Joy of All Who Sorrow

Homily on 7th Sunday after Pentecost / St. Anthony of the Kiev Caves

Matt. 9:27-35 (§33)

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

My dear Father, brothers and sisters:

With today’s reading we are still in chapter nine of St Matthew’s Gospel in Jesus’ home town of Capernaum on the north side of the sea of Galilee. This particular section of the Gospel of Matthew is especially dense and action packed with our Lord working miracle after miracle and wonder after wonder almost at every turn. Thus, no sooner had He healed the paralytic man, that He chooses Matthew the tax collector, sitting in the custom house, then He eats with the other tax collectors and publicans in Matthew’s house; next the disciples of John the Baptist come and ask Him about fasting; then He is invited to heal the ruler’s daughter and – whilst on His way there – He heals the woman with a hemorrhage before going on to successfully raise the ruler’s daughter from the dead. We can see that Christ moves through His home town with Divine Energy and pastoral dynamism. See what spiritual magnetism He has, so that so many different wounded, sick, disabled people are irresistibly attracted to Him. This magnetism also embraces both the dark, demonic powers as well as those under their guidance; and – as with last week’s Gospel – this divide between the Light and the darkness, between those for and against Christ and the Gospel is all too apparent. But this should not come as any surprise to us, for earlier in his Gospel, right at the beginning of Jesus ministry when he left Nazareth to come to Capernaum, St Matthew sees in this the direct fulfilment of the prophesy of Isaiah –

And leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the sea coast, in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim: That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, The land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephthalim, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles; The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up.

The coming of Christ, is the coming of the Light, the realization and fulfilment of the ancient messianic hopes of the house of Israel and the overcoming and destruction of demonic tyranny.

With St Jerome, and his commentary on St Matthew’s Gospel as our guide, let us turn now to our Gospel reading. After that very busy day in Capernaum, with its endless succession of miracles, exorcisms and healings, before He has come home, indeed whilst on His way back, our Lord is then accosted by these two blind men on the road. There is an interesting parallel here with the two demonaics that accosted Him when he came to the country of the Gergesenes / Gadarenes that we heard a couple of weeks ago in the previous chapter of St Matthew’s Gospel. Whereas there the demons recognized Him, the Gentile people of that area, despite seeing Him clearly with two eyes, and the extraordinary wonders of His Messianic and Divine Power, are blind as to who He is and end up begging Him, God Incarnate, to leave their country. What irony that here in Capernaum it is now the blind who, despite their lack of visual acuity, see the Lord and Who He is more clearly than those who see.

And when Jesus departed thence, two blind men followed him, crying, and saying, Thou son of David, have mercy on us.

Look at how this pair of blind men are able to clearly recognize that this Man, Jesus, who they can’t see, is the Messiah that was promised of old from the house of David.

St Jerome in his commentary draws attention to the fact that these blind seers in crying out son of David, have mercy on us affirm that Jesus is both God incarnate and, the messianic fulfilment of the prophets, a Jew from the Royal House of David, who would come for the redemption and salvation of the house of Israel.

Let Marcion and Manichaeus and the other heretics who mangle the Old Testament hear this … for if he was not born in the flesh, how could he be called a son of David?

Next, St Jerome notices that after crying out to Christ, the Lord does not immediately heal them. As it says in the Gospel –

And when he was come into the house, the blind men came to him: and Jesus saith unto them, Believe ye that I am able to do this? They said unto him, Yea, Lord.

Thus as St Jerome says –

… they are not cured on the road, not in passing, as they were thinking, but after he came to his own house.

As we have seen throughout the healing ministry of the Lord, our Saviour was not just a thaumaturge or workers of wonders. No, our Lord seeks salvation, both of these blind men, and of us, and this comes through developing an authentic personal relationship with Him. After welcoming each of us into His House, he asks if we believe in Him, that we believe that He is the Messiah, the Son of David, the Son of God. And it is only after He has established this relationship that He heals them within the context of faith.

Then touched he their eyes, saying, According to your faith be it unto you. And their eyes were opened;

How extraordinary this moment must have been for these two formerly blind men to see now with their physical eyes Him who they had already clearly perceived from the depth of their spiritual sight.

and Jesus straitly charged them, saying, See that no man know it.

Again in this more Jewish area, around the Synagogue, our Lord is more prone to conceal His messianic identity, for fear of the Jews, who were still spiritually blinded, as His time had not yet come.

St Jerome in his commentary on this passage also notes here that this was a reflection of his perfect humility –

The Lord had commanded this on account of his humility. He was fleeing from the glory of boasting …

Remember those beautiful lines from the ancient hymn in the second chapter of St Paul’s epistle to the Philippians –

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:

Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:

But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:

And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

Despite our Lord’s inherent and awesome humility, how could these newly enlightened people not shout out with joy and jubilation in their healing by the hands of Christ, the Son of David, God in the flesh –

But they, when they were departed, spread abroad his fame in all that country.

And as if there had not been sufficient healings in that one, long day. Before the end of our Gospel reading we find one last miracle is stuffed in, involving a dumb man possessed with a devil. Again, in this situation, the Lord is unable to hear any verbal expression of faith, but in His compassion immediately heals this mute man and delivers him of the demonic possession.

Once more, as we heard last week, we see the chasm open up between those for Christ and those against Him, the spiritually sighted and the spiritually blinded.

And when the devil was cast out, the dumb spake: and the multitudes marvelled, saying, It was never so seen in Israel. But the Pharisees said, He casteth out devils through the prince of the devils.

The simply multitude, the people rejoiced at this clear fulfilment of the Messianic prophesy of Isaiah, truly, through the hands of Christ, the Son of David, the eyes of the blind are opened and the mouths of the mute are unstopped. Yet it is the well-seeing, but spiritually blinded, Pharisees who show their real blindness as well as their inner darkness, who in their envy and rage can only mutter bitter nonsensical falsehoods –

But the Pharisees said, He casteth out devils through the prince of the devils.

As St Jerome comments –

In the crowd we observe the confession of the nations … By their calumny [the Pharisees] demonstrate the unbelief of the Jews until the present day

My dear father, brothers and sisters, today we also celebrate the feast of St Antony the great ascetic founder of the Kiev-Caves Lavra the most sacred shrine of Rus. Yet it is difficult also not to weep on this feast when the land of Ukraine in which the Lavra is now situated is a bloody battlefield, where the spiritual sons of St Antony find themselves at war with one another. Where the spiritual successors of St Antony and the Fathers of the Caves are deprived from serving in the sacred shrines, churches and chapels. Where the Abbot of the Monastery himself, Metropolitan Pavel, is in jail under false charges. With sorrow in our hearts we lament those today who like the Pharisees of old, persecute the righteous and call what is light, darkness, those who see, yet not perceive, those who hear yet do not understand. But as we also heard in our second Gospel, the Beatitudes, we also know that God has not abandoned those who are persecuted, those who are maligned for His sake. Rather it is to such as these that belongs the Kingdom of Heaven –

Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.

Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

The Light that Isaiah saw, that fell on Nazareth, Capernaum and Kiev shall never be extinguished, no matter how deep the darkness, no matter how black the night.