How did you come to know what you know? How did you come to see and understand what you now do? To none of us was it all dropped into our laps whole and entire, but rather in bits and pieces, as if we grew into it all without realizing until it was there. And then we saw.
Emilie Griffin, in her book “Souls in Full Flight,” describes what it is like for someone who has been born blind and is then given sight for the first time through the marvels of modern medicine.
“The patient on opening his eyes gets little or no enjoyment; indeed, he finds the experience painful. He reports only a spinning mass of light and colors. He proves to be quite unable to pick up objects by sight, to recognize what they are, or to name them. He has no conception of space with objects in it, although he knows all about objects and their names by touch. ‘Of course,’ you will say, ‘he must take a little time to learn to recognize them by sight.’ Not a little time, but a very long time, in fact, years. His brain has not been trained in the rules of seeing. We are not conscious that there are any such rules; we think we see, as we say naturally. But we have in fact learned a whole set of rules during childhood.”
Coming to see with the eyes of faith is much like that for most of us. It’s been said that we never become believers before the age of 35. There is nothing neither magical nor automatic about the age of 35, but it does suggest that it takes some living to recognize that there is more afoot in our lives than we ourselves. For most of us faith is a coming to see, and each of us seems to do so according to God’s timetable simply because coming to faith is never something we ourselves do.
The Gospel story this week is that of the man born blind and cured by Jesus. It is the middle story in a three part series this Lent. Together, the three stories describe the pattern of how we come to an abundance of true life – we thirst for more than life offers (last week’s story of the Woman at the Well), then like the Man Born Blind we begin to see with the eyes of faith (this week’s story), and finally we come to experience the new life the Lord Jesus brings us even as we continue to live out our daily existence (next week’s story of Lazarus.)
Within that three-week pattern, coming to faith seems to have its own progression. It begins when Jesus cures the blind man. When his neighbors ask him how this happened, the man says, “The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes … and so I was able to see” (vs. 11).
When the Pharisees, suspicious of someone who cures on the Sabbath, question him about it all, the man professes, “He is a prophet” (vs. 17).
Much later, after questioning the man’s parents, the Pharisees again challenge the man who had been cured. This time the man stands up to the Pharisees and proclaims, “If this man were not from God he would not be able to do anything” (vs. 33).
Finally, when the man once more finds Jesus, Jesus asks him if he believes in the Son of Man. The man professes, “‘I do believe, Lord,’ and he worshipped him” (vs. 38).
The story works much like a parable describing the journey from non-faith to faith, from simply knowing the man Jesus, to calling him a prophet, to proclaiming him from God, to calling him Lord. In faith, there is a progressive recognition of who Jesus is for us as we grow in knowing him.
There are some who chide others for not believing, as if it were their fault. Yet it is only when we begin to see with faith that we understand how our previous existence had a certain blindness of which we were unaware at the time. In other words, we don’t see how we are blind until we begin to see in a new way
It is the Lord Jesus who brings us all to faith, just as it was for the man born blind. It is God’s doing not ours as each of us comes to see the wisdom of Jesus in our own time.
(Fr. Juknialis is a senior priest of the Milwaukee Archdiocese.)