Strong medicine

VI Pascha Wednesday, the Leavetaking of Pascha – John 12: 36-47

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The Lord said to the Jews that came to Him:  While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light. These things spake Jesus, and departed, and did hide himself from them. But though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him: That the saying of Esaias the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spake, Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed? Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them. These things said Esaias, when he saw his glory, and spake of him. Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God. Jesus cried and said, He that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on him that sent me. And he that seeth me seeth him that sent me. I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness. And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.

What does it mean, that God blinded the eyes of those who rejected Him, that they should not be healed?  (Verse 40).  We know that God is not the author of evil; He wills and does only what is good.   What, then, can this expression mean?    St. John Chrysostom uses the image of the sun blinding the eyes of men to explain this:  

For as the sun dazzles the eyes of the weak, not by reason of its proper nature, so it is with those who give not heed to the words of God.   Thus, in the case of Pharaoh, He is said to have hardened his heart, and so it is with those who are at all contentious against the words of God.  This is a peculiar mode of speech in Scripture, as also [when it is written that] “He gave them over to a reprobate mind” (Romans 1: 28)…that is, allowed, permitted them to go.  For, when we are abandoned by God, we are given up to the devil, and when so given up, we suffer ten thousand dreadful things.  – Homily 68 on John 

By saying “…not by reason of its proper nature,” St. Chrysostom means that the sun’s proper nature is to give light and warmth to man, but because of the weakness of our fallen bodies, sometimes the sun harms us, though through no fault of its innate properties.  God is entirely love, but we experience His love as wrath and condemnation when we choose to harden our hearts against Him.   He is entirely goodness, but we experience His goodness as physical and psychological evils, the “ten thousand dreadful things” that St. Chrysostom mentions, when we experience His abandonment caused by our sins.  

Yet God always yearns after us, as loving parents always yearn after disobedient children who have gone far from them, and He never ceases to do what is for our salvation.   His very abandonment of the sinner to the devil is a method of teaching him and bringing him to his senses, and all the while that the reprobate is experiencing those ten thousand dreadful things, the loving Lord is speaking to his heart, if only he will listen.  St. Chrysostom goes on to quote passages of Scripture that emphasize that God never ceases to desire our salvation:  

“…How often would I have gathered your children – and ye would not.” (Luke 13: 34).  Esaias also again, “I came, and there was no man; I called, and there was none to hearken.” (Esaias 50: 2). These things He saith, showing that we begin the desertion and become the causes of our perdition; for God not only desireth not to leave or to punish us, but even when He punisheth, doeth it unwillingly; “I will not, ” He saith, “the death of a sinner, so much as that he should turn and live.” (Ezekiel 18: 32).   Christ also mourneth over the destruction of Jerusalem, as we also do over our friends.”   

Having asserted the Lord’s steadfast lovingkindness and care for us, even when we go astray, the holy commentator now exhorts us to be likewise patient with our brethren when they go astray:  

Knowing this, let us do all so as not to remove from God, but let us hold fast to the care of our souls, and to the love towards each other; let us not tear our own members (for this is the act of men insane and beside themselves,) but the more we see any ill-disposed, the more let us be kind to them.  Since we often see many persons suffering in their bodies from difficult or incurable maladies, and cease not to apply remedies…Not at all, but we use every means that the sufferer may enjoy some comfort, since we cannot get rid of the disease.   This also let us do in the case of our brethren, and, even though they be diseased incurably, let us continue to tend them, and let us bear one another’s burdens.   

At the beginning of Homily 69, St. Chrysostom comments on verse 42, “Nevertheless, among the chief rulers also many believed on Him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” The saint points out that though these men indeed had feared to confess Christ before His Resurrection and the giving of the Holy Spirit, many came to believe the Apostolic preaching after the day of Pentecost and were baptized, becoming members of the New Testament Church, as St. Luke testifies in the Acts of the Apostles. The saint writes,  

It is necessary for us to avoid alike all the passions which corrupt the soul, but most especially those which from themselves generate numerous sins…Such…is vainglory.  See, for instance, how these men were broken off from faith thought their love of honor…So then, they were not rulers, but slaves in the utmost slavery.  However, this fear was done away, for nowhere during the time of the Apostles do we find them possessed by this feeling, since in their time both rulers and priests believed.  The grace of the Spirit having come, made them all firmer than adamant.  

The Lord Jesus, then, Who forgave these men from the height of the Cross as He suffered unspeakably from their injustice, did not cease to do all things for their salvation.  Having risen and ascended into heaven and sat down at the right hand of His Father, He sent the Holy Spirit to enlighten all men, including those who had condemned and murdered Him, and many of them had a change of heart, cast off their love of human respect, and united themselves to the Lord Jesus.  Without the divine grace, even the Apostles themselves did not understand Who Jesus really was and could not be converted, and so it is with with all men, including ourselves. Let us therefore heed the exhortation of St. John Chrysostom to be patient with our brothers who, having like passions with ourselves, may have cut themselves off from this grace somewhat by any sins little or great, and let us imitate the lovingkindness of our Good Shepherd, Who has never ceased and will never cease to do all things for our salvation. 

To Him be the glory, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, unto the ages of ages. Amen.

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