Sermon given by Fr David, 3/8/08
Sunday of St Mary Magdalene
7th Sunday after Pentecost
(Matthew 9: 27-35)
In today's gospel we have the story of two blind men coming to Jesus for help. First he asks a question: `Do you believe that I am able to do this?' I am always struck by the phrase in the second antiphon which we sing on Sundays: `The Lord who makes wise the blind'. These two men were made wise before they were able to be given their sight. Our Lord affirms this when he touches them, heals them and says, `Your faith, [i.e. the wisdom of your faith], has healed you.'
Tomorrow, on the Feast of St Mary Magdalene, we see a blindness of a different kind. Mary was possessed by seven demons. When this happens, the whole person is taken over by the demonic and he/she is unable to perceive clearly either him/herself or others. There is a total blindness to reality. Wisdom of insight is required for the demons to be expelled.
On several occasions I have spoken of spiritual blindness, but today I want to focus on it in relationship to forgiveness. It is so easy, in our self-blindness, to see the faults in others who have grieved us, hurt us, or treated us badly. It is much more difficult to see how we have contributed to what has happened. These hurts usually occur in relationships and in every relationship there is a two-way process, which means that both parties are responsible in some way for what has happened and the hurt that has been caused.
We should not be surprised at this blindness on our part. It is the way in which we are made. We have strong defence mechanisms in our survival kit, which enable us to blame all around whilst believing that we are blameless. Someone has wisely called these `illusion building' defences. They create the illusion that all is well within us when this is certainly not the case. We are protected from knowing the extent of our failings, of our sinfulness, of our own guilt, but that does not mean that these are not there.
The Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England gives a bidding from I John 1: 8-9: `If we say that we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.' The prayer which follows reads: `We have erred and strayed from Thy ways like lost sheep, we have followed too much the devices and the desires of our own hearts... and there is no health in us.' We are blind, there is no truth in us, and there is no health, wholeness in us.
Then there is a blindness that is even worse. This is when we imagine that we have forgiven, when we say that we have forgiven, and in that the whole hurt has passed and what has happened is no longer an issue. Here, we certainly deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. What has happened is that we have simply, by the same defence processes, put everything out of sight and apparently out of mind.
This blindness can only be healed by the wisdom of insight into what we really are like in our depths. Healing can only take place when we are aware of the extent of our own sinfulness which contributes to broken relationships. Forgiveness can only be real when we have first understood and forgiven ourselves and we are now truly ready to forgive others.
What must we do? We have to acknowledge all this. We have to try to meet with, and speak with the one who has hurt us and the one whom we have hurt. We have to try to resolve the difficulties which have arisen. We must ask the Holy Spirit to reveal what is hidden in the dark places of our hearts or at least to ask that this process should begin. To reveal all at once would be unbearable and would make us into a nervous wrecks. If we knew the full extent of our sinfulness it would be so horrific that it would be like being in hell.
We have to use the sacrament of confession and the full sacramental life which the Church provides. It might be, however, that when all else fails we simply, as with the blind men, have to call out, `Lord Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.'
However we do it, it has to be tackled energetically and with thoroughness. It has to be tackled not only for our own sake but also for the sake of the community. The doors of the Church will never open wide to encourage in those who need God's saving help as long as we are bound by the extent of our own sinfulness and are not yet in a sufficient process of sincere repentance.