Sermon on the Healing of Two Blind Men (Matthew 9:27-35)
August 4, 2019
This morning’s Gospel reading tells us that Jesus touched the eyes of the two blind men, and said, “According to your faith let it be to you.” And their eyes were opened. And Jesus sternly warned them, saying, “See that no one knows it.” In other words, “Don’t go around blabbing about this, but keep it to yourselves!” And what did they do? It says: “But when they had departed, they spread the news about Him in all that country.” So first, the two blind men are praised for their faith, but afterward they are exposed as disobedient. Why would they do that? Why show such ingratitude? Why would they immediately disobey the instructions given to them by the One Who just healed them from blindness? Why show such disrespect? We don’t really ask ourselves these questions because our brains, right away, try to justify their behavior. “Oh, it’s OK, they were overcome with joy at their healing and couldn’t contain themselves.” Or, “Jesus had to maintain His humility for the sake of the eyes and ears of the crowd, but secretly He really WANTED the two blind men to spread the news about Him.” Both of these assumptions are wrong. Even if we can “understand” why they did it, even if we can “sympathize” with why they did it, it was still a failure on the part of the blind men to obey Christ. The Prophet Samuel makes this clear to us when he says: “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying His voice? Behold, obedience is better than sacrifice, and attentiveness is better than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22). The Lord Jesus Himself told His disciples, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 20:14).
We human beings are complicated. Like the blind men, in one moment we can be full of faith, and in the next we can be full of ourselves! We have the ability to obey God’s commandments, due to free will and the grace of God, but we also have the ability to disobey Him, due to that same free will. St Paul says in Romans 7:15, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” I’ve shared this quote with you before, but it bares repeating. St. Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain says: “The grace of the Holy Spirit which is given mystically to every Christian when he is baptized acts and is manifested in proportion to our obedience to the commandments of the Lord. That is, if a Christian obeys the commandments of the Lord more, grace acts with him more, while if he obeys them less, grace acts within him less.” There is a battle going on within us. With free will we have the power to win, aided by grace, or we can lose, aided by our own stubborn self will, our reliance on our own thoughts, or the promptings of the devil. This is the unseen warfare. This is darkness versus the Light.
In the book “Unseen Warfare” the editors, St. Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain and St. Theophan the recluse have preserved this quote: "But if this is the hardest of all wars... victory in it is the most glorious of all .... If you really desire to be victorious in this unseen warfare and be rewarded with a crown, you must plant in your heart the following four dispositions and spiritual activities, as it were arming yourself with invisible weapons, the most trustworthy and unconquerable of all, namely:
a) never rely on yourself in anything;
b) bear always in your heart a perfect and all-daring trust in God alone;
c) strive without ceasing; and
d) remain constantly in prayer.
Let’s look at the first one: never rely on yourself. The esteemed Orthodox writer Tito Colliander in his book “Way of the Ascetics” wrote: “The holy Fathers say with one voice: The first thing to keep in mind is never in any respect to rely on yourself. The warfare that now lies before you is extra- ordinarily hard, and your own human powers are altogether insufficient to carry it out. If you rely on them you will immediately be felled to the ground
and have no desire to continue the battle. Only God can give you the victory you wish.”
The second one is: always bear in your heart an all-daring trust in God. To trust totally in God IS daring. Our “natural” (fallen) inclination is to control; control everything, everyone, in every circumstance. It’s about power. Satan thought himself to be of equal power with God. Satan told Adam and Eve NOT to obey God, suggesting that they, too, had power over Him. Obedience to God means to surrender our power, and to embrace His. To trust God means to believe in His promises and His providence with all our hearts, to rely on Him for everything. Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica says: “We have very little faith in the Lord...If we trusted the Lord as much as we trust a friend when we ask him to do something for us, neither we as individuals nor our whole country would suffer so much” (Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives).
The third is: strive without ceasing. This striving means podvig, or ascetical struggle. Metropolitan Laurus of blessed memory wrote: “Every path and every action demands a podvig—that is, an ascetic struggle. Therefore, our holy Orthodox Faith is an ascetic faith demanding ascetic labor in the struggle with our sinful passions and lusts..” What is the nature of this ceaseless labour? Prayer, fasting, almsgiving, attending divine services, supporting the parish, caring for the poor, reading the scriptures, the holy fathers, and the lives of the saints, and then conforming our lives accordingly. Podvig means living your discipleship, walking the walk, if you will. The late and ever-memorable Metropolitan Antony (Khrapovitsky) wrote: “Orthodoxy is a podvig, a striving for eternity...Christianity is an ascetic religion, Christianity is a teaching about the gradual uprooting of the passions, about the means and conditions of the gradual acquisition of virtues...”
And the fourth is, constant prayer. St. Paul teaches us that we should all “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). Was he talking to us? Yes. St. Gregory Palamas says: “Let no one think, my fellow Christian, that only priests and monks need to pray without ceasing and not laymen No, no; every Christian without exception ought to dwell always in prayer.” St. Basil tells us that throughout the day we should think about God and thank Him for everything, our life, our food, our clothing, our job, the sun, the moon and stars, etc. He says: “Thus will you pray without ceasing; if you pray not only in words, but unite yourself to God throughout all the course of your life and your life will become one ceaseless and uninterrupted prayer.” Follow the rule of prayer given to you. Attend church services as often as you can. Last, but by no means least, make the Jesus Prayer your constant companion, your weapon and your shield, the whip of Christ that drives away the demonic money-changers and their logismoi! May God grant us the power to not only will, but to DO all that He has commanded us (See Philippians 2:13). May we, like the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus whom we commemorate today, eagerly choose to obey Christ, and to disobey the world, the flesh, and the devil. Amen.