14th Sunday of Luke
(Healing of the blind man)
“Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” — John 20:29
Many of the Sunday Gospel readings are devoted to various miracles of healing. However, the reason we bring these miracles to the fore is not simply to show that Christ was a miracle-worker — similar miracles have been and continue to be performed by countless saints as well. The reason is rather the didactic meaning of these miracles, what these miracles can teach us about the spiritual life and about who God is.
In today’s Gospel, we see a blind man who, despite the fact that he couldn’t see, immediately understood that Jesus was the Son of David, the Messiah, and that he was in a position to heal his blindness.
The Pharisees had spent an entire lifetime studying the prophecies that spoke about the coming Messiah, and now they see the fulfilment of those prophecies before their very eyes, but they don’t accept him. They knew everything, but understood nothing, because they were blinded by their pride. The man who was physically blind, however, understood who he was immediately.
In other words, today’s Gospel is telling us that we do not perceive God through the sensory organs of the body, but the spiritual organ located in the depths of our soul.
In the Old Testament, when the Prophet Elijah ascended the mountain to meet God, “a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice” (3 Kingdoms 19:11–12), and that was the voice of God, the voice that speaks in the stillness of the heart.
That’s why we refer to the sacraments of the Church as mysteries — μυστήρια — which means secrets.
So, how can someone enter their heart and awaken those spiritual senses with which we perceive the voice of God? The key to the heart, besides humility, is prayer. Prayer is the oxygen of the soul, and without prayer, the soul asphyxiates. St Paul tells us to “pray without ceasing”, and he means this literally. Just as we breathe constantly to stay alive, the same should be true of prayer.
And in order for the prayer to become as constant as our breathing, the Tradition of the Church recommends to us a particular method, which is the prayer of this blind man: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me”. We, of course, say the prayer in a fuller form: Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.
There are some who say that this prayer — the Jesus Prayer — is only for monks, and that lay people shouldn’t bother with it. I personally completely disagree with this. The Gospel tells us that the people standing with the blind man said the same thing — “those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent”, ‘this isn’t for you’ — but the Lord heard him. Of course, a layperson cannot follow the same rule of prayer as a monk or nun, but, as the Church Fathers say, just because I can’t drink the entire river doesn’t mean I shouldn’t fill up a glass to quench my thirst. Each person engages with the Jesus Prayer according to their own ability and circumstances, but the prayer is for everyone, for every need and every moment.
The prayer consists of two basic elements: the name of Jesus and the prayer ‘have mercy on me’.
St Paul says that this name — Jesus — is “the name above every name” (Philippians 2:9) and that “whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:17). That’s why this form of spiritual breathing takes place first and foremost through the name of the Lord Jesus.
The second element, as we said, is the ‘have mercy’, which is also the primary prayer of the laity in each church service. “Let us pray for the peace of the world”, “Lord, have mercy” (Kyrie, eleison), “For the peace of the world”, “Lord, have mercy”, “For those who travel by land, air and sea”, “Lord, have mercy”, and so on.
Why is this phrase — “Kyrie eleison” “Lord, have mercy” — used so often? In the Bible, the word ‘mercy’ (eleos in Greek) is used to translate two Hebrew words. The first word ḥesed means steadfast love. The second word is reḥem, which basically means compassion, but the literal meaning is womb; as in, a mother’s womb.
In other words, the Church compares the love of God to the love of a mother for the child in her womb; and of course, the child in the womb is entirely dependent on its mother and receives from her everything it needs to survive and develop.
And so, what the Jesus Prayer does is to combine the name of the Lord Jesus with this prayer which expresses not just the love of God for us, but every spiritual and bodily need we have, as well as our complete dependence on God. The prayer also expresses our faith in the Holy Trinity — by saying “Son”, we imply the existence of a Father, and the Scriptures tells us that “no one is able to say Jesus is Lord, except in the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3). Moreover, the name “Jesus” means Saviour, while the word “Christ” means Messiah. The whole Christian faith and the whole message of the Gospel is therefore expressed in this one short prayer. Perhaps the only thing that is missing is confession, which is why we often add the words “a sinner” at the end of the prayer.
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”. We don’t need anything more than this.
Let this prayer therefore be our breath, let it be our ceaseless cry which will awaken our heart from its unconsciousness, so that the Lord can say to us what he said to the blind man: “Receive your sight”. Amen.
Fr Kristian Akselberg