7th Sunday after Pentecost, Matthew 9:27-35
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Blindness in the Old Testament
In the Old Testament, blindness was often employed as a symbol of spiritual weakness and imperfection. Moreover, physical and spiritual blindness were directly correlated with Israel’s rebellion against God and the violation of His covenant [cf. Deuteronomy 28:15, 28-29].
The Prophet Ezekiel proclaims: “Son of man, you dwell in the midst of an unruly house. They have eyes to see but do not see, and ears to hear but do not hear, for they are a rebellious people” [cf. 12:2]. The Prophet Jeremiah pronounces the judgment of God upon the Jews, saying: “Just as you have forsaken Me and served foreign gods in your land, so you shall serve aliens in a land that is not yours… Hear this now, O foolish people, without understanding… [you] have eyes and see not, and [you] have ears and hear not” [cf. 5:19-21]. Isaiah [cf. 44:9]: says [in paraphrase]: ‘All those who make idols are worthless, and the gods they prize so highly are useless. Those who worship these gods are blind and ignorant—and they will be disgraced’.
Thus, rejection of God as the true object of worship is revealed as a primary cause of spiritual blindness. Such blindness makes idol worshipers as useless as the idols.
With reference to blindness, God says in Exodus [cf. 4:11]: “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the Lord?” There is nothing in the Torah regarding the reversal of blindness. Nowhere, is anyone healed who was born blind as we read in John [cf. 9:32]: “Since the world began it has been unheard of that anyone opened the eyes of one who was born blind”. The complete reversal of blindness would never be fully realized until the Messianic era.
Sight is symbolic of spiritual understanding, or gnosis
Blindness as a spiritual symbol is associated with the lack of perception, or apperception. In Genesis [cf. 3:4]: “[T]he serpent said to the woman: ‘You will not surely die, for God knows that in the day you eat of [the forbidden fruit] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” According to the serpent, Adam and Eve were blind to ‘special knowledge’ and their perception of reality would be enhanced by eating the forbidden fruit. However, the opposite occurred—humanity’s ability to see God, together with all spiritual apperception, was lost when Adam and Eve fell into sin. The loss of perception and spiritual apperception are therefore directly associated with rebellion against God.
Metaphorically, blindness is a lack of mental or spiritual insight. Blindness is also symbolic of spiritual ignorance. Sight is symbolic of spiritual understanding, or gnosis. God’s judgment and curse on Israel in Isaiah [cf. 6:9-10] is clear: “Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving. Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes, otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”
The Holy Apostle Paul reiterates the words of the Prophet, and says: “This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness” [cf. Ephesians 4:17-19]. The curse was manifested in the inability to understand Truth and believe the Divine message. Thus, the Jews were blinded by ignorance and unbelief.
Blindness in the New Testament
In the New Testament, the Holy Apostle Paul uses the theme of spiritual blindness repeatedly. It was a theme that was grounded in his own personal experience. When he was in full possession of the physical faculty of sight—he was spiritually blind and persecuted Christians “beyond measure” [cf. Galatians 1:13]. When he was confronted by and encountered Christ, he was temporarily blinded by the Light in order that his spiritual eyes might be opened to the apperception of spiritual reality [cf. Acts 9:17]. The Apostle Paul later wrote to the Corinthians: “The god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ… God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” [cf. II Corinthians 4:4-6].
Unbelief is therefore blindness—and salvation is illumination. Salvation begins when God causes the Light to shine in the darkness. Like the Apostle Paul—who as Saul— was “advanced in Judaism beyond many of [his] contemporaries in [his] own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of [his] fathers—there are also many men today who are well-versed in Scripture, Tradition, and theology. Nevertheless, until God shines His Light into the darkened hearts of men—it is impossible for them to see the Kingdom [or Empire] of God” [cf. John 3:3].
