Pope St Gregory the Great’s Homily on Luke 18:31-43
Posted by Dim Bulb on March 2, 2011
1. Foreseeing that the minds of His Apostles would be troubled by the thought of His suffering, our Redeemer told them long before, both of the pains of that suffering and of the glory of His rising again; to this end that, when they should see Him die, as He had prophesied, they might not doubt that He was likewise to rise again. But, since His disciples were as yet carnal, and could not understand His words, telling of this mystery, He wrought a miracle before them. A blind man received his sight before their eyes, that, if
they could not comprehend heavenly things by words, they might be convinced of heavenly things by deeds. But we must so take the miracles of our Lord and Saviour, as believing, both that they were actually wrought, and that they have some mystic meaning for our instruction. For in His works power speaks one thing, and mystery again another. Behold, for instance: we know not historically who this blind man was, but we know of what he was mystically a figure. Mankind is blind, driven out of Paradise in the persons of our first parents, knowing not the light of heaven, and suffering the darkness of condemnation. Nevertheless, by the coming of his Redeemer man is enlightened, so that he sees by hope already the gladness of interior light, and walks by good works in the path of life.
2. Note also, beloved brethren, that, as Jesus drew nigh to Jericho, a blind man received his sight. Now, this name Jericho, being interpreted, signifies the city of the moon, and in Holy Scripture the moon is used as a figure of our imperfect flesh, of whose gradual corruption her monthly waning is a type. Therefore, as our Creator draws nigh to Jericho, a blind man receives his sight. Whilst God takes unto Himself our weak human nature, man receives again the light which he had lost. By God’s suffering in the Manhood, man is raised up towards God. This blind man is also well described as sitting by the wayside begging; for the Truth says: I am the way (John 14:6). He that knows not Him Who is eternal light, is blind. But as soon as he believes in Jesus, the
Redeemer, then he is sitting on the road leading to salvation. When man has faith, but is not continually asking to be enlightened by Divine light, he may, like the blind man, sit on the road, but he is not begging alms. But when by means of faith he begins to believe, when he recognises the blindness of his heart, and unceasingly asks to be delivered from it and to receive the light of truth, then he is like to the poor and unhappy blind man who, sitting by the wayside, was begging. Let him, therefore, who recognises his darkness, and the need of eternal light, cry out with all the desires of his heart and all the fervour of his soul: Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me! This was the prayer of the blind man to the Redeemer, whilst those who went before rebuked him, and asked him to hold his peace.
3. And what do we understand by those who went before, but the crowd of bad desires and the restlessness of our passions disturbing our mind and troubling our heart, when we cry to our Saviour? We experience this only too often, that, when after a sinful life we wish to return to God; when we ask Him for strength to pray well, and to renounce the sins enslaving us, the image of our former sins is pictured in our memory, the light of our intellect is darkened, our courage is weakened, and we remain insensible to the voice of God’s minister preaching the truth. Thus, those who went before our Lord rebuked the blind man of Jericho, that he should hold his peace; and we learn therefrom the important lesson that, before Jesus comes into our hearts, the
awful image of our sensual pleasures rises in our memory, so as to prevent the effects of our prayers.
4. However, the blind man, waiting to be cured, is our teacher. Though he was rebuked, he cried out much more: Son of David, have mercy on me! Thus our prayer must be the more ardent and assiduous, the stronger the noise of wicked thoughts that rise in our mind and endeavour to prevent it. When the stormy crowd of temptations call back the remembrance of our sins, and assail us from all sides, trying to make us neglect, if possible, our prayers, then our powerful and repeated cry towards heaven will render all these
phantoms useless and powerless. However, the things I say now, may be learned by you, through your own experience. For when we begin to tear our thoughts and desires away from the world, and to turn them to God; when we give up our mind to prayer, then the worldly thoughts and sinful pleasures of our former life return to attack and distract us. And this assault of our former
thoughts is so strong that, in spite of good desires and even tears of repentance, it is only by the greatest care and watchfulness that we succeed in keeping our hearts in safety.
5. Meanwhile, we may be sure that, if we persevere in our prayers, Jesus will remain with us, as He stayed for some time with the blind man. And Jesus, standing, commanded him to be brought unto Him. And the words of the Gospel tell us, not without a special motive, that Jesus was first passing by, then was standing. We learn from this that, when powerless phantoms endeavour to disturb us in our prayers, Jesus seems to be passing by; but that when, in spite of their attacks, we persevere in these prayers, Jesus remains standing by us, and delivers us from blindness. For when God takes His abode in our heart, He dispels darkness by His Divine light.
6. There is yet another lesson taught by our Lord in that miraculous cure of the blind man, that is, the manifestation both of the marks of His Divinity and of the signs of His humanity. For when the Man-God heard the blind man cry out to Him, He did not cure him until standing still, showing us that He was man, because He passed by, and that He was also God, because He remained standing. Was not our Redeemer, as man, to be born among us, to increase in years, to die, to rise from the dead, and to move about from one place to another? But, being at the same time God, He gives us to understand that He is immovable, and that all changes noticed in Him, came from His humanity;
whilst, as God, He is always the same, without any change, present everywhere, without shiftily His dwellings. Again, our Redeemer heard the voice of the blind man whilst passing by, and granted him light whilst standing still, thus teaching us that His humanity called His attention and love to the blindness of which we suffered, and His Divine power enlightened us with the light of His grace.
