Healed From Blindness

Healed From Blindness May 26, 2019
El Greco: Christ Healing the Blind /Wikimedia Commons

I come to You, O Christ,  blind from birth in my spiritual eyes.  And I call to You in repentance:  You are the most radiant light of those in darkness! (Kontakion of the Sunday of the Man Born Blind).

For the Sixth Sunday of the Paschal Season, the Byzantine tradition commemorates the man born blind (Jn. 9:1-34). As demonstrated by the Kontakion for the Sunday, we are to led to see the relationship between Christ’s work with the man born blind with Christ’s work with us. We should all see ourselves in the man born blind, not because we lacked the physical ability to see, but rather, because we lacked proper spiritual sight.

It was Jesus’ disciples who first had Jesus come to the man born blind, asking Jesus why he was blind:

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him. We must work the works of him who sent me, while it is day; night comes, when no one can work.  As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

As he said this, he spat on the ground and made clay of the spittle and anointed the man’s eyes with the clay, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing (Jn. 9:1-7 RSV).

There are many points of interest we could find within this story. First, the answer Jesus gave to his disciples is very important: Jesus said that the man’s blindness was not the result of either some sin of his parents, or some sin the man himself had done in the past. This was not to say that neither his parents nor the man himself avoided sin, but rather, it was Jesus telling his disciples, and thus all of us, that any attempt to create a theodicy which suggests his blindness was due to sin failed to understand how and why he was born blind. Jesus said it was so that he could reveal his glory through him, and though we cannot deny this, he really did not offer the cause of the man’s blindness because that was not important: what was important is that the man suffered with his blindness and he needed healing, and Jesus came to give him that healing. Arguing how and why he was blind would not do the man himself any good. Likewise, when we see people in need, we could ask ourselves “why are they in need,” and find excuses to ignore them, or we can do what we can to help them, and then sort things out later (if they need to be sorted out).

Another interesting element to the story is that Jesus mixed some clay with his own spittle in order to heal the man.  Why? Though the story itself does not explain, St. Gregory Palamas suggested  the answer was that the man himself was blind because he did not have any eyes, and this demonstrates Christ’s creative ability, to not just heal eyes which were blinded, but to  establish and create what he needed in order to be able to see:   “On the other hand, the man born blind did not have eyes or lids and needed them to be created out of earth, which was achieved through the clay the Lord mixed with his fingers (John 9:6).” [1]

But what should concern us is the insight this story gives to us in how Jesus heals us from our own blindness. Spiritually, we are born blind. It might be because we do not have the facilities to see the transcendent spiritual world, or it might be because those facilities fail to work properly. Why? We can ask this, but is it not better to be healed instead of dwelling on the why? And this, then, is the point of the story, and why it is considered during the Paschal season: Jesus is the light of the world, coming to enlighten us, and that means, healing our spiritual condition so that we can begin to see – and then actually see – with spiritual eyes, realizing with them the spiritual reality which we previously did not perceive (or perceived in a weakened stated).

What are these spiritual eyes? St. Hildegard suggest they are a part of the faculties of the rational soul:

Spiritual eyes are the knowledge of the rational soul; they are by no means able to see corporeal things as they are, just as a blind person does not see with exterior eyes but knows and understands what is seen only through hearing. Moreover, corporeal eyes do not have the possibility to look upon the spiritual perfectly. But just as a human’s form is seen in a mirror although not being in the mirror, so the human sees and knows spiritual things through hearing words in faith. [2]

The knowledge of a rational soul: the knowledge given to us through reason and higher principles, is what is revealed to us in the light of Christ. The more we dwell in the light, the more we are able to see and perceive with our spiritual senses, the more truth we ascertain, a truth which incorporates and includes what is discerned through the empirical senses but is not bound by it. Our spirit, therefore, should be able to sense spiritual realities, but because of our weakened human condition, we are born with imperfect spiritual vision, so much so, that many of us, if not most of us, experience life in a purely materialistic fashion. But spiritually, Christ has come to restore our spiritual vision, to allow us to be holistic in nature, spiritual and physical, capable of experiencing reality in both spiritual and empirical fashions. The spiritual world, therefore, is not seen, so long as we are blind, but through the light of Christ, and the restoration or creation of a spiritual sense, a new awareness of the spiritual realm, we can then see the invisible, and behold the full beauty of reality itself, including, insofar as is possible, a revelation of God himself, as Origen suggested:

But there is also another world in which there are things that are not seen, beside the manifest and perceptible world that consists of heaven and earth, or of heavens and earth. Now this in its entirety is an invisible world, a world which is not seen, and a spiritual world on whose appearance and beauty the pure in heart will look, being prepared in advance by beholding it to seek God, so that they may also see him, to the degree that God is disposed by nature to be seen.[3]