The true disciples of Christ can sow the seed—that is, they can clearly present the Truth revealed in God’s Word to unbelievers. Notwithstanding, unless, and indeed, until unbelievers repent and are illuminated—they cannot receive or understand the Word given unto them. The Lord Jesus Christ used this same imagery in His teachings. In the Gospel of John [cf. 9:1-41], Jesus healed the blind man and found opposition for such healing from the leadership of the Jews. Jesus said: “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind” [cf. John 9:39]. The Pharisees knew He was speaking about them and said: “What? Are we blind too?” [cf. John 9:40]. And Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim that you see, your guilt remains” [cf. John 9:41].
A man can recognize his spiritual blindness and call upon Christ in faith for healing and spiritual sight
Those who have the faculty of physical sight are often blind to the Truth—they are often spiritually blind. If they persist in refusing to believe in and submit to the Lord Jesus Christ, they will be judged, for the Holy Apostle Paul warns: “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” [cf. II Timothy 3:1-7].
Like ancient Israel, they will be cursed with blindness for “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them” [cf. John 12:40]. As a consequence of the persistence in refusing to believe in and submit to the Lord Jesus Christ, spiritual blindness or ignorance is in the process of proliferation.
Polycrates ["much power"] explains that, because of such proliferation of spiritual blindness, it is difficult to receive correction or advice from others and to effect inner change—but it is easy to give advice to others “for the advice of…[the] wisest advisers is stupidity” [cf. Isaiah 19:11] and “the counsels of the wicked are deceitful” [cf. Proverbs 12:5]. The ‘discipline of fools is folly’ [cf. Proverbs 16:12] and the Holy Apostle Paul says: “the mystery of lawlessness is already at work… and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the Truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason, God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the Truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” [cf. II Thessalonians 2:7-12].
The Apostle Paul warned of these days: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables” [cf. II Timothy 4: 3-4]. Jesus forewarns: “Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into the pit” [cf. Matthew 15:14]. Notwithstanding, a man can recognize his spiritual blindness and call upon Christ in faith for healing and spiritual sight.
The way of spiritual healing
After raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead, two blind men followed Jesus, crying out: “Son of David, have mercy on us” [cf. Matthew 9:27]. Their use of the messianic title ‘Son of David’, a title ascribed to the long-awaited Messiah by the Jews [cf. Matthew 12:23; Matthew 22:42-45], clearly attests to the blind men’s belief that Jesus was the Messiah, that is, the Christ.
These men were blind—they were unable to witness Christ’s miracles. Therefore, they believed because of the testimony of others [cf. Matthew 9:1-26]. They kept their cogency among the heated crowd, and their cry for healing was a great exercise of faith in the veracity of Christ’s power, and moreover, a public display of their ‘convicted persuasion’ of the messianic mission of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Their sincere cry of faith—free from the prejudices that blinded the minds of the Jewish leadership—proclaimed their unremitting recognition of the authenticity of Jesus’ miracles and of ‘that which is true, noble, just, pure, lovely, and of good repute’ [cf. Philippians 4:8]. It was therefore for the glory of God and for the edification of others, that the strength of their faith should be revealed. This healing was realized through their perseverance in imploring Jesus to have mercy upon them. Then, when their faith had been manifested, Jesus touched their eyes, and said: “According to your faith be it unto you” [cf. Matthew 9:29]. And immediately on His speaking these words, their eyes were opened. Such is the mighty power of the ‘prayer of faith’ [cf. James 5:13-16], and such is the honor wherewith Christ often crowns it!
The Lord gave them sight—after drawing from them a declaration of faith. The blind men had come to that faith through that which had been prophesied in Scripture and by hearing the good news of Jesus’ miracles. This is the way of faith—for “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” [cf. Romans 10:17]. The Word of God releases us from the dark prison of sin and grants us spiritual perception. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ saves us, for “if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead [and has performed countless miracles through Him], you will be saved” [cf. Romans 10:9]. Down through history, in the life of the Church, the confident cry for Christ’s mercy continues.
