As we look ahead towards Pentecost and the descent of the Holy Spirit, we begin to think on the effect of the Holy Spirit on the world, on the Church and on the people in the Church. Whenever we come into contact with God, we are changed. So it is with the Holy Spirit - whenever the world, the Church or any person is touched by the Holy Spirit, he is changed.
Since Pascha, we have been presented with examples of people who are changed when they are touched by Christ - the paralytic, the Samaritan woman, and now the blind man. In healing the blind man, our Lord taught us how it is that the coming of God into the world - first by the incarnation and then by the coming of the Holy Spirit - changes the world and those in it. When we receive the Holy Spirit in the sacrament of Chrismation, then we begin to let our lives be shaped by the life of the Trinity. Everything in us and in our world takes on new meaning and purpose because everything becomes a tool by which the Holy Spirit shapes and molds us into the likeness of God. In His encounter with the man born blind, the disciples asked Him, “Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?’ This questions indicated the limits of their understanding to that point. They, and the rest of the world in which they lived, assumed that any negative thing in ones life was punishment from God for some sin. The greater the suffering, the greater the sin. The sins of the parents were thought to be visited upon the children and so it was natural to assume that if a child was born with some deformity - such as being born blind - that this was punishment for some sin of the parent. The disciples therefore put the question to Christ to see where the “fault” for this blindness lay - with this man or with his parents.
The reply of Christ was not what they expected for our Lord said, “Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.” This was a new thought that not all misfortune was connected to sin, but rather that there might be some other divine purpose for this man’s suffering. What might that purpose be? - the glory of God, of course. But, on the surface that sounds too capricious, too much like a God who does not love us, but merely uses the suffering of men for His own selfish gratification. This is not what our Lord is teaching us here for it is certainly not true. Here He shows us the effects of a life of suffering on the soul, for when He healed this man, not only did he receive his sight, but he also immediately acquired a firm belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God - a belief that could not be shaken even by worldly power and threat. The faith of this man presaged the faith of the Holy Martyrs who remained steadfast in spite of great threats and suffering. His suffering had prepared his soul to acquire this faith full grown when he encountered Christ.
This was a new concept that suffering, indeed all the circumstances of life, was not simply a meaningless punishment or capricious act of a selfish and vindictive God, but that all the events of our lives, for good or for ill, have meaning and purpose. This is the effect of the Holy Spirit in our lives; He takes every aspect, that which we consider “good” as well as that which we consider “bad” and gives it all a new purpose and a new meaning. Everything in your life has become a tool in the hands of the Holy Spirit to shape you into the image and likeness of God. If some great blessing comes to you - then thank God and use it to manifest His glory in you. If some great trial comes to you - then likewise give glory to God and use that trial to manifest God’s glory in you. The Apostle tells us, “In everything give thanks” and here in the Gospel we see how it is that we can give thanks even in the midst of suffering. This man born blind was shaped by his blindness; he was prepared to receive in his soul a fully formed martyric faith. He did not receive this faith from his parents for they did not have it (when they were pressed by the pharisees regarding their son’s healing, they backed down, but their son was firm in his faith and in his confession of Christ). He received this faith from God, just as we receive the seeds of our faith from being touched by God. His suffering was a tool which worked on his soul throughout his life to prepare him for this moment that he might receive not only physical healing from Christ, but also a measure of virtue and a firmness of faith that would not have otherwise been possible.
In addition to seeing the effect of the grace of the Holy Spirit on the lives of people, in this incident we also see the effect of that grace on the material world. Our Lord, took clay, made from the dirt of the ground moistened with His own spittle and placed this on the man’s face where his eyes would have been. When he washed the clay off, he found that he could see - that he had been given the eyes that he did not have at birth. Can dirt heal, can a clay eye see? Of course not. But when the material world is touched by the grace of God it becomes a vehicle for that grace. This is something that our Lord demonstrated to His disciples, which they also incorporated into the life of the Church. How do we see this same thing today? We see it most clearly in the sacraments. Water can only wash the dirt from the body - but the water of baptism, blessed and filled with the grace of God can wash sin from the soul. Oil only beautifies the external appearance, but the oil of chrismation beautifies the soul with the grace of the Holy Spirit. Neither does oil by itself have any real medicinal properties, but in the sacrament of Holy Anointing, the grace filled oil effects the healing of illnesses thought untreatable even by modern medicine. Bread and wine nourish only the body - but when they have been blessed and changed by the grace of the Holy Spirit, they become the Most Holy Body and Most Precious Blood of Christ which nourishes the soul and transforms the body. Every sacrament has a material component - water, oil, the laying on of hands, and so on. This material component by itself only has a material effect - but when that material is filled with the grace of God it has a spiritual effect by which we touch God and are touched by Him. This same truth we see in the icons, particularly those that are known as wonderworking icons, and also in the relics of the saints which bring us not only spiritual consolation but in many cases healing of soul and body.
With the coming of the Holy Spirit, not only are we affected, but the whole of creation becomes a vehicle for the grace of God. This is the truth demonstrated to us in the healing of the man born blind. We look forward again to the feast of Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit. With the coming of the Holy Spirit, we are changed, the whole world is changed for us and everything in it - the events of our lives, the very dust of the earth are filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit and become the tools, the means by which we are transformed into the image and likeness of God.