Even though we might still find the healing process of our spiritual vision to be a lifelong process, St. Gregory Palamas suggested we could see the effects of this process in our life in and through our faith:

While our Lord Jesus Christ was going about among men of earth in the body He had assumed for our sake, He healed many people who were physically and spiritually blind. If we consider the transition from unbelief to faith, from ignorance to the knowledge of God, as a restoration of sight to the mind, it is impossible to count how many blind people received their sight through the Lord’s incarnation. [4]

St. Symeon the New Theologian took things further. While Christians who come to faith in Jesus are good and are on their way to full spiritual healing, without some experience of that spiritual reality beyond acceptance of revelation, one is still in the process of such healing, and as such, they would be best to wait until they experience that transcendent material-spiritual reality holistically and are changed by it before they figure they are themselves sent out to preach and teach about that truth (that is, before they engage theology):

But for those who have not become such, and who have not been changed at all in action, knowledge, and contemplation, how are they not ashamed to call themselves Christians? How dare they open their mouths and shamelessly speak of God’s hidden mysteries (Eph. 3:9; Col. 1:26) with indifference as though they were lying on a bed? How do they not blush to count themselves among Christians and number themselves among those who are spiritual?[5]

That is, though we have gone from unbelief to belief, when we are just beginning to see with our mind the truths of the Christian faith, we are likely to see it in a distorted fashion, and likewise then, get it wrong when we try to speak on that which we have no basis to speak. It is a caution which is important for us, as we realize the healing Christ enacts in us is to be transformative, causing is to manifest that healing through our deed. Without any experience of the divine, which comes about through such a transformation, we continue to stumble about when we try to talk about God and the faith. Of course, as our spiritual sight increases, our experiences and perception should get better, and so it is not that we have to await perfection before we speak, but rather, as we see the changes happening in our lives, then, in accordance to those changes (and not more) we can speak.

Theology proper, therefore, is something which is transcendent, and requires a real contemplative engagement with God. It is more than a recitation of what one has been told to believe (though that is an important element in theological development). We can come to believe, we can come to some beginning insight into the truth, and hold onto it, even unto death;[6] but we should look for and desire more: we should go from such a foundation to purity of faith, contemplating the truth of the faith, acquiring an experience of the truth through such contemplation and meditation, allowing it to transform us, allowing then the spiritual sight to gain its full functionality.

The Sunday of the Man Born Blind reminds us that we are born spiritually blind. We might have theories and explanations for this. We might want to argue for which of those explanations are best. There might be some value there, but what is more important is to seek a solution to the problem, to allow Christ come to us and heal us of our own blindness. Then, once we too can see, we too can go to Siloam and be sent out into the world, revealing what Christ has done for us.


[1] St. Gregory Palamas, “On the Blind Men Who According to Matthew the Evangelist Received Their Sight in a House” in Saint Gregory Palamas: The Homilies. Trans. Christopher Veniamin (Waymart, PA: Mount Thabor Publishing, 2009), 237. This might be a reason why others, who saw him after he was healed, began to question whether or not he had been blind: was he just hiding his eyes, making it look like they were not there until Jesus came and cleansed his face with his spittle?

[2]Saint Hildegard of Bingen, Solutions to Thirty-Eight Questions. trans. Beverly Mayne Kienzle, Jenny C. Bledsoe and Stephen H. Behnke (Collegeville, MN: Cistercian Publications. 2014), 82.

[3] Origen, Commentary on the Gospel of John: Books 13-32. Trans. Ronald Heine (Washington, DC: CUA Press, 1993), 200-201.

[4] St. Gregory Palamas, “On the Blind Men Who According to Matthew the Evangelist Received Their Sight in a House” in Saint Gregory Palamas: The Homilies. Trans. Christopher Veniamin (Waymart, PA: Mount Thabor Publishing, 2009), 235.

[5] St. Symeon the New Theologian, The Discourses. Trans. C.J. deCatanzaro (New York: Paulist Press, 1980), 196.

[6] “Yet these same persons in believing, that is, in thinking about matters of faith, are in darkness and struggle. This is the burden and burdensome weakness and astonishing blindness of the human mind.  In fact, it is often extremely easy and convenient for many, if necessity or opportunity presents itself, to die for the faith. But it is not easy for them to acquire the purity of faith itself by believing, that is, by pondering matters of faith,” William of Saint Thierry, The Mirror of Faith. Trans. Thomas X. Davis (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications. 1979), 21.

 

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