6th Sunday of Pascha – Orthodox Homily on Miracles

On this last Sunday of Pascha, we’re presented with two miracles in today’s Epistle and Gospel: The Apostles heal a woman with an unclean spirit in Christ’s name and Christ God heals a man born blind who suffers for his witness to the truth of Christ, of this great miracle Christ God works for him.  Both are great miracles.  Both affirm the interjection of God’s mercy into our willfully sinful and fallen world that He, the Giver of Life, so greatly loves.

Miracles always present a challenge to us, particularly as ‘modern’ people: We often seek a rational, scientific explanation or theory for miracles rather than acknowledging the miracle itself, which defies the “normal” way of life in a broken, sinful world.  Why is this the case? Well, part of the answer, I believe, is, frankly, that miracles force us to acknowledge God.  For this reason, miracles make some ‘uncomfortable’: Into their otherwise secular world suddenly they experience something that defies any scientific or ‘logical’ explanation—the whole basis of their life apart from God, or where God is on the periphery, is shaken to the core. 

Miracles challenge our self-reliance, the thinking that wehave all the answers to the mysteries of life and the universe.  Miracles humble us because they point us to our need for God, the only worker of miracles, the only One with the power of healing and giving life, of defying the laws of nature He Himself has made. They point us to our need for His intervention into our secularism, our misplaced priorities and indifference, our physical and spiritual brokenness.  At the same time, miracles challenge us because they ‘demand’ a response from us; they don’t leave us sitting comfortably on the side-lines, but rather, challenge our self-reliance, our pridefulness, even as they underscore the truth that God is at work in our world, in us, and thru His Church.  

For all these reasons, miracles challenge the modern credo that we can be independent of God, that we can save ourselves; that science and our material being is all that we need. And so, when miracles and the unexplainable occur, our modern culture often feels it needs to come up with some ‘rational’ explanation to explain away the unexplainable, the unknown. In the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom in the Prayer of Thanksgiving, we thank God for all the benefits bestowed on us, “both visible and invisible.”  Indeed, many miracles even go unnoticed by us.

But such prideful skepticism is not just a modern problem.  Skepticism and pride were also plainly at work in those who rejected Christ in His own day.  Even after Jesus performed numerous miracles, even after His glorious resurrection and in-person appearances to over 500, many of the people and the Jewish rulers did notbelieve, wouldnot believe.  

At the same time, those who are open are given the ‘eyes’ of faith: the jailer in today’s Epistle, seeing the miracle at the prison, humbled himself and fell down before the Apostles, trembling, and beseeching them, “What must I do to be saved?”  Through his humility and courage, the jailer gained the sight of faith; he found salvation in Christ, and through him, all his family as well.  Ironic isn’t it: the jailer was afraid—scared out of his wits—but had the courage and humility to come to the Apostles seeking salvation, seeking to know the God of miracles.  

We can fear like the jailer when it comes to our faith: fear of rejection, ridicule, and judgment can keep us from repentance, from God’s healing.  Our prideful fear of dealing with our own brokenness and being vulnerable before Christ and His Church, can get in our way of courageously stepping forward in faith to make use of the tools of salvation entrusted to us.  

Today’s Gospel gives us yet another example of a miracle that increases faith: Jesus heals a man born blind: literally, “born without eyes.”  He sends the man to wash in the pool of Siloam and he listens to the Lord; He goes faithfully, and in this way, he is healed.  The Pharisees witness the healing of a man known to all and seen regularly begging—but they will not believe.  Jesus heals the blind man on the Sabbath and reveals Himself as the long-awaited Messiah, “the Lord of the Sabbath, “ but they cannot ‘see’the miracle, blinded as they are by their pride and lack of faith in God’s love and power to fulfill and transfigure the Law, and to heal as the God He is.  

The Pharisees question the blind man, searching for a ‘reasonable’explanation for the miracle, a reason notto believe—just as many do today.  They don’t wanttheir eyes opened; they want to remain unchanged, unchallenged.  In the end, the ‘uneducated’ blind man must teach the ‘learned’ Pharisees, what faith reallyis: “Since the world began it has been unheard of that anyone opened the eyes of one who was born blind.  ‘If this man were not from God, He could do nothing.’”  For this true and courageous statement, he is cast out of the Synagogue. 

Likewise, the world often rejects us as we proclaim our faith in the living God, as we live out the miracle of the life of faith, of doing real battle with our passions, of bringing our struggles and sin-sickness before the Lord in repentance and confession, in  our profession of  belief in miracles and the Doer of such wonders, in prioritizing the life in Christ in His Church, even as those around us mock us for our faith in the Living God.  Jesus says, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you” (John 15:18).  

You and I presently suffer little for our faith, and still, we find it hard to be faithful, to stand out, to boldly witnesses the truth of Christ, to live out the Gospel in our culture so that others may repent and embrace the life in Christ as well.  The strength of a martyr’s witness is also a ‘miracle’ because it defies explanation by the scientific, secular mind: why would anyone willingly die for their faith in Christ?  Similarly, and no less miraculous is the opening up of a person to new life in Christ, to holy illumination, even as those all around them run after all the temporal and perishing but glittering distractions the world offers.  

In the case of the blind man, not only did he receive his physical sight: Even more importantly, “he recovered the sight of the eyes within,” as St. John Chrysostom puts it. He comes to Christ God and finds healing, not only from his biological blindness, but from the spiritual ‘blindness’ of sin.  Sin alone is evil; blindness is no evil.  In this case, the man’s blindness, his ‘sickness’ brings him to the Master, to Him who is Life. Through this encounter, through his courage and faithful fear of God, his humility before God, he is spiritually illumined, spiritually healed and given true life.  This is the answer to the disciples question, “Who sinned that this man was born blind?”  As Christ assures them, no one, but “that the works of God may be revealed in him.”

As important as the healing of the blind man is and the regaining of his physical sight, even more vitalthan this is his finding Christ and His witness that He is the long-awaited Messiah.  He is willing to pay the price for such witness to the truth because he had the faith to do what Christ commanded him to do to be healed.  In so doing, through his obedience to Christ, not only his physical eyes but also his spiritual eyes were opened.  

We are given the opportunity today to courageously embrace the faith of the blind man.  Are you willing to do as Christ has commanded you to avail yourself of His Holy Church, of the means which He’s revealed for the continued healing of your spiritual blindness?  Are you willing to learn to love God more and learn to follow more closely His Gospel commands and priorities?

We beseech Christ this day to continue to open ourspiritual eyes, to make us more faithful witnesses to His truth—the truth of a changed life, of freedom from enslavement to this world—which our friends, relatives, co-workers and neighbors need to see in us.  We live out our faith, doing battle with our passions, prioritizing our life in Christ in our daily prayers and our cooperate worship of God, so that enjoining the battle for our souls, cooperating more and more with the work of the Holy Spirit in us, we too may seeChrist, the Light of the world, the Savior of our souls.  We struggle to overcome our pride, our fear, so that we too can courageously bear witness to His truth in this world.  With grateful hearts, with the blindman we thank God for the miracle of new life in Him and the hope of eternal life, for the gift of spiritual sight and a changed life.  Christ is risen!

Fr. Robert Miclean
Holy Archangels Orthodox Church
June 2, 2019
Sunday of the Blind Man
Epistle:            Acts 16:16-34
Gospel:            John 9:1-38