Sunday of the Blind Man
The healing of the blind man in today’s Gospel reading speaks to us, among other things, of spiritual sight, the blindness of the eyes of the soul following the fall of man, and how Jesus Christ is “the light of men (which) shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not…the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (John 1:4-5, 9).
When we read the Old Testament, we see that “the eyes of them both (Adam and Eve) were opened” (Gen. 3:7) the moment they fell by eating the forbidden fruit. However, they were opened not in the sense that they could better see the truths of God, of existence, of the universe, but in the sense that “they knew that they were naked”; that is, they saw for the first time their sin and the shame that accompanied it. The eyes of the conscience were opened to the feeling of shame, and at the same time the eyes of the soul were blinded to the presence of God. For this reason, as children of Adam and Eve, we are all “blind from birth” like the man in today’s Gospel.
With regards to the question of how our spiritual sight can be restored, the Lord provides us with an answer in the Beatitudes — “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8) — and as today’s Gospel reading shows us, the purification of the heart takes place through our participation in prayers and the divine mysteries of the Church, through which we receive the grace of God, and through the fulfilling of God’s commandments. The Lord gives the blind man a command — “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (and the pool here is an obvious reference to baptism and by extension the other sacraments) — and as soon as he does, he receives his sight.
The difference between this story of healing and our spiritual state, of course, is that the purification of the heart doesn’t happen in an instance, but is a gradual process of spiritual development. Sin surrounds the heart like a fog which does not allow us to see. When man removes himself from evil deeds and the causes of sin, and when he aligns himself with the commandments of God, which express God’s character, and when he encounters God through prayer and the sacraments, this fog begins to dissipate and the soul is gradually able to see.
Until we attain this state of purity of heart and spiritual vision, however, we need help. Just as a blind person cannot move around freely without something or someone to guide him, we who are spiritually blind cannot hope to navigate through spiritual life without some kind of help. According to the Fathers of the Church, this is the reason we were given the Sacred Scriptures.
As the Psalm says, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Ps. 118:105). Had mankind not sinned, had man not lost his sight, then, as St John Chrysostom tells us, he would have had no need of Scripture, but the Holy Spirit would have continually placed “words of eternal life” in our hearts, and man would have a complete and living knowledge of God. In our blindness, however, the Holy Scriptures are the guide that takes us by the hand and leads us on the path we cannot find ourselves, and describes to us the things we are unable to see ourselves. Without them, we stumble around in the darkness of ignorance and we can be certain that we will stray from the path of salvation. This is why negligence of the Scriptures is unacceptable for the Christian, something which can only lead to a complete estrangement from the tradition of the apostles and fathers.
This is why today’s story should remind us of the importance of the Scriptures in our lives, because the truth is that we as Orthodox Christians often don’t know the Bible as well as we should. The Scriptures are not only for clergy, monastics or academics; they’re there for all of us. Nor should we limit our study of Scripture only to the four Gospels or only to the New Testament, and act like the rest is of no interest to us. God is revealed throughout the entire Scripture, as the truth of our own being and the purpose of our existence. We must all become students of the Scriptures. We cannot all study them in the same way — we don’t all have the same abilities or opportunities — but in whatever way we can, we must make the reading and study of the Scriptures a part of our daily lives. At least until the day when we too will be able to say, “I once was blind, and now I see”. Amen.
Fr Kristian Akselberg