We have to learn to see in life. We are born with functioning eyeballs but it takes babies a while to learn how to interpret the signals that go from their eyes to their brains. They start by focusing on their mother’s and then their father’s faces, then other people’s faces. Then shiny objects catch their attention and their eyes start to wander around to take in the new information. Then they actually see what the people around them are doing. From there, seeing takes off.
It takes some learning to see in terms of faith as well. We’ve got the equipment built in, it seems, but we have to learn over time to see how the world fits together. We get confused and frightened and don’t understand why something is occurring. We start to ask questions, most of them unanswerable. We look for understanding and, after a time, we gain some perspective and some awareness of how we have been upheld and formed more deeply. Often we think we should be able to see and understand long before we actually are able to do so. Later on, after we do see and understand, we realize we couldn’t have seen clearly until the event had played out. Sometimes events complete themselves and we still don’t have a full understanding. We still don’t really see. But over time we come to trust that it may just not be time for us to know yet. And that might qualify as the keenest vision of faith, the acceptance that we don’t know the answers. Then we develop a sense of trust that allows us to keep on doing the next right thing while not knowing how it all will fit together.
In the 18th chapter of Luke’s gospel, Jesus takes the twelve aside and tells them it is time to go to Jerusalem. He explains some of what this means, that he will be handed over to the authorities, be mocked and insulted and spat upon. He will be flogged and then killed. The way for him, and for them too, is going to be very difficult. He also offers some assurance with words about the resurrection. But Luke tells his readers that the twelve did not understand, that they could not grasp what was being said. That makes total sense. One cannot see until it is there to be seen. We can anticipate tragedy, be warned about upcoming grief, know a loved one is going to die, but we can’t really experience that event until it occurs. Maybe it helps to know it is coming but that doesn’t take away the pain of what is developing. And I simply cannot be healed of my struggle until I go through the struggle. Maybe we want some faith pill to take so that we won’t feel pain but that’s not the way life is set up.
As the twelve leave their confusing meeting with Jesus, they walk the road to Jerusalem and there they find a blind man sitting on the side of the road begging. When he understands that it is Jesus in the caravan, he shouts out for Jesus to help him. The crowds try to push him away but Jesus approaches him and asks what he can do for him. The blind man tells Jesus he wants to see. Jesus performs the healing act and informs the man that his faith has saved him. While he couldn’t see physically, he could at least see a little hope passing down the road in front of him and he wanted to be made well.
The blindness of the twelve – their inability to understand – and the blindness of the beggar are put side by side in Luke’s gospel, no doubt for a purpose. The blind man is healed and has a new hope in his life. Restoration does that. Regaining something, or being given something we have lost hope of gaining, brings freshness. Later on, the same thing will happen for those closest to Jesus. After they have suffered through his loss and their betrayal, they will see him again. He will forgive them, he will bless and equip them for what they are to do, and he will send them out into the world. And they will go in faith. Their eyes of faith are already there but they don’t really see with them until they meet the hardships and the struggles Jesus speaks of.
Life is set up to teach us how to see. Or at least it is set up to allow us to learn how to see. We are born with eyes of faith and, through practice, we come to see that we are saved and made whole by the gifts of God. If you can’t see clearly right now, it may be too early to expect to see. Rather than assuming you’ll never see, try accepting that clarity isn’t available right now but it will evolve. Going through periods of blindness seems necessary in the faith journey. We learn how to see as we acknowledge our blindness. Only an empty cup may be filled and our times of emptiness lead us to deep places of faith and formation.
It takes time to learn how to see. Your faith is being formed and is making you well.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.