Overcoming the Darkness Evident in a Society Accustomed to School Shootings: Homily for the Sunday of the Blind Man in the Orthodox Church

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

Christ is Risen!

 Concerning the school shooting in Uvalde, His Eminence Metropolitan JOSEPH wrote:

We pray for the repose of these innocents and that our good God will provide comfort to their survivors, who agonize and must now bury them. Now more than ever, we all must do our parts to stop the hatred and devaluation of human life that produce such horrific crimes. Everyone—governments, churches, communities, families, and individuals—must do everything they can to ensure that guns and other lethal weapons stay out of the hands of those who will harm others or themselves. No one can sit idly by.

That such events occur regularly in our nation should open our eyes to the sad reality that our society produces many people so spiritually and morally blind that they no longer recognize or respect the humanity of children and other innocent victims, all of whom are living icons of Christ.  For the sake of our neighbors, we must learn to ask critical questions about why such horrible things happen here with some frequency and work to foster the wellbeing and safety of everyone, including especially those who are most vulnerable.  We must also take this terrible tragedy as a reminder that human depravity knows no bounds and that we must refuse to embrace the darkness that will lead only to wickedness spiraling out of control in our hearts.  Tragically, it is entirely possible for any of us to become so depraved that we prefer darkness over light as we insist on remaining in the tomb that our Risen Lord has emptied.

In light of what such atrocities reveal about the human condition, it is obviously not enough to affirm religious beliefs, to perform certain acts of outward piety, or merely to identify ourselves as Orthodox Christians.  Indeed, it is entirely possible to do all those things while remaining blind, embracing the darkness, and becoming all too comfortable with the forces of death and destruction.    Instead, if we want to bear witness to the joy of the resurrection in the midst of a world of so much brokenness, we must undertake the daily and difficult struggle to open even the darkest dimensions of our lives to the healing light of Christ.  In order to share in His life, we must become radiant with the divine glory, manifest His peace, and refuse to rest content with the death-dealing ways so firmly embedded in the hearts of many in our society.

That is precisely what the Church calls us to do on this last Sunday of Pascha, as we celebrate how the Risen Lord has brought us from the spiritual darkness of sin and death into the brilliant light of His heavenly Kingdom.  Even as Christ restored sight to the man born blind in today’s gospel reading, He illumines our darkened souls.  That is how He has enabled us to know and experience Him as “partakers of the divine nature” by grace.

Before the God-Man’s healing of corrupt humanity, grave spiritual blindness was the common lot of the children of the first Adam, who were enslaved to the fear of death as the wages of sin. When the Lord spat on the ground to make clay for the man’s eyes in today’s gospel reading, He showed that His healing is an extension of His incarnation in which He has entered fully into our humanity as those made from the dust of the earth.  The blind man regained his sight after washing in the pool of Siloam, which is an image of baptism, by which our spiritual sight is restored.  The man did not really know Who the Lord was when he first encountered Him, thinking that He was merely a prophet.  After the restoration of the man’s sight, the Savior revealed Himself as the Son of God; then the eye of the man’s soul was illumined to know Christ in His divine glory.

In today’s reading from Acts, there is another man who knew darkness all too well.  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, he was about to take his own life with his sword.  He was in the pit of despair when St. Paul assured him that the prisoners had not escaped.  Then “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?’” Through this extraordinary experience, the man became aware of his spiritual blindness.  The apostles responded, “‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.’”  Then the jailer was baptized along with his whole family. After washing the apostles’ wounds, the man took them to his home and served them food.  He “rejoiced with all his household that he had believed in God.”  Like the blind man in the gospel reading, the jailer gained the vision to know Christ in His divine glory.

To say that these men were shocked and disoriented would be quite an understatement. Likewise, we must recognize that the Savior’s resurrection is not simply a religious teaching or point of history.  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 his prisoners are secure after an earthquake.  The blind man had 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 he knew about the Lord before asking Paul and Silas what he had to do in order to be saved.  The Lord changed their lives radically and in ways that they could neither predict nor control. We must be ready for the same to happen to us when we open the eyes of our souls to the brilliant light of the Risen Lord.

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.”   Becoming the self-appointed judges of others, even those who commit the most heinous deeds, will only darken our spiritual vision.  The Risen Lord has illumined even the tomb itself, making it an entrance into eternal life.  Our participation by grace in the joy of His resurrection is no more a matter of what we deserve than was the healing of the blind man or the deliverance of the jailer.  We stand in need not of greater justice, but of healing mercy.  If we are truly sharing in the life of Christ, we will show that same mercy to our neighbors, including those who wander in blindness.

In order to gain the spiritual clarity to do that, we must mindfully turn away from all that would keep us in the dark and enslaved to sin and death.  Because the eyes of our souls are not yet fully transparent to the light, darkness clouds our sight.  We must struggle to become fully receptive to the brilliant divine energies of our Lord through the healing found in the sacramental and ascetical life of the Church.   As those who were born spiritually blind and have been illumined through the washing of baptism and the anointing of chrismation, we must remain vigilant against the persistent temptation to fall back into the ways of corruption.  There is so much within us that would prefer to hide in the darkness rather than to be illumined in God.   That is why we must pray daily, fast and confess regularly, serve our neighbors (especially those we find it hard to love) at every opportunity, and refuse to worship any of the false gods of this world (especially those we find most appealing).

As we conclude this season of Pascha, let us mindfully turn away from the constant temptation to live as those obsessed with the fear of death.  Such fear is at the root of the conventional wisdom that encourages us to hate and condemn those we perceive as threats to our vain hopes for gaining the whole world; doing so, of course, inevitably leads to losing our souls.  Above all, we must never distort the way of Christ into an idolatrous cult that worships at the altar of any earthly kingdom, faction, or ideology.  There is no surer path to darkening our souls than embracing the spiritual blindness of such perverse idolatry, even as we think we are being righteous.  The Savior’s kingdom remains not of this world. The Cross alone is “a weapon of peace and a trophy invincible.”

Our Lord, Who died as the innocent victim of violence, calls us to become living witnesses of His victory over even Hades and the tomb.  Nothing can keep us from doing so as we become radiant with holy glory other than our own choice to persist in blindness.  As we prepare to bid farewell to the season of Pascha this year, let us persist in the struggle to live in the new day of the Savior’s resurrection as we turn away from the darkness and embrace the Light of the world from the depths of our hearts. Let us live accordingly in a world that desperately needs the healing that shines from the empty tomb, for Christ is Risen!

 

 

2 comments:

  1. Indeed He is risen! I thank God for your words today, as I have been wondering how we have become so calloused to these events, and how easy it is to take a “political” side rather than asking God to cure my own weaknesses, so that I can be a better example. Thank you very much.

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