Hope for Us Who Dwell in Darkness: Homily for the Sunday of the Blind Man in the Orthodox Church

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Acts 16:16-34; John 9:1-38

Christ is Risen!

It is usually a good idea to follow the old saying, “Look before you leap.” We can get into a lot of trouble by acting before we have a good understanding of our circumstances and of what is likely to come from our actions. The blind man in today’s gospel reading, however, was in a very different situation. Because of blindness, he could not look at all. Christ acted on him by putting clay on his eyes and telling him to wash in the pool of Siloam. This fellow did not know who the Lord was, but because his sight was restored after he obeyed that command, the man said that He was a prophet. It is not until the end of the passage that the Savior revealed Himself as the Son of God; then the man believed and worshiped Him. At that point, the eye of the man’s soul was opened to know Christ in His divine glory.

In our reading from Acts, we encounter another man who dwelt in darkness. The Roman jailer was ready to kill himself when an earthquake opened the doors of the prison and broke the chains of the prisoners. Knowing that he would be executed for failing to keep the prison secure, the wretched man was about to take his own life with his sword. He was in one of the darkest spots imaginable at that point, when St. Paul assured him that the prisoners had not escaped. We read that “the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas, and brought them out and said, ‘Men, what must I do to be saved?’ And they said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.’” That is what this fellow did. He was baptized along with his whole family. After washing the apostles’ wounds, the man took them to his home and served them food. Then he “rejoiced with all his household that he had believed in God.” Like the blind man in the gospel reading, the jailer had his eyes opened to know Christ in His divine glory.

The men in our readings were not deliberately on a journey for spiritual fulfillment. They were not investigating their religious options and seeing which one suited them the best. Neither seems to have been focused on much more than the day-to-day realities of their lives when the light of Christ came upon them. It was surely just another Sabbath day for the blind man when the Savior’s healing restored His sight in such a miraculous fashion that he found himself in the middle of a controversy so fierce that he was cast out of the synagogue simply for having a positive view of the Lord Who had healed him. The jailer had fulfilled his responsibilities in securing the prisoners when an earthquake set them all free in a way reminiscent of the Lord’s victory over Hades, which set free the captives of death. They were both shocked and disoriented by these events. The predictable lives they had known were over and they found themselves in unfamiliar, distributing circumstances. They both asked questions as they came to faith. The formerly blind man asked Who the Son of God was so that he could believe in Him. The jailer asked how to be saved. These were not theoretical questions for them, but truly practical matters of life and death.

As we prepare to conclude our celebration of Pascha in the coming week, we must remember that the Savior’s resurrection is neither a theological concept nor a reward that we receive for being religious people. The good news that “Christ is Risen!” is even more extraordinary than a man blind from birth gaining his sight or a jailer finding that all his prisoners are still there after having been set free by an earthquake. But in order to open our eyes to the shocking brilliance of the empty tomb, we need to ponder the examples of human beings who suddenly found themselves, through no fault or credit of their own, in the life-changing circumstance of encountering Jesus Christ. The formerly blind man had originally thought that Christ was a prophet who had worked a great miracle of healing. The jailer was a pagan Roman and there is no telling what, if anything, he knew about the Lord before asking Paul and Silas what he had to do in order to be saved. The Savior changed their lives radically and in ways that they could neither predict nor control.

We will be guilty of trying to make God in our own image if we think we can calculate with precision why and how the brilliant light of the resurrection shines in particular ways in our world of darkness. Remember the conversion of St. Paul, who thought that his miraculous conversion, as “the chief of sinners,” was merely a sign that “Christ Jesus might display His immense patience as an example for those who would believe in Him and receive eternal life.” (1 Tim. 1:15-16) In other words, if the Lord could save Paul, then there is hope for us all. That was a very modest and humble affirmation on his part.

When Christ was asked whose sin was responsible for the man being born blind, He answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him. I must work the works of Him Who sent me, while it is day; night comes, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” If we spend our time and energy obsessing about the effects of our sins or those of others, we will end up blindly focusing on ourselves and other people in a way that will only enslave us further to spiritual darkness. Our Risen Lord is the Light of the world. He has illumined even the tomb, making it an entrance into the glory of His eternal life. Pascha teaches us that our participation by grace in the joy of His resurrection is no more a matter of what we deserve or even understand than was the healing of the blind man or the strange set of circumstances that led to the conversion of the jailer. Their stories are not primarily about them as particular people, but about how our Lord restored them to the sublime dignity of those who share in His life by grace.

The blind man did not respond with questions and reservations driven by fear about the future course of his life. He simply obeyed, washed, and saw, then he moved forward to encounter challenges he could never have anticipated. The jailer did not ask how the earthquake that freed the prisoners related to this or that in his life experience. Terrified to the point of taking his own life, he simply asked how to be saved once he realized that the captives had not escaped. We must learn from their examples not to get so caught up in our own thoughts, emotions, worries, and fears that we distract ourselves from doing what it takes to open the eyes of our souls more fully to the brilliant light of Christ. The question of the jailer, “Men, what must I do to be saved?” is not a one-time question with an abstract answer, but concerns the ongoing journey of becoming radiant with the divine energies of our Lord as we become more like Him in holiness. We must continuously discern the answer to that question through our full participation in the sacramental and ascetical life of the Church as we enter more fully into the holy mystery of our salvation and turn away from habits of thought, word, and deed that tempt us to choose death over life. As those who were born spiritually blind and have been illumined through the washing of Baptism and the anointing of Chrismation, we must persist in turning away from the darkness in our souls as we embrace the light of the resurrection more fully.

Our Risen Lord has conquered Hades, death, and the tomb, and now nothing can keep us from shining with the brilliant light of holiness other than our own choice to persist in blindness. Even though the season of Pascha soon concludes, we may always live in the new day of His resurrection. Like the men in today’s readings, let us urgently embrace the Savior as we disorient ourselves from the darkness and turn toward the Light of the world, for Christ is Risen!

Used with permission.
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