The Holy Apostle Paul says: “For whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” [cf. Romans 10:13]. This is the way of healing for the blind. This is the way of healing for the infirm. But most importantly, this is the way of spiritual healing. This is the way for healing and release from spiritual blindness. This is the way of spiritual sight. Today, Christ Jesus still gives sight in and through the power of the Holy Spirit.
The faults that we attribute to our circumstances, in fact, proceed from within ourselves
As Orthodox Christians, we must, therefore, busy ourselves with nothing else save ongoing spiritual enlightenment. This is achieved by the daily ‘laying aside’ of error—for the faults that we attribute to our circumstances, in fact, proceed from within ourselves [cf. Matthew 15:11]. We are indeed prone to ascribe our faults and failures to time, place, and/or circumstances—but such faults and failures will follow us, no matter how often in time we change our place or circumstances. Why do we deceive ourselves? The evil that afflicts us is not external, it is within us—it is situated in and proceeds from our very hearts. For this reason, we attain soundness with all the more difficulty because we do not know -or we refuse to admit- that we are diseased or spiritually blind.
It is not difficult to return to God. We must only work ‘to show ourselves approved’ [cf. II Timothy 2:15]. The work is not arduous ‘for the Master’s yoke is easy and His burden light’ [cf. Matthew 11:28-30]. We must begin only to recast our minds before we lose them completely to sin. We must ‘not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of our mind, in order to prove what is the good and well-pleasing and perfect will of God’ [cf. Romans 12:2].
There is nothing, to hinder us from attaining saving faith. We are now in the grip of evil—only because we have long been possessed or blinded by it. We are all first ‘shaped in iniquity and conceived in sin’ [cf. Psalms 51:5]. Therefore, acquiring virtue—of necessity—is the unlearning of vice. We should, therefore, proceed to the task of freeing ourselves from vice with all the more courage. Virtue—once tasted—is not readily rejected. In the words of the Prophet King David: “Taste and see that the LORD is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!” [cf. Psalms 34:8].
Opposites find difficulty in clinging where they do not belong and vice can be driven out and hustled away from the heart of the man who seeks virtue. However, qualities that come to a place which is rightfully theirs—abide there faithfully.
Virtue is according to God. Vice is opposed to God and is hostile to virtue. Vice is of the devil. Therefore, the first steps in the approach to virtue are toilsome, because it is characteristic of a weak and diseased mind to fear that with which it is unfamiliar. It is accustomed to darkness. The mind must therefore be forced to make a beginning, after which the medicine or treatment will no longer be bitter. For as soon as it begins its cure, it begins to give ‘blessedness’, and the mind finds happiness in the newfound Light.
The mind finds happiness in the newfound Light
Jesus said: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” [cf. John 8:12].
Our blindness originates from within us
How is it that we are responsible and liable to God’s judgment if we are blind and can only be saved from our blindness by God? The secret lies in a word—WILLFULNESS.
Spiritual blindness and spiritual death proceed from an act of man’s will. Spiritual blindness is rooted in what a man wants and prefers. Spiritual blindness proceeds from our desires for darkness. Spiritual blindness proceeds from dark desires that are stronger than our desires for Light. We are responsible for our moral preferences. Our blindness originates from within us. It proceeds from what we will or want. Our blindness is not forced upon us against our will.
The Lord Jesus Christ said: “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God” [cf. John 3:19–21].
How does blindness come upon the soul? All vices rebel against God—and abandon the appointed order. Vices enjoy that which is unusual or contrary God’s order. Vice not only departs from that which is right—it leaves virtue as far behind as possible. Finally, vice asserts itself in opposition to God and enters into battle with Him. Vicious men, therefore, ultimately abandon God.
Nevertheless, like the two blind men—our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and His messianic age must be manifested. Jesus said: “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” [cf. Matthew 5: 14-16].
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.