Wednesday, August 26, 2009

August 1, 2009

This body of Christ has become for us our reentry, our restoration, into the joyous paradise that Adam and Eve lost because of their compound rebellion against God. First, possessing the light, being able to know the truth, having it implanted in their hearts by nature, being themselves vessels of the uncreated light, they chose to disobey God. They chose to place their own passions above God’s desire for them. They chose to have what they discerned to be knowledge, that is to say to have laid upon them the burden of discerning good and evil, rather than allowing God to simply pour into their hearts the knowledge of what was good. And then, having thus rebelled, they tasted of the fruit. Their second rebellion was in this: that rather than coming to God and saying, “Oh Father, creator. We know that we have sinned against you. We know that before this apostasy we had your very voice proclaiming in our hearts what we ought to do, and to think, and to say, but now we have become both death and dumb concerning righteousness, and blind concerning your glory. For we see ourselves as ugly, and as broken clumps of clay rather than as beautiful lamps emitting the uncreated light of your divinity. Please forgive us. Please accept us back. In so far as it is possible, restore us. But no, they didn’t do this. Seeing that they had apostatized and abandoned their own good, the rather justified themselves. Was it not true that the serpent said to them, “Ye would be as God, knowing good and evil?” Well, now they knew good and evil, and they did evil. Was it not true that the serpent who had tempted them was created by God? Was it not then God’s fault that they had been tempted? Was not the woman taken from the side of the man by God’s command, and therefore was not the man justified in that it was the woman whom God created who tempted him? So each of them, Adam and Eve, in their own heart devised a scheme by which they could blame it on someone else. It is God’s fault that I have sinned. It is God’s fault that I am blind spiritually. It is God’s fault that I am deaf and cannot hear the gracious words. It is God’s fault that I am dumb and cannot speak the gospel of righteousness and salvation.

And they went and sought to hide themselves from Him, as a teenage girl hides herself from the face her former friend whom she has slandered, or as a boy hides himself from the face of his comrade of whom he has told lies. They went and sought to remove themselves from before the face of God so they would not be ashamed and embarrassed. And they looked on each other as disgusting things, as things of reproach. They looked on their own flesh as though it were dung. And then when God approached them, they spouted out those stories, those justifications that they had contrived. “The serpent whom thou didst make gave to me and I did eat.” “The woman who thou gavest me did give to me and I did eat.” It’s your fault God. It’s the fault of the creation you made. It’s the fault of your having made human beings man and woman. It’s somebody else’s fault. It’s not my fault. And because of this triple apostasy – having eaten, and then having hidden, and then having lied to themselves and repeated the lie to God – they were cast out of the Garden. And only then, when they stood before the closed gates of Eden with the seraph with the fiery sword turning all ways guarding its entrance, only then did Adam fall down and repent and Eve lament, bewailing their own apostasy and misfortune that had befallen them.

And with that repentance came to them the consolation that even though by the sweat of his brow man would eat his bread all the days of his life and feed his family with it, and his wife would have pain in child birth, and that the earth would not easily yield its produce but it would have to be forced from the earth with the blade of a plow, by the strain of the back, and that the serpents offspring would continue to strike the heel of man, was the promise that the woman’s seed would crush the head of the serpent. That someday the flaming sword would be withdrawn, the doors of paradise would again be opened, and that human beings would again be allowed to enter in.

Our Lord Jesus Christ came and he manifested in the world during His ministry the presence of the kingdom of God. When we pray in the liturgy, we say “Blessed is the kingdom of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” We announce its presence. When Jesus preached He said, “The kingdom of heaven is here,” but He taught us when we pray to say, “May Thy kingdom come,” because the kingdom is come in its potential, but not in its fulfillment, not in its fullness. But we experience the kingdom now. And so, our Lord performed miracles that began to undo on the physical plane the curse that had fallen on humanity as a result of the triple apostasy of Adam and Eve.

Today He opens the eyes of two blind men because they believed He could do it. And by opening their physical eyes, giving back to them sight, by touching their eyes and allowing them to see the natural light, He prefigures for them that through the waters of baptism will be available to them the uncreated light that illumines the eye of the heart. Today He unstops the ears and loosens the tongue of a man held deaf and dumb by demonic power, so that now he can hear the gracious words of the gospel, and having heard them, he may proclaim them. And He lays out for us the pattern of the vocation to which we are called – that first, through water our spiritual eyes are opened and the words of the message of salvation enter through the ear into the heart, and that then from the lips should come out a proclamation, not only of our faith, but of God’s good will toward the human race, making each one of us an evangelist, a preacher of salvation, of liberation, of righteousness, of restoration, and of truth.

