I Samuel 16:1,6-7,10-13; Ephesians 5:8-14; Psalm 23; John 9:1-41
When I first read this morning’s Gospel lesson earlier in the week, Taoiseach Ivan and I talked about what a radical experience it would be for someone who was born blind to suddenly be able to see. It would change everything. I can imagine this man, able to see, but not knowing what he is seeing, colors and shapes wouldn’t mean anything, people’s faces would not be familiar, he would probably easily get lost walking around the city, unless he succumbed to the temptation to close his eyes and get around by his usual manner of feeling his way.
He gained his sight by meeting Christ, when we, in our Baptism (called Illumination in the Eastern Church), meet Christ, we also gain a new sight a new vision, and we also must learn how to use it. In our lesson from First Samuel, the Lord says to Samuel, “Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart.” We need to learn to see more as God sees, to see into the heart, including our own. We need to see as Christ sees, with love, compassion, mercy and forgiveness. Our new sight can also be very confusing, sometimes it is like we see two images, one overlaying the other, we see our old life and our new life, and sometimes have trouble telling which is which, or which we should choose. We see people as we have always seen them, we look again and see them in the light of Christ, and know that we must change our attitude towards them. We look at all our attitudes, thoughts and behaviors and see that they do not measure up to what we have seen is possible in Christ.
How do we make sense of the new sight we have received with our new life in Christ? How do we learn to recognize what is truly there, without fearfully closing our eyes and groping in the darkness? St. Paul writes to the Church at Ephesus, “There was a time when you were in darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Well, then, live as children of light. Light produces every kind of goodness and justice and truth. Be correct in your judgment of what pleases the Lord.” The best way to live as children of light, is to live as, and in, the body of Christ. To live as, and in, the Church. The wisdom of the Church, garnered from all the ages, can guide us as we learn to see, as we learn to use our new spiritual vision for our own good, the good of others and the glory of God.
In our society, where we are bombarded by visual media on a constant basis, and where so-called beauty is an industry, it is hard to see past appearances, to the truth hidden behind the blazing colors and photo-shopped imagery. To see the truth we must know the Truth, we must know that Truth is not a thing or a concept or an agreed upon set of parameters, Truth is a person, Jesus Christ. We meet and get to know Christ in his Body, the Church, in our brothers and sisters, in the Sacraments, in serving and being served, in forgiving and being forgiven. In living a recollected life, which means a life in which our eyes are open to our own behavior, that we act deliberately and not react mindlessly. We get to know the Truth because we live in the Truth and the Truth lives in us. None of this comes automatically or immediately, it is a work of both grace, on God’s part, and effort on our own.
Spiritual skills are learned, just like any other skills. The first time we sit down at a piano, we don’t expect to be able to play a Mozart concerto. Well, the first time we sit down with an interested listener we don’t expect to be John Chrysostom. The blind man is a good example of this, when the Pharisees told him, “We know this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I would not know whether he is a sinner or not. I know this much: I was blind before; now I can see.” When someone asks a question, we should not be afraid of saying I don’t know, but this is what I do know – and then share our personal testimony, our own faith, trust and love in the Truth of Christ. As in all things, we learn by doing, by trying and failing and trying again. In our journey with our new sight we will often stumble and fall, we will be mistaken and go up dead end alleys, we will run into things we thought we had moved, and we will backtrack sometimes to more familiar ground. There is a sign in Dr. Dickey’s office, my homeopath, it looks like this ----- this is true in mundane as well as spiritual endeavors. We can only succeed if we risk failure, if we risk loss and ridicule and misunderstanding, and the greatest risk is love. We must be willing to love, even if there is no chance of our being loved in return. Even if our love is rejected, or scorned, so is Christ’s, so is that of the Saints, Angels, and Martyrs. We must risk love, because it is in love that we see, truly see. Our new sight is love, our new life is love.
In our Gospel lesson Jesus said, “I came into this world to divide it, to make the sightless see and the seeing blind.” When the Pharisees questioned him he answered, “If you were blind there would be no sin in that. ‘But we see’ you say, and your sin remains.” A large part of our new vision and new life is humility, a grateful acknowledgement that the sight is not ours, but a gift from God, we can accept is, help it to grow, struggle to use it well, but knowing always that it is not of our own creation. We cannot, with the Pharisees say “We see” and then live as one who is sightless, walking past those in want and need, ignoring the hands reaching out to us, ignoring the Truth that is standing before us.
John Newton, before his conversion, was a slave trader, after his conversion he wrote these words, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saves a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.” There is now blindness so dark that the light of Christ cannot penetrate, if we will simply choose to see.
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