Saturday, January 27, 2024

It Is Only Because of the Light that We Can See the Darkness: Homily for the Thirty-first Sunday After Pentecost & Fourteenth Sunday of Luke in the Orthodox Church


1 Timothy 1:15-17; Luke 18:35-43


We remain in a period of preparation to behold Christ at His appearing.  The One born at Christmas and baptized at Theophany is brought by the Theotokos and St. Joseph the Betrothed to the Temple in Jerusalem as a 40-day old Infant in fulfillment of the Old Testament law, which we will celebrate later this week at the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the old man St. Simeon proclaims that this Child is the salvation “of all peoples, a light to enlighten the Gentiles and the glory of Thy people Israel.”  The aged prophetess St. Anna also speaks openly of Him as the Savior.   At the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple, we celebrate the appearance of the Lord Who fulfills the ancient promises to Abraham and extends them to all with faith in Him.  By His appearance, He has enlightened the whole creation. Christ is “the true light which gives light to everyone coming into the world.” (Jn. 1:9) 

 If we have any level of spiritual integrity and insight, however, we will recognize how far we are from having the clarified spiritual vision necessary to behold the glory of the Lord at His appearance.  Despite our celebration of these great feasts, we remain very much like the blind beggar in need of the Lord’s healing mercy for the restoration of our sight.  That may seem odd, for we are illumined in baptism, filled with the Holy Spirit at Chrismation, and nourished by Christ’s Body and Blood in the Eucharist.  As we sing after receiving Communion, “We have seen the true Light.  We have received the Heavenly Spirit.  We have found the true Faith, worshiping the Undivided Trinity Who hath saved us.”   Yes, the eyes of our souls have been cleansed, but not to the point that we are fully transparent to the brilliant light of Christ.

 St. Paul wrote, “For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Cor. 4: 6) The Apostle gained the spiritual vision to see himself, as he wrote in today’s epistle reading, as “the foremost of sinners.”  We quote him in confessing that we are each “the chief” of sinners in our pre-Communion prayers.  To pray those words with integrity is a clear sign that Christ is enlightening our hearts, for otherwise we would remain in the utter blindness of thinking that we are justified in self-righteously exalting ourselves before God and over other people.  St. Paul had the vision to do precisely the opposite when he wrote that “I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display His perfect patience for an example to those who were to believe in Him for eternal life.”  In other words, Paul knew that if the divine mercy could extend even to a miserable sinner like him, then there is hope for everyone in Christ Jesus.  That is precisely the kind of humility that even the smallest ray of spiritual light should inspire in our souls.

 If we have truly embraced the Lord’s mercy with the humility of the chief of sinners, then He has already corrected our spiritual vision to the point that we can catch at least a glimpse of how infinitely beyond us the fullness of His eternal glory remains.  That is why we are able to see, at least partially, how much darkness remains within us and how far we are from fulfilling the Lord’s command: “You shall be perfect even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48) He also taught: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matt. 5:8) If we are not completely blind spiritually, hearing these words will inspire us to call out with the humble persistence of the blind beggar for mercy that will further restore and perfect our sight.   

 The blind beggar is a model for us in many ways in how to gain spiritual clarity.  First, he neither denied nor embraced his inability to see.  He did not accept some kind of fantasy that distracted him from facing the truth about his situation.  He did not somehow convince himself that the best he could do was to make the most of being a blind beggar.  He knew that he could not see and desperately wanted healing.  Is the same true of us?  Have we become so comfortable with our darkened spiritual sight that we do not long to become radiant with the brilliant light of our Lord, sharing as fully as possible in His blessed eternal life?  Have we become content with a faith that is little more than an assortment of religious ideas and practices that we use to distract ourselves from confronting where we truly stand before God and in relation to our neighbors?  If we are honest, we will answer those questions not according to our passions but in light of our Lord’s infinite holiness, for we must all engage in the perpetual spiritual struggle of opening our darkened souls more fully to the light of Christ.  We have all become too comfortable with the darkness with us; to the extent that we recognize that, it is because we have opened the eyes of our souls to receive at least a small measure of the light of our Lord. 

 The blind beggar is also a model for us because he called out to Christ when he did not fully understand who He was.  The beggar used a very Jewish term for the Messiah, “Son of David,” when he asked for mercy.  Like everyone else who was waiting for the Messiah or “anointed one” at that time, the beggar surely thought of Christ as merely an especially righteous human being who would bless the Jews by healing the sick, casting out demons, teaching strict obedience to the Old Testament law, and delivering Israel from occupation by the Roman Empire.  They wanted a new King David, not One Who appeared truly as the Son of God Who would conquer death through His cross and empty tomb.  The Savior did not, however, reject the blind man’s request due to this lack of full understanding.  Instead, the Lord graciously restored the man’s sight because he had faith that He could heal him.  Likewise, we must not be discouraged from persistently calling out to Christ due to our imperfect faith or knowledge. Uniting ourselves fully to Him is an infinite vocation that none of us has completed.  We may face deep struggles in entrusting our most painful wounds and weaknesses to the Savior for healing.  We may wrestle with doubt almost to the point of despair.  God may seem distant from the challenges that break our hearts.  Like that blind beggar, however, we must refuse to be denied, cultivating the trust to call for the Lord’s mercy from the depths of our hearts in some form of the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  If we can pray that prayer with any measure of spiritual integrity, even with faith the size of a mustard seed, that is because His light is already shining in our hearts.  The way to grow in faith is to cultivate and magnify that light, which we do by offering even our deepest pains and darkest fears to Christ through prayer from the depths of our hearts, especially when we are sorely tempted not to. Let us do so with simple trust that, as St. Paul wrote, “’whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’” (Rom. 10:13)   

 There is simply no way for us to gain the spiritual vision to behold and know Christ more fully than to embrace the daily spiritual struggle to share personally in His healing and fulfillment of the human person in the image and likeness of God.  When we stumble in doing so, let us use our fall to grow in humility and sense of dependence upon His grace.  There is no way to open the eyes of our souls to His brilliant light without calling persistently from the depths of our hearts for His mercy.  That is precisely the humility that attracts the grace without which we would be completely blind.  That is precisely the humility that we see in St. Paul, who knew himself to be the chief of sinners.  That is precisely the humility that we see in the blind beggar, who refused to stop calling out for the Lord’s healing mercy.  And it must be the humility that becomes characteristic of us as those who recognize the 40-day old Christ at His Presentation in the Temple as the Savior “of all peoples, a light to enlighten the Gentiles and the glory of Thy people Israel.”   He alone can overcome the darkness that remains within us.




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