Romans 15:1-7; Matthew 9:27-35
We often overlook the simplest and most important things because we want to achieve our desired results quickly and on our own terms. In any worthwhile endeavor, however, there is no alternative to taking our time as we get a solid grounding in the basics before trying to take more advanced steps. Illusions of being more advanced than we really are will lead only to disappointment and failure.
The men whom Jesus Christ healed in today’s gospel lesson did not have any illusions about their great needs. The blind men sat by the road and begged, for that was all that they could do in that time and place in order to survive. We do not know the mental state of the man who was possessed by a demon and unable to speak, but others had to bring him to the Lord for deliverance. Obviously, all these men were living in miserable circumstances of the sort that were obvious to them and everyone else. The blind beggars were Jews who asked for mercy from the Son of David, a Jewish term for the Messiah. Even though their faith was far from perfect, as symbolized by their blindness, the Lord had mercy on them and restored their sight.
The man who was unable to speak was a Gentile, which is why the people responded, “’Never was anything like this seen in Israel,’” while “the Pharisees said, ‘He casts out demons by the prince of demons.’” Due to their idolatry, the mouths of the Gentiles had been shut to the glory of God. But Christ’s mercy restored that ability to this man and provided a sign of how His healing extends to all who receive Him with faith. In today’s epistle reading, St. Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, both Jews and Gentiles, that “together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” We Gentiles may now know and glorify Him every bit as much as the descendants of Abraham, for the ancient promises extend to all who have faith in the Messiah. The Holy Spirit has united the divided tongues of the tower of Babel such that people of all cultures and backgrounds may join together in the praise of God as full members of the household of Christ in faith.
It should be no surprise that the Lord restored the abilities of sight and speech to these men. To see is to know and experience in ways that transcend rational description. The spiritual eyes of Peter, James, and John were opened to behold the divine glory of the Lord, to the extent that they were able, at His Transfiguration, when He shown brilliantly with light. We know God through the eye of the soul, the nous, not as a symbol or idea, but as true participation in Christ through His grace or divine energies. His restoration of the sight of the blind men provides an icon of what He has done for fallen humanity, blinded by sin, and unable to share in the life of God due to our slavery to corruption. In Him, the eyes of our souls are restored, cleansed, and healed so that we may know Him not in images and ideas, but as a Person in Whose life we truly share.
Likewise, our ability to speak has profound spiritual significance, for the Lord taught that “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” (Luke 6:45) The Scriptures contain many warnings about the dangers associated with mindlessly running our mouths. We read in the Psalms, “Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips.” (Ps. 141:3) Christ taught that we will have to give an account for every idle word that we speak, “For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matt. 12:36) It is not what goes into our mouths, but what comes out of them that defiles us. (Matt. 15:11) As St. James wrote, the tongue is small, powerful, and very difficult to control: “It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” (Jas. 3:6) The uncomfortable truth is that how we speak reveals the true state of our souls.
Like the men in today’s gospel reading, we all need the healing of the Lord for our eyes and our mouths. Though physical and spiritual sight are different, there is no question that what we fill our eyes with impacts our hearts. That should be obvious, but perhaps we think that we are too sophisticated to be corrupted by pornography, unrealistic standards of physical beauty, mainstream video games and films that glorify sex and violence, and the many images of perpetual happiness that people post on social media. Most of what passes for news or entertainment today is designed to inflame our passions in order to bring power and money to the sponsors, whoever they may be. We may want only to be entertained or informed, but we are surely being shaped in ways that easily make us more accustomed to the darkness of serving the false gods of this world than to the brilliant light of Christ. The less that we fill our physical eyes and ears with what inflames our passions, encourages us to find fulfillment in what weakens us spiritually, and keeps us from seeing ourselves and our neighbors as living icons of God, the more we will be able to open the eyes of our souls to experience and know the Lord from the depths of our hearts.
Tomorrow begins the Dormition Fast as we prepare to commemorate the falling asleep in Christ of the Most Holy Theotokos on August 15. Three days after her burial the tomb was found to be empty, as she was the first to follow her Son into the heavenly kingdom as a whole person: body, soul, and spirit. During this period, we abstain from the richest and most satisfying foods and devote ourselves to intensified prayer because we want to become more like the Theotokos, the first and model Christian who received the Savior into her life in a paradigmatic way and stands as a shining example for us all. She shows us how to speak with holiness, for she said “Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word” in response to the message of the Archangel Gabriel that God had chosen her to be the virgin mother of His Son.
Her words reflect the purity of her heart and stand in stark contrast to what so often comes out of our own mouths. We do not have to lie or fall into profanity or obscenity in order to speak misleading, self-serving, or judgmental words that bear witness to the sickness of our souls. Whether mindlessly or intentionally, we so often talk in ways that serve nothing but our own passions. We may think it is somehow virtuous to say whatever comes to mind as being true to ourselves without discerning whether it is pleasing to God, when in reality doing so leads to even greater captivity to the corruption that mars the beauty of our souls. No doubt, we all need the intensified prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and repentance of the upcoming fast in order to gain a small measure of the spiritual health that enabled the Theotokos to say “Yes” to God with every ounce of her being.
As we prepare for the Dormition Fast and look forward to the feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord, we must recognize how much we remain like the blind and mute men in our gospel reading. Instead of ignoring our obvious weaknesses and needs, we must focus on the basics of opening our hearts to receive His healing in humility. That requires keeping a close watch on what we allow into our minds through our eyes and on the words that come out of our mouths. Doing so remains a great struggle, which is a reminder that we have achieved no great spiritual height and like the blind beggars, must call out constantly for the Lord’s mercy. That is the only way that sinners like you and me will ever find the healing of our souls. Let us never think that we are too advanced to attend to the basics of the Christian life.