Perhaps one of the greatest obstacles to spiritual growth in the Christian religion is other people. Think about it; how often do we struggle to allow the Lord Jesus Christ to be born in us, only to find that other people and even Christians cannot bear it? We receive looks of condemnation, judgment, and ridicule. As we attempt to embrace that most excellent gift of charity, which is the Love of God in our lives, we meet resistance.
But we do well to remember that our Lord promised that this would happen. If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. (St. John xv. 18) The Christian’s first vocation is to desire the operation of Divine Charity – God’s love, as that which alone can sanctify and save us. Our second vocation is to cultivate that gift of charity in our hearts and souls, so that our thoughts, words, and works reveal its rule and sway in our lives. As a result, others will see this gift of charity in us and will desire likewise to cultivate, grow, and share it.
In this morning’s Gospel lesson we find an illustration of our first vocation. That lesson, taken from the eighteenth chapter of St. Luke, records the miracle of the blind man who persistently seeks out the healing power of Jesus Christ so that he may see. This man desires vision. On a very basic level he desires to see with his physical eyes. On a deeper level he longs to perceive and know the motions of Divine Love in time and space, which he senses already at work in the heart of Jesus. This profounder form of yearning is man’s age-old, innate, spiritual desire to see, know, and be one with God.
So, strangely enough, this physically blind man will illuminate or enlighten us with the kind of vision that is most suitable to our journey with Jesus up to Jerusalem in the Season of Lent. For truly, if our going up to Jerusalem with Jesus is to have any meaning, surely we shall need to cultivate a desire for the spiritual and mystical meaning that hovers always under the surface of the external and visible events which we shall witness. Of course, if we don’t, we shall simply find ourselves rehearsing one of history’s many famous tragedies where the good hero suffers or where the innocent man is cut down. So we must pray to have those eyes that desire to penetrate beneath the surface of external reality in order to begin to perceive the eternal meaning of the love in the heart of the Son of Man.
Behold we to up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man shall be accomplished. For he shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted on; and they shall scourge him and put him to death; and the third day he shall rise again. And they understood none of these things: and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things that were spoken. (St. Luke xxi. 31-34) Jesus calls his friends to journey with Him, but they are blinded to and ignorant of the meaning of His words. Their earthly eyes see clearly, but the eyes of their souls are darkened and confused. As they go up, they encounter our blind man, who hears by word that Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.
And it came to pass, that as he was come nigh unto Jericho, a certain blind man sat by the way side begging: and hearing the multitude pass by, he asked what it meant. And they told him, that Jesus of Nazareth passeth by. (St. Luke xviii. 35-37) He cannot see with his earthly eyes, but inwardly he remembers what he has heard of this Jesus. Before his mind’s eye he has a spiritual vision or knowledge of Jesus of Nazareth, whom God anointed with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good… healing all that were oppressed of the devil because God was with Him. (Acts x. 38) What is interesting is that in the midst of what must have been noisy caterwauling and commotion surrounding Jesus, this man who cannot see, hears. And he cried, saying, Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me. (St. Luke xviii. 38) But the crowd rebukes and tries to silence this man who pursues Jesus’ mercy and healing power, in the face of which he cries out all the more, Thou Son of David, have mercy on me. (Ibid, 39) Jesus hears his prayer, and asks him, What wilt that I should do unto thee? (Ibid, 41) He says, Lord that I might receive my sight. Jesus responds, Receive thy sight: thy faith have saved thee. (Ibid, 42) The blind man’s faith in the love and power of God in Jesus heals him and gives him his sight. Nothing will stand in the way of his faithful pursuit of Jesus Christ. He persists and endures with all diligence and resolution. St. Cyril reminds us that he who had drawn close to Him in his heart through faith, might now come near to him in his body. (On the Gospel) First, he cries in faith, Have mercy upon me, revealing the vision of his need for spiritual healing from Jesus. Only thereafter does he ask for the healing of his eyes.
Vision is the reward bestowed upon the man whose faith persists in seeking out sanctification and salvation. The blind man in today’s Gospel found a vista onto the external world through his faith in Christ’s healing power. He will join the Apostles who go up to Jerusalem to discover the vision of God’s love in the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. Through His suffering and death, Jesus will reveal to us God’s persistent and enduring charity for His people and longing for their salvation. What will persist and endure is Christ’s nature as God’s love or charity made flesh.
St. Paul tells us that Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. (1 Cor. xiii. 4-7) This divine virtue of charity was made flesh in the life of Jesus, was applied to the soul and then the eyes of the blind man, and is meant to touch and heal us also of all spiritual ignorance and blindness. And yet there is more. This most excellent gift of charity intends to be born, grown, and perfected in us. If we would receive this love or charity truly, we must cultivate it and allow to govern our relations with all others both as perpetual love and habitual forgiveness.
But this is not easy. C. S. Lewis reminds us that embracing and growing love is hard work and dangerous business. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it up carefully with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell. To love is to become vulnerable. (The Four Loves) Embracing love or charity opens a person to the unknown and unseen. It risks the suspicion, censure, ridicule, and envy from a world that hates it through fear. It requires constant faith and hope. But though charity allows the heart to suffer, it will never be quenched in hearts that receive it faithfully and persistently.
Charity never faileth; but whether there be prophesies, they shall fail; whether there be tonques, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away…. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three, but the greatest of these is charity. (Ibid, 8-9, 13) God’s love or charity is always itself. God’s Love made flesh is always itself. God’s love moves out of eternity to make all things new in time and space, informing and defining, ruling and governing, beautifying and adorning, and growing and perfecting the whole of creation. It reaches down to lift the blind man up into its light today. From the heart of Jesus Christ it will leap down from its Cross on Good Friday, forever hoping that those who hate and try to kill it in Him may later repent, believe, and love it anew.
St. Paul says that he is persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans viii. 38, 39) In the coming Lent, let us persistently pursue the vision that Jesus gives. Let us become vulnerable to His incessant love or charity that longs to carry us out of evil and into good, out of sin and into righteousness, and out of death and into a life that will never end. For, as Miles Coverdale exhorts:
Our heart must we give wholly unto Him; that hath opened His
heart so wide. His heart and ours must be all one. Nothing requireth He of us but the heart. “Son,” saith He, “give me thy heart.”
(Miles Coverdale: Fruitful Lessons on the Passion.)
Let us pray that we may open our hearts to the stirring and biddings of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ. Let us pray that we may see this divine Charity made Flesh, and resolutely desire to be ruled by it. For, as Edmund Spenser writes:
With all thy Heart, with all thy Soul and Mind, Thou must him love, and his Beheasts embrace: All other Loves, with which the World doth blind Weak Fancies, and stir up Affections base, Thou must renownce, and utterly displace; And give thy self unto him full and free, That full and freely gave himself for thee. Then shalt thou feel thy Spirit so possest, And ravisht with devouring great Desire Of his dear self, that shall thy feeble Breast Inflame with Love and set thee all on fire With burning Zeal, through every part entire; That in no earthly things thou shalt delight, But in his sweet and amiable Sight.