Sunday, July 12, 2015

Jesus Opens Our Eyes

Today Jesus asks the two blind men, “Do you believe I can do this?” (Matt 9:28)

Christ healing the two blind men
Mosaic  in Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, Italy, 6th century
Do what exactly? Heal them of their blindness? Well, yes and no. The blind men do not exactly and directly ask for sight or for healing. Rather, they follow Jesus, calling out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” So Jesus is not only asking them “Do you believe I can heal you?” but also, “Do you believe I can have mercy on you?”

They do believe and, according to their faith, Jesus opens their eyes. This is marvelous and extraordinary just on the face of it, but the more we meditate on this exchange and this miracle, the more profound we realize it is. Scripture is like this – with layers upon layers of revelation from the Holy Spirit to us, his Church.

Maximus the Confessor
mosaic in Nea Moni, 11th century
When Jesus asks the blind men if they believe that he is able to have mercy on them – he is not asking them if, in their opinion, he can do this. His words are stronger than that. He is asking them if they have faith in him. In English, the word “belief” can connote either faith or opinion, which is unfortunate because faith and opinion are almost antonyms. St. Maximus the Confessor rightly teaches that “faith is a true knowledge[i] – a gift of knowledge of the truth – which is not only an intellectual assent to authentic dogmatic propositions, but also relationship with him who says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” – Jesus Christ our Lord (Luke 14:6). To have faith is to know the Lord, who is the truth and love himself – whereas to have an opinion is merely to regard an idea as probable – not certain and not known. So, again, Jesus is not asking these blind men merely what they think of him or who he is in their opinion – he is asking them about their faith – about who they know him to be and they confess their faith that he is the one who can have mercy on them in their blindness.

I ask you, who is it that can open the eyes of the blind and give voice to the dumb? It is the Messiah and the Lord. Because the blind men had faith in this Son of David, as they professed, I believe that they know this too. Though they call him son of David, for that is who he is, they know that they ask for mercy from the Son of God – for that is who he is.

What drove Jesus to ask the two blind men about their faith? Well, first they followed him, crying aloud for mercy. They followed him for quite some time, it would seem, as he walked from the house of a ruler to his own house. This in and of itself is a marvel: though they were blind, they were able to follow Jesus to his house. They could not see him, but yet they went wherever he went. Now, maybe they had help, or maybe they were following him by sound, or maybe they simply knew the way to his house – the Gospel doesn’t say – but regardless, I think it is a good image of faith that, though blind, they could still follow Christ. They could see him, not with the eyes of the body, but with the eyes of faith. According to their faith, they could see already.

And all the while as they were following him, they were crying out, “Have mercy on us, son of David!” This kind of prayerful petition ought to seem familiar to us in the Byzantine Church – for here is one of the roots of the Jesus Prayer. I hope you all know the Jesus Prayer and pray it daily:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner.

We can hear in this, I think, an echo of the blind men’s prayer: “Son of David, have mercy on us.” But it is also similar in the way that they prayed it – crying and saying their prayer while following after Jesus. The words here – κράζοντες καὶ λέγοντες – are present participles which describe continuous, ongoing action. In other words, they did not cry out their prayer only once, but continuously and repeatedly as they followed Jesus. In our hesychast tradition, under the guidance of our spiritual fathers and mothers, we pray the Jesus prayer so frequently that the prayer becomes a part of our very breathing – and of the beating of our hearts  so that we can aspire to pray unceasingly, as Paul teaches us (1 Thess 5:17). Again and again in peace we pray to the Lord for mercy – as did these two blind men before us.

Their way of prayer also evokes to me the uncomfortable parable of the widow and the unjust judge in Luke (18:1-8). Not once does the widow plead for justice, but repeatedly. Not once do the blind men cry out for mercy but they cry aloud continuously.

It seems sometimes like we have to nag the Lord, that we have to bend his ear, or that we have to keep after him. Of course, this is only how it seems to us from our limited human perspective. Repetition, I think, helps to simulate the eternal for us temporal creatures. And it helps us forgetful creatures to remember – in this case – our creator. Anyone memorizing lines for a play or multiplication tables for a math test knows the necessity of repetition for a human mind. If we humans are to remember God, we must often repeat our prayer to him and our calling upon his holy name. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner.

It is only after the widow has often plead for justice that the judge gives her what is good and right and it is only after the blind men have followed Jesus quite a way calling out for mercy and followed him even into his house that he asks them if they have faith. Only after they have demonstrated faithfulness to some extent are they asked if they have faith. We must be persistent. We must persevere in the faith even when we get no answer to our prayer the first time or the second time or the seventh time we pray. Pray again! Do not lose heart. Keep following after Jesus with a pure heart – not just in the hope of some material reward, mind you, but in the hope of mercy – of healing, eternal life, and union with God.

The physical blindness of these two men has also for us, I believe, a spiritual meaning. We are the blind men – until we through faith receive the grace and mercy of the Lord, for which we must continually cry out. Our vision of all things is darkened until we see them in the light of Christ.

Only in the light of Christ is it possible to see things as they really are.

Only in the light of Christ can we understand the true meaning of the Torah and the prophets.

Only in the light of Christ can we see and love our enemies as images of God.

Only in the light of Christ can we find any meaning in our suffering because without Christ and his cross, all suffering is meaningless. Only in Christ and in his cross can suffering become a means of union with God – because only in Christ and in his cross does the impassible God suffer.

Only in the light of Christ can we see that for us death is but falling asleep in the Lord and that the great dawn of resurrection is coming.

And so, without the light of Christ, we are blind. And, according to our faith, Christ will open our eyes.

[i] Maximus the Confessor. “Chapters on Knowledge.” Maximus Confessor: Selected Writings. New York: Paulist Press, 1985. 1:9; 130.

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