As I have mentioned to you in the past, the entirety of the Christian Gospel is based upon love, love of God and love of each other. We have a duty, as Christians, to love and pray for everyone, even those we do not like and those who do not like us. In the Liturgy of Saint Basil the priest prays for those who love us and those who hate us. To put a very fine point on it, a Christian cannot hate anyone.
In today’s Gospel from St. Matthew we read about an encounter that Jesus had with two blind men. The two men were following Jesus and crying out for Jesus to help them, “Son of David, have mercy on us!” As they stumbled along in their darkness they shouted all the louder, “Son of David, have mercy on us!” It is important to note here that they were asking for mercy, not especially for healing.
When I speak to groups about prayer, one of the hardest lessons for people to learn is when we pray we ask that God’s will is done in each and every situation. Sure, we would like to see the person healed of their illness, or we get the job we want, or we pass that test, but our will is not always in sync with the will of God, so when we pray we simply ask that God’s will, and not our own, is done.
Recall Jesus in the garden prior to His arrest and ultimate Crucifixion. Jesus prayed in the Garden and was asking God that if there was another way that He able to take that road rather than the one that had been set before Him. You see, unlike us, Jesus had to do the will of the Father, He did not have a choice as we do, in this situation. Jesus prayed so hard, Scripture tells us, that drops of blood fell from his brow on to the stone where He was praying. So intense was His prayer, so hard was His concentration, that He changed his physical self. But in the end Jesus says to God, Your will be done, not mine. That is a difficult lesson for us.
These two men were following Jesus and crying out for mercy. They were not crying out that they be healed of their blindness, but that, if it was the will of God, He might show them some mercy.
As we know, our ancestors in faith believed that sickness, especially blindness, was due to the amount of our sins or the sins of our parents. If a child was born with an illness it was because the parents had sinned in some way and this was God’s punishment on them. If something bad happened to you, it was not because you were careless but because God struck you for something you had done. They were asking for mercy in forgiving them so that they might become whole again.
Jesus turns to them, and as He does in so many cases, He asks them a question. Jesus could have simply willed that they were healed, but He asks them a question or He has them do something. Sometimes He touches them and sometimes He does not. But in all cases there is something that has to be done. In other words, there has to be a show of faith, asking is simply not enough.
So He asks them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” Of course they answer yes, if they were to answer no, Jesus would have turned and walked away, or would He? They do answer yes and He touches their eyes and tells then that according to “their faith” let it be done. He did not say because of what I do, but because of what you have done, in other words the faith they have, they have been healed.
This entire chapter of St. Matthew is about compassion, the compassion that Jesus had for those He encountered. He heals them, feeds them, loves them, teaches them, and is interested in their lives and what happens to them. Nowhere in Scripture does Jesus ever condemn anyone for the sins they have committed. Jesus welcomes all to follow Him, He points out where their lives have strayed from what is right and true and shows them the way back, but He never condemns them. We cannot condemn people if we are to show them compassion and love.
The very word compassion points the way for us and how we are to respond. The word compassion means to “suffer with” to understand where they are and where they are going and help them. The world is stumbling around blind, as the two men in the story today, and we have to show them the way. We show them the way not by condemning them, but by taking their hands and helping them to find the way and when they stumble we are there to help them back on their feet. We help them to find the faith that they will need so their eyes will be opened.
Scripture tells us that we must have the faith of children. When children are learning to walk for the first time, parents can be very nervous. We watch out that they do not hit their head or anything else, when they fall, and we know they will fall. But when they stumble we do not tell them that they are stupid and will never amount to anything, no, we pick them up and put them back on their feet and stand by for another fall. We show them the right way, and hope that they will follow our example, that is the same thing we need to do with the world.
Very often Jesus is compared to the shepherd; this is common comparison in Scripture and the fathers and mothers of the Church us this as well. The shepherd’s role is to watch over and protect the sheep. Sheep have no ability to protect themselves. They cannot run very fast, they cannot hide very well, and they have no personal defense mechanism, they are basically helpless and need someone or something, to watch over them.
Everything the sheep needs has to be provided for them. They need to be moved from pasture to pasture because a sheep will eat the ground to dirt if they are not moved. The shepherd is everything to the sheep and the sheep come to rely on them and, as stupid as they are, will respond to the voice of their shepherd. The shepherd knows his role and takes tis serious otherwise danger will come and He will lose sheep.
We are the light of the world and we must let that light shine so those who are blind by the ambitions of the world will be able to see it. That light is like the beacon on top the light house that guided sailors to safety of the port. The Church is that port and we are the light house. The light cannot shine at its brightest of the lens has even the slightest smudge on it. The lens has to be clean in order to function properly. Let us work on the cleaning our lens so we can truly guide people to the safety of the Church.