apostle to preach the Gospel with her sons and sisters. Nero’s people will arrest her and bring her to Rome where she and her family will be martyred, but not before she converts Nero’s daughter to the Faith. 

   What keeps us from leaving aside our worldly cares? our water-pot? And what of the many things in our world that are distracting to us? that take us away from prayer? Our world tells us we must acquire STUFF — stuff that does not satisfy our soul’s yearning for God, just as Photini’s many husbands did not satisfy her longing for God. The evidence of how fragile our stuff is . . . shows itself to us in the instability brought upon our own land by those who seek to exploit it for their own greed — and also by our current pandemic. What we, and our world have counted important, is shown to be worthless.  

   Let us be like the Samaritan woman; let us thirst for Christ, and not be ashamed when He shows us our sin; let us accept the Living Water and healing, and then go and point others to Him Who heals us. And so let us become illumination — Photini. 

   To Him Who heals us, be all glory honour and worship, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. 


Sunday of the Paralytic

Sermon Sunday of the Paralytic 

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: CHRIST IS RISEN !!! 

   Today, in the Gospel we encounter a man in need of healing. He had been paralyzed for 38 years. He had fallen into despair. He had given up. He wanted to be healed, yet he had a story of why he could not be healed. And his story was legitimate. He could not get to the water. He could not see a way out of things being the way they had always been. 

   Many of us need to be healed; and we all have our story about why we have not been healed. 

   But he was married to his story. He has lain daily by the pool for 38 years. 38 years of having to eke by a minimal existence by begging, 38 years of being paralyzed, 38 years of surviving life. Even though it has been hard he has made it these 38 years. 

   He could not entertain the possibility that someone was there Who could pull him out of his story — Who could change his story by His Word. 

   Jesus asks “Do you want to be healed?”

   Jesus does not violate our boundaries. Jesus does not manipulate. Jesus invites; Jesus asks. 

Surviving life after 38 years of being paralyzed, he says: “I have no man.” He doesn’t yet know that the Man he seeks is standing in front of him — the God-man who asks him this simple but difficult question. Tuesday Vespers we will hear how the Church understands Christ as a response to this: 

   For thee, I became man; for thee I am clothed in the flesh; yet sayest thou to me ‘I have no man’. Arise take up thy bed and walk. 

   And so God in the flesh as a man asks him: Do you want to be healed? This is not quite so obvious a question as it may appear on the surface. What will being healed mean to this man? It will mean a drastic change in his life. He will now need to work for a living. His life, as he knew it would be over. He would have to start a new life at an age when most had settled into a stable life. He would have to leave many of his friends who also lived daily with many forms of incapacity. They would still be his friends, but he would no longer see them daily. Healing for him will cost him many of his daily comforts. Healing for him means that his survival skills no longer have any meaning. He must develop new skills at an older age. He doesn’t even know how to answer Jesus’ question; instead he gives Him a reason why he is not healed. 

   And yet Jesus asks him: Do you want to be healed? 

   Jesus does not address his story, but heals him by His Word. 

   And as a healed man he encounters people who have no interest in his healing — people who are toxic to his spiritual health. For him the scribes and pharisees come asking the wrong question: Instead of asking “who healed you?”, they asked “who bid you carry your pallet?” Rather than rejoice in his healing, they chose to take offense. And by their taking offense they erect a wall between themselves and God. 

   It is important to the life of the Church that this reading is put here at the beginning of the fourth week of our Pascha celebration. The paralytic is beside the pool of Siloam. This Sunday and the rest of the Sundays of Pascha will feature water. Holy Week and Pascha was a time when many were baptized and began their journey in the Church. The fathers of the Church point to water in these weeks as a symbol of baptism and of the new journey in Christ as participating in His Body. And we are close to that midway point between Pascha and Pentecost.

   We live in a world that is paralyzed. We move slowly towards our own doom and do little or nothing to prevent it. Instead, we plot ways that we can move to our doom faster: wars, greed, justifying our hatred, our corruption, our addiction to drama, putting our fellow humans at risk so that we can sell more death. Do we want to be healed? We too are in need of healing. 

   As the Kontakion tells us: we need Christ to raise up our soul that is paralyzed. Do we want to be healed? We too are in need of healing. 

   Well of course we want to be healed. But just as this was not a simple question for the Paralytic, it is not a simple question for us. Jesus looks at our wounds and seeks to heal us. For some of us, we do not know ourselves well enough to even know the depths of our wounds. For others of us, we know our wounds well. — Like the paralytic we have developed survival strategies that help us get through our life. Our survival strategies work — that is, they help us get through. To be healed of our wounds means that we must develop new strategies for survival. But our old strategies worked. Giving them up feels like we are giving up survival. We hold on to them because somewhere in us it feels that to give up the survival strategies is to give up surviving. 

   Jesus asks us: Do you want to be healed? 

   How are we paralyzed? What has us stuck? How are we like this man’s blind friends — not able to see what we need to see? Where are we committed to our story to such a point that we don’t see healing when it comes to us? Where are we letting that keep us paralyzed?

   Do we want to be healed?

   Do we want to step out of our comfort, our familiar ways of dealing with our wounds, to seek a new life?

   Just as this man encountered toxic people, so we will encounter people who are uncomfortable with us being healed. They too have developed survival strategies. Our healing puts a monkey wrench into their smooth way of getting through life. They would rather we still be paralyzed; they know how to handle us when we are paralyzed. Our healing means that their way of life must change too. They will do their best to keep us in our place — not because they are mean, evil people, but because our healing means their lives change too. And as much as we need to change and to heal, we do not like change, and they do not like change.

Yet Jesus asks: Do you want to be healed?

   And this question, at this time of the year, when Healing has broken through for all mankind is a question to which we must address ourselves. CHRIST IS RISEN!!! Will we remain in our self made graves? CHRIST IS RISEN !!! He seeks to heal our wounds. CHRIST IS RISEN !!! He bids us rise with Him. He bids us answer His question, “YES!”, and not give Him the story we well know of why it has not happened: “we have no man…” Behold, the God-man has come to us and asks: Do you want to be healed?

   Yet Jesus bids us: Arise, take up thy pallet, and walk. — Arise with He Who IS RISEN. . . .  And take up our Cross, . . .  and follow Him: to Whom be all glory honour and worship, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen