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Seeing Is Not Believing
A Sermon on the 7th Sunday After Pentecost
At first glance, the Gospel passage appointed for this Sunday appears to be about two separate events during the earthly ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ: the healing of two blind men, and the casting out of a demon from a dumb man. Yet the Church in Her wisdom has joined these two events together in order to draw out a deeper meaning hidden beneath the surface of today’s Gospel reading.
The events in themselves are wondrous. Indeed, we see that “the multitudes marveled, saying, It was never so seen in Israel.” Many today are often tempted by the thought: “Why is God now silent? Why does He not speak, why does He not reveal Himself with miracles, signs and wonders as He did in the times of the Holy Scriptures, as He did in the lives of the saints? If only I could see such signs, if only I could hear Him speak to me directly and openly, then I could really believe, then my faith would not be so weak.” Such a thought can be, at times, very convincing. Especially because it means that it is God, and not we ourselves, who are to blame for the weakness of our faith.
But this thought is really nonsense. It is nonsense that has been hammered into our heads all our lives: that truth is something that we can see with our eyes, something that can be measured and proved and tested. We have been taught to believe that belief without evidence is only wishful thinking, a crutch of cowardly and ignorant men (never mind that this is itself a belief that flies in the face of the evidence – the evidence of the countless thousands of martyrs since the time of the Crucifixion of Christ).
We see in today’s Gospel passage that evidence, in the last resort, really has very little to do with it. The two blind men had no evidence, no proof, only hearsay. They had never seen even a single miracle performed by Christ – indeed, they had never seen Christ at all! Yet nevertheless their eyes were opened because they believed; they did not believe because their eyes were opened. It was their faith that brought about the evidence, and not the evidence that brought about their faith.
But this point is brought home even more strongly by the second event in the Gospel passage. A man dumb and possessed with a devil was brought to Christ, and He cast out the devil and opened the mouth of the man who had been mute. The multitudes marveled, but the Pharisees said that the Lord had cast out the devil through the prince of the devils. The untaught and ignorant people glorified God, but the educated and wise spouted foolish and blasphemous drivel. Well should we take heed to this! Both are shown the same evidence, both are witness to precisely the same event, and yet for all that they were living in two completely different worlds – the first in the realm of God, and the second in the realm of the devil.
And yet the evidence was the same! Did not both theories take account of the event which had just transpired? And so what was the difference? What separated the multitudes and the Pharisees? What led some to see the miracle with faith and others to scorn it with the vilest of blasphemy? Surely it was not the evidence. Surely there existed already within each person standing there some inner disposition, some hidden inclination of the heart.
And so it is with each of us. The truth is that we are all blind. We are all incapable of seeing and understanding the truth of the world around us. But some of us call out with faith to the Son of God to have mercy on us, to open our eyes – while others of us only mock and blaspheme and revile the truth that is right in front of us. Why? What is the difference?
I heard a story once, about a Protestant minister who came to his friend and told him that he was having a crisis of faith. His friend tried to help him, to reason with him and to answer his doubts and perplexities. About a week later, the friend found out from the minister’s wife that her husband was having an affair with another woman. The friend realized that his words had been in vain. The minister’s crisis of faith was not about his intellectual doubts. It was about the sins that he didn’t want to give up.
The Holy Fathers teach very clearly that the heart darkened and blinded by passion is not capable of perceiving the truth. The Lord Himself taught it clearly when He said: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” The ascetic life and the evangelical commandments are not arbitrary demands being made upon us. They are not even merely things that we are asked to do in order to prove our love for God. They are the only medicine that can cure our illness. They are the words of Christ that alone can give us our sight. They drive away the demons who blind our eyes and bind our tongues. They show us the truth that is right before our face.
And if we do not choose to obey the commands of Christ, if we do not choose to put our faith in Him regardless of whether we can see Him or not, then we wait in vain for evidence and we have no hope of healing. The Lord will be able to do nothing for us, though He desires to do it all, because we will only mock and blaspheme every gift that He gives and every sign that He sends. The evidence really has very little to do with it.
Let us then emulate the blind men and call out to the Lord for mercy. Let us imitate the multitude and give praise to God from hearts full of gratitude and wonder. And if we find that our minds are full of doubt and our hearts are made of stone, then let us immediately cry: “Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief.” And the Lord will hearken to our cry.