7. For our further instruction we hear Jesus, as soon as He saw the blind man, say to him: What wilt thou that I do to thee? Our Saviour, having the power to restore the sight to the blind man, was certainly not ignorant of that which he was going to ask. But He wished to teach us that it was His will we should ask Him, though He knows our desires and is willing to grant them. He, therefore, very often exhorts us to pray to Him, though He assures us that His Father in heaven knows all our needs before we ask. He wishes to encourage us to trust in Him, and to awaken in our hearts real love for prayer. We hear the blind man at once uttering his request, and asking to receive the light. He was asking neither for gold nor for riches of any kind, but for light, since, without this gift, all other goods could not satisfy him. Let us, then, beloved brethren, imitate this man in his prayer, for he received therewith the health both of soul and body. Let us beseech the Lord not for the riches of this world, nor for the perishable blessings of honour and fame, but for the true light, and not for the limited light, which for a moment only
interrupts the long night, and is common to us with the unreasonable animals. Let us ask for the uncreated light to be seen in the company of the elect, that light having no beginning and being eternal in its duration. Faith will lead us to this light, according to the words of Jesus to the blind man: Receive thy sight ; thy faith hath made thee whole. Should the sensual man object and say that this light, being invisible, cannot be reached, that nobody can be sure of a thing which cannot be seen, he will soon be convinced of his error, when told that his interior feelings do not arise from his body, but from his thinking soul. Though nobody can see his soul, yet there cannot be any doubt about our having an invisible soul, ruling our visible body. For, when this invisible soul is separated from our visible body, the latter is immediately destroyed, being deprived of the essence of its existence. Therefore, since it is certain that we live by means of this invisible being, namely, the soul, not perceived by our senses, why should we doubt the Truth teaching us that there will be another life which we cannot see now?
8. When we perceive the good result of the blind man’s prayer, we recognise from the words of the Gospel why this man at once saw the light and followed our Redeemer. He that recognises what is good and at the same time endeavours to do it, imitates the blind man who, seeing Jesus, followed Him. Whereas he who sees Jesus and does not follow Him, acknowledges what is good, but does not consider it his duty to do it. Be loved brethren, when we are aware of the blindness in which we are weeping in this vale of tears; when, by the help of faith telling us of the mystery of Redemption, we sit on the road leading to life; when daily we ask the Author of salvation to enlighten us; when, lastly, we enjoy that heavenly light, taking us out of the darkness in which we were wandering, then nothing remains to us but to follow by our good works the Saviour, Whom we see by the light of faith. Let us carefully
examine the place He passes through, then follow His steps by imitating His example; for it is by imitation that we follow Him, as He Himself teaches, saying to one of His disciples: Follow Me, and let the dead bury the dead (Matt 8:22). And to show that the words follow Me mean imitate Me, our Lord says in another place of the Gospels: If any man minister to Me, let him
follow Me (John 12:26). To be worthy of Him, we must follow His steps and examine the way in which He walked. And first we see that He, the Creator of all heavenly and reasonable beings, deigned to descend into the womb of a virgin, there to assume the human nature, which He Himself had created out of nothing. We see that He did not choose to be born of rich parents, when
taking our human nature, but chose poor parents, who were not even able to offer for Him in the temple a lamb, but only a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons. Thus our Redeemer did not seek happiness in this world; He endured insults, scorn, and blasphemies; He allowed Himself to be spit upon, to be buffeted, scourged, crowned with thorns, and nailed to a cross. He would give us to understand that the pleasures we derived from corporeal things, robbed us of the eternal happiness, of which we can again take possession only by drinking the bitter chalice of suffering. Yet, since God suffered so much for man, what suffering will the sinful man be ready to endure? When after all this a Christian, believing in Jesus Christ, is still ruled and led by avarice or ambition; when he is still devoured by the fire of envy or carnal pleasures ; when he is eagerly rushing after the happiness of this world, then we can truly say that, instead of following Jesus, he is despising Him, because he is walking on quite a different road, and not on the road taken by the Son of God during His mortal life of bitter suffering. Let us, therefore, recall to our mind our own wickedness; let us remember that the
eternal Judge will punish our sins most severely; then, let us endeavour to destroy them by sorrowful repentance. Now, let us do severe penance, and thus escape in eternity the terrible wrath of an offended God. The tears shed in this life will take us to the joys of heaven, for our Lord said: Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted (Matt 5:5); whereas the pleasures of this world will, according to the same Saviour, bring us to the eternal dwelling of tears and sorrow. Woe to you that now laugh, for you shall mourn and weep (Luke 6:25). If we wish to obtain the highest felicity, let us now walk in the path of penance, and our penitential life will not only gain for us great merits with God, but will be to His greater glory; for, according to the words of the Gospel, others will be encouraged by our good example: And all the people, when they saiv it, gave praise to God.