The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (18:35-43)
It can be difficult for us to relate at times to some of the people that we encounter in the gospel readings. People who have lived very difficult lives. People who have had terrible afflictions or diseases. Most of us have not known such things by the grace of God. But there is a way in which those who have experienced such things are in a much better position than ours.
In today’s holy gospel, we hear of a blind man who was sitting by the roadside begging. This was the road which led to Jericho. Jericho was a bustling city due to it’s abundance of springs which led to an abundance of palm trees and other fruit bearing trees. We know of Jericho since it is the first city that was conquered by the Jewish people as they were led by another Jesus, or rather, the one whom we know as Joshua the son of Nun. This city was conquered only by God’s grace as the people obeyed the command of the Lord to march around the city each day for six days. And on the seventh day, they were commanded to march around the city seven times. Finally they were to blow the horns and shout with a great voice and behold the walls of the city crumbled.
As I mentioned at the outset, there is a way in which those who have struggled like the blind man that we see in today’s gospel reading, are in much better shape than we might think. When we are healthy, when we are comfortable, when all of our needs are met and we live without any pain, our hearts become like fortresses. But when we see this man, blind, unable to see the beauty of God’s creation. Unable to work for a living, but forced instead to beg. We see a man who not only lacks sight. We see a man who lacks walls around his heart…and in this case, that is a man who is ready for God to enter into His life.
You might wonder why we as Orthodox Christians put such an emphasis on our ascetical life, our voluntary self-discipline, our fasting and prostrations, our almsgiving. It is because we want to make sure that our hearts are softened, not surrounded by thick rock walls, but ready to open the gates to receive the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Lord conquered Jericho and brought down it’s walls. When we are going through truly difficult situations, it is a good time to recognize that the Lord is breaking down the walls around each of us. He is preparing us for something much greater than what we could imagine or what we desire. He is preparing us for Himself.
The people in the caravan with Our Lord Jesus Christ would have seen a poor blind beggar, but little did they realize that he was more blessed than all of them, because he was poor in spirit. The Lord says “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” This blind man became more rich than them all. How? In his poverty, in his utter despondency, he did the one thing that God really desires, he cried out to the Lord from the bottom of his heart. It makes us wonder, who was actually blind and who could actually see?
The blind man cries out to the Lord and this cry is a bold declaration of faith in Jesus Christ, whom he has never even seen! He cries “Son of David, have mercy on me!” What boldness. What courage. Who can give have mercy on us but God? Who could be the Son of David, but the long awaited messiah. The blind man believed these things. His whole life had led him to this very moment when God would do something amazing in his life. But it happened because his heart was not walled off, but vulnerable, aching, open to Christ. It happened because he had true faith.
Faith in Christ whom he has never witnessed with his eyes. Faith without seeing any of the miracles. Faith without even seeing the man. That is true faith according to the very definitions of faith and it is no surprise that the Lord says to him “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.”
What about us? What is the condition of our hearts? What has sin done to each of us? Are we fortified like the great walls of Jericho? Are we walled off from the pain and suffering of others? Are we walled off from our own deep need for Christ? Can we see our sickness and need for the Lord Jesus or are we the ones who are actually blind? Do we feel pain in our hearts because we know how poor we are? Do we feel anguish because we desire to see and to know Christ? Turn this desire into action! Don’t numb the desire or the pain, run towards Christ who alone can heal you.
These next three and a half weeks are a time to focus on things that matter, and this will be exceedingly difficult because the world around us will do just the opposite. This is a time to exercise self-restraint, a time to struggle to repent and to pray more fervently, a time to engage in even more works of charity and to soften and prepare our hearts to receive Christ the King. Let’s each make a pact to set an alarm every evening maybe an hour before bed time and cut off the television or the smartphones and dedicate ourselves to allowing God extra time with us.
This is time for reading the lives of the saints or the writings of the fathers or the gospels and the rest of Holy Scripture. It is also time for prayer, maybe we read from the prayer books or maybe we pray for all of the people we know, or perhaps, like this blind man, we simply grab a prayer rope and cry out “Lord Jesus have mercy on me a sinner.” All of these actions allow God a chance to circle our hearts as Joshua and the people of Israel circled Jericho. Day after day they obeyed the Lord and finally at the appointed time, the walls fell.
If we are faithful in the little things that God has given us to do through fasting and prayer, God will no doubt storm the city of our hearts and raise up the banner of His flag in our lives. People will look and will see that we belong to the Lord, that we are His. That is my desire for each of you and for myself also. May the Lord heal us and make us well, and may all the people in your life see this and give praise to the living God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. AMEN.