Grant us the Eyes to See
Sermon preached by Dn. James Wilcox on Sunday, January 28, 2024
Luke 18:35-42; 1 Tim. 1:15-17
Alan Watts in his illuminating book, “Behold the Spirit,” writes the following:
In this very moment we are looking straight at God, and he is so clear that for us complex human beings he is peculiarly hard to see. To know him we have to simplify ourselves, and the mind is so dominated by the complexity of pride that it will resort to every conceivable subtlety to resist and avoid a truth so wholly simple. (Allan Watts, Behold the Spirit:A Study in the Necessity of Mystical Religion, (New York: Vintage Books, 1972), 91.)
In today’s Gospel reading we see this very idea borne out, albeit in a slightly different way. If we recount the events of the story, Jesus is traveling from Jericho to Jerusalem and a large crowd has gathered around Him. God is traveling in their midst. A blind beggar sitting along the path hears the crowd and asks what the commotion is all about. “Jesus the Nazarene is passing by,” someone tells him. Immediately, the blind man recognizes the Messiah is present. He leaps up and shouts “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” The crowd, of course, quickly pushes him back and attempts to silence him, but this only causes him to cry out more fervently for the Messiah: ”Son of David, have mercy on me!” And at these words Jesus stops, and asks that the man be brought forward. Standing face-to-face, Jesus asks him a bold question: “What do you want me to do for you?” And in that moment, the man no longer addressed him with the messianic title, “Son of David” but, in turn, identified Jesus as Lord: Κύριε, in the Greek, as we so often sing aloud here at St Mary’s: Κύριε ελέησον. “Lord have mercy!” But here again, the man recognized God in the midst of the commotion, ignored the noise about him, and found himself face-to-face with Jesus. “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks. “Lord that I may see again!” And Jesus grants the man his request and restores his vision. Because of his faith, the blind man not only had his eyes physically opened, but he gained the spiritual sight to recognize Jesus as Lord of all. He was granted a purified heart, in other words — that of one who has been illumined. He was granted the eyes to SEE.
Now, each one of us here is on a similar spiritual journey. All of us must do the work necessary to restore our inner vision that we might also SEE the presence of God who is already in our midst! But this is, of course, easier said than done. Like the blind man in the story, it is also important for us try and tune out the raucous stammering of the crowds about us. We must find the time to focus solely on the very obvious reality of the Lord Jesus Christ in our midst. To reuse my earlier quote from Alan Watts: “[God] is so clear that for us complex human beings he is peculiarly hard to see. To know him we have to simplify ourselves,” And in earnest, I believe this might be one of the most difficult tasks we face as Christians living in the technological chaos of the 21st Century.
The dominant influence of social media, as one example, can severely hamper not only how we see ourselves, but also how we form our opinions of people we’ve never met face-to-face. And this in turn affects not only our psyche, but our inner capacity to see all people as human beings created in the image of God.
Now… I’m not here to condemn technology, or to say that social media is going to turn your children into cross-burning sons and daughters of satan. All social media is not bad… it does give us humorous cat videos, after all. But we have to admit, it is VERY distracting. And like any piece of technology, it must be tempered, it must be handled carefully, reasonably, safely, and used respectably in connection to all of humanity. Sadly, these media platforms, most of the time, thrive on heated debate, and have the tendency to make us all feel like garbage. They are designed to grow in popularity the more we tear one another down. If everyone was actually kind to one another in these virtual spaces, they probably wouldn’t have the dominate influence in society they currently occupy. More often than not, when using these platforms we tend to bypass the person on the other side of the screen, and assume the worst from them, thereby making them less human. We lose the human being created in the image of God on the other side of the screen, for no other reason than to satisfy our own egotistical need of being right. And in Orthodox spirituality this is nothing more than feeding the passion of vainglory; vainglory being the love of praise or having a strong need to be liked. My old catechist here at St Mary’s once wrote of vainglory as “unstable “I’m in ecstasy when praised and in hell when criticized or ignored.” If this isn’t social media in a nutshell I can’t think of what is…
Gregory of Nyssa once wrote that a man immersed in such passions is like one who “puts a glaze over the window of the soul… you cannot make the brilliance of the sunlight shine through [their] ears.” (Gregory of Nyssa, From Glory to Glory: Texts from Gregory of Nysa’s Mystical Writings, (Crestwood: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1961), 104.)
So what is the solution, here? How do we stamp out the noise that we might recognize God in our midst, and begin to rightly see one another in the image of God? In the first place we must recognize the state we are in. You can’t put out a fire if you keep fueling it, and you can’t stop fueling a fire if you don’t recognize that you’re fueling it. Therefore, we must awaken to the fact that this is the reality we’ve created for ourselves. In Orthodox thought this type of awakening is described as sobriety, nepsis, or wakefulness. It’s quite literally what it is to be woke. And truly there is nothing to fear from being woke, or being awakened to truth of what simply IS. What IS simply IS.
When our heart is awakens to the reality of what simply IS it recognizes it’s need for purification. Purification then leads to inner transformation. Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos describes the process as follows: “When a person's heart is cleansed,” he writes
he becomes more sociable, balanced. He behaves properly within society, because his selfishness has given way to love for God and love for man. Selfish love is transformed into unselfish love… Thus, when selfish love is changed into unselfish love, one speaks of the person as having become a real human being. And it is this transformation which is considered the cure of man. (Heirotheos Vlachos, Orthodox Spirituality: A Brief Introduction, 64)
The blind man in today’s story experienced this spiritual transformation. And for each of us today he leaves a tool that can assist us on our spiritual journey toward awakening and recognizing God within. His exclamation in the story, “Jesus, have mercy on me” is, in part, the prayer tool we know today as the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me sinner.” And the Jesus Prayer is one means of helping us to awaken to ourselves that we might one day see God face-to-face as the blind man did in today’s Gospel passage. “Return to yourself,” writes Met. Kallistos Ware of blessed memory. “Discover him who is yours already, listen to him who never ceases to speak within you; posses him who even now possesses you.” (Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia, The Power of the Name: The Jesus Prayer in Orthodox Spirituality, (Oxford: SLG Press, 2002), 3.)