But the lesson of the gospel today is solidified in the last line, because, you see, having stood and beheld, having seen these two blind men given their sight, having seen this possessed man unable to hear or to speak now able to hear and to speak, the Pharisees were confronted by a choice. God now meets you. God now stands before you. God now manifests his power. It has never been so; no, not ever before in Israel. And what do the Pharisees say? “In the name of demons, he casts out demons.” In other words, they uttered an absurdity. They repeated the lie of Adam and Eve who blamed their sin on God, and the serpent, and each other, by saying, “It is not by the power of God that he has released people from obsession to Satan, but by the power of Satan.” Now they, in their wisdom, in their learning, in their study of scripture, had to know in the depths of the heart that this itself was an absurdity – that Satan is not divided against himself. That hell does not cast out hell. That evil does not admit of opening the doors to good. And yet, why did they tell this lie? Because like Adam and Eve they were confronted with the wickedness of their own choices to have rejected Him as what the two blind men proclaimed Him to be: the Messiah, the Son of David. And having hardened their hearts and stopped their ears so that they should not hear, they had to have a lie to replace the truth. They could not say, “This is the Son of God. This is the King of Israel,” so they said, “He is a magician who casts out devils by the power of the devil.”

And you know, this is not a story, brothers and sisters, that is just contained in the gospel. If you look into the commentaries, to the Talmud of the Jews, when it discusses Jesus it does not deny that He, who is called there “such and such a one,” it does not deny that He gave sight to the blind, or braced the paralytics, or made the bent over to stand up, or drove out demons, or caused the deaf and dumb to speak. No, it does not deny any of those miracles. Rather it says, repeating the lie of the Pharisees, that He did it by magic, by the power of Satan. So not even His enemies could deny the magnitude of His great, miraculous, manifestations of God’s unconquerable power, but from generation to generation they repeated to their children the lie that He had stole the name of God and by the power of the devil had performed these signs.

Now, we can understand the judgment of the Jews for this, and one doesn’t hear these stories much anymore although they’re still in the commentaries of the Talmud and so, observant Jews still know them. But we have to not cast the light on someone else and scapegoat them and blame them, but cast it back on ourselves and ask ourselves, “How often has God opened our blinded eyes, has He shown us the corruption, the twistedness of our way of life, of our thinking, or our objectives, of the direction in which we’re traveling, of the things for which we hope and desire; how often having had our eyes opened have we sought to shut them again, nay, even to have them blinded because we did not desire the illumination that compels action? How of often, having heard the words of the gospel proclaimed, having had our hearts tickled, as it were, by the power of the words of salvation, have then said, “Yes, but we can’t really live like that”? How often, having had our tongues loosed, having had the cord bound by demons of our tongues no longer bound, have we passed over the opportunity to bring another human being, either before the throne of God in prayer, because we didn’t like them or they deserved what was happening to them, or to say the gracious words of salvation and to bring them to the fullness of the Orthodox catholic faith and to salvation? And we wished that our tongues could again be tight, and our ears stopped, and the eyes of our hearts temporarily blinded, because, you see, it’s very, very difficult to live that kind of life.

I give you, in conclusion today, Jacob Nestiva, a Russian-American boy, half Aleut, half Russian, educated in the seminary of Russia, meant to be a priest in the Church in Eastern Siberia, who answered the call of God and returned to Alaska. And he preached to his own native people in Alaska, and he brought thousands to salvation. And then it occurred to him, that not very far from his village, were tens of thousands of Eskimos, and tens of thousands of Indians, people with whom his tribe had been at war for centuries, perhaps for millennia; people whom his people had regarded as not people at all, calling themselves Inuit – “real people” – and the other as something other than real people. It occurred to him that he had been sent, not just to preach to people he liked, people with a pretty face like him in is opinion, like his mother’s face, but people who looked different, who spoke with different accents or languages, who ate different foods, who had killed his grandfather, who had warred with his ancestors for generations. And he allowed the light of God to shine in his heart, hears ears to be unstopped, his tongue to be loosed, and he went and he sat with his interpreter in the midst of the camp of the Native American Indians, of his tribes mortal enemies, and he proclaimed the gracious words of salvation, and that day, that day alone, did he write something positive about himself in his journal. You know, every Russian priest kept a journal, and he wrote in it every day. He said, “I spoke to the people for eight hours. I made several thousand converts. I believe, by God’s grace, I did a good day’s work.”

That’s all that God asks of us is that at sundown, we can say, “Whether I liked what I was doing today or not, whether it was what I wanted to do or not, whether it was pleasant for me or not, whether it was difficult or easy for me, I believe by God’s grace, today I did a good day’s work.” This comes from an illumined heart, from an opened ear, from loosened tongue, from the grace of not only knowing Christ, but living in Him.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, glory to Jesus Christ!
Glory forever.

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