The Prelate’s Message, May 9
Today is the Sixth Sunday of the Holy Resurrection. The Gospel reading is from Saint John 9:38-10:10. Jesus says, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees hearing this ask him, “surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus replies, “if you were blind, you would not have sin, but now that you say, ‘we see,’ your sin remains.” Continuing His discourse Jesus, uses the relationship between a shepherd and the sheep, and says, “I am the gate for the sheep.”
This passage is quite different from the preceding Sundays’ readings, where we feel the tone of righteous anger. Let us approach with awesome fear to the Word of God to be worthy to His dew of mercy rather than His judgment.
To have a better understanding of the readings assigned by our Church Fathers for each day’s spiritual nourishment, it is always advisable to review the former verses. In this case, we read about a man who was blind since he was born. Upon being healed on Sabbath, after long inquiries with his parents and him, when the blind person testifies that his healer should be a man of God, unfortunately he tastes the bitter condemnation of the Pharisees that he was born entirely in sin, and how he dares to teach them. Within this context, it becomes clear why Jesus was so harsh in His statement. In this regard, I would like to share a few thoughts derived from today’s reading.
- We are reminded again about the concept of judgment we discussed two weeks ago. There is no doubt that God is love and the most tangible sign of His love is the Creation, and mostly sending His only Begotten Son to world (Jn 3:16). The Judgment is not part of His essence but the characteristic of His Righteousness. The judgment is practiced because of our failure, our shortcomings, our sins, but mostly of our denial. Since his Fall, Satan is in the state of denial, and as such all who consciously or unconsciously follow his pattern, become accomplices of that sin, and accordingly invite upon them the judgment of Righteous God.
- Jesus was referring not to those who are blind physically, but rather spiritually. The former are not responsible for their physical state, but the latter ones are, because as rational beings, having been enlightened with the commandments of God, unfortunately practice blindness by serving the Evil One. God never wants the death of a sinner (Ez 33:11), yet when sinners justify themselves, as our fore parents did, surely, we become responsible for our decision and action.
- The question of the Pharisees is quite remarkable when they ask, “surely we are not blind, are we?” It is very interesting to hear this kind of reaction, when Jesus didn’t refer to anyone. We remember again when God asked only “where are you” to Adam, he replied, ”I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid” (Gen 3:9-10). An Armenian proverb says, “Kogh, sirde togh,” or “the heart of the thief trembles.” Indeed, in the presence of God, who is light, there is no room for darkness. He reads our minds and hearts, and we are transparent with all our thoughts and feelings, intentions and aspirations. Wouldn’t it be better if before the verdict we could avoid trespassing? That is an unsolved dilemma of mankind since Creation.
- There is a subtle temptation to justify ourselves in temptation and we should be aware of it as the children of light. A “reasonable” understanding of our piety may lead us to think that we are simply doing God’s will, as the Pharisees condemned because of the Sabbath, or Saul persecuted the early Church members, yet we can follow thoroughly a wrong path. On the criteria for knowing whether we are right or wrong, Saint John provides us the key answer by saying, “we should be in communion/in fellowship with God” (I Jn 1:3), otherwise deviation by our will or judgment is unavoidable.The image of a shepherd might sound not very representative to our contemporary society, yet the closeness to pets in our city life is becoming more of a presence everywhere and may give us a hint for better understanding this imagery. By coincidence while writing this sentence, I received an email advertisement, “Cute dogs, anyone?” Isn’t it amazing?
In both the Old and New Testaments, the shepherd is the symbol for caring and protecting the person. By using this image, Jesus was giving a simple message about how God feels so close to us and tenderly watches for our well-being against all odds. For any reason, if we deviate from the flock, the shepherd follows, as in the parable of the lost sheep, and after finding it shares his joy with his own. Therefore, we should be always attentive that our deviation from God causes sorrow to Him, and with His help our return causes great joy.
- In the series of “I am” “I am the Bread, I am the Water, I am the Vine” identifying Himself with the Gate within biblical context is quite understandable. To get access into a city, protected by gigantic walls, the only possibility was to go in through the gates. Until today, the Old City of Jerusalem has these kinds of gates well known with different names. By describing Himself as the Gate, Jesus clearly tells us that access to Heavenly Father is possible only through Him. Is this negligence in regards to other religions? Not at all, for in different levels God may be present in them, yet if we like to enjoy His essence, as He Is, only through Jesus Christ we may have our wish granted, as He said, “No one has ascended into heaven but He who descended out of Heaven” (Jn 3:13).
Having been presented with all these practical means, let us joyfully enter through this Gate with thanksgiving, which brings us in to the presence of the glorious and loving our heavenly Father, and praise Him with His only Begotten Son and His life-giving Holy Spirit. Amen.