Saturday, March 04, 2006

Those Who Do Not See

There are several reasons given in Scripture why the Son of God has come to earth, so his mission is many-faceted. He came that we may have abundant life (John 10:10), to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10), to preach the Gospel (Mark 1:38), to give his life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28), and to destroy the works of the devil (1John 3:8)—just to give a few examples. There’s another reason He came: “I came into this world, that those who do not see may see…” (John 9:39).

So many of our failures and sins result from this very fact: we do not see, we don’t “get it,” we don’t grasp the mystery, we fail to see how we are to apply the wisdom of the Gospel to our daily lives. We also generally don’t see how the Hand of Providence is at work in the events and experiences of our lives, so we tend to think it isn’t. Perhaps in our weaker moments, we don’t even see why our selfish or disordered desires have to be renounced or overcome for a “higher purpose” like fidelity to truth or even our very salvation. We don’t see the radical incompatibility between sin and grace within our souls, and we wonder why there is such inner turmoil, like Jacob and Esau fighting within the womb of Rebekah.

Jesus, as the Light of the world, has come to show us this, to open the eyes of the blind—but also to correct the vision of those who think they can see. It is not a matter of indifference whether or not we know the truth and live by it, for the day of reckoning is coming. Here is the full text of the above quote: “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.”

You might ask: what is the point of being able to see, if He has come to make the seeing blind? We have to understand this in the context of the Gospel. He had just healed a blind man, who then professed his faith in Christ and worshiped Him. The Pharisees, on the other hand, refused to believe in Christ and bodily ejected the formerly blind man when he dared say that Jesus was from God, even though He “worked” on the Sabbath.

So Jesus told the Pharisees: “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘we see,’ your guilt remains” (9:41). The blind man’s physical defect was not an impediment to his spiritual vision, for he was open to the grace of God. But the Pharisees, with all their knowledge of the law and supposed righteousness, were blinded by pride and hard-heartedness to the very manifestation of God before them. When Christ came into the world, the Pharisees—those who could see—were shown to be blind, while the blind man was shown to have the superior vision.

In a sense, we have to start out blind in order that we may turn to God to open our eyes. If we think we can see well enough on our own, there will be no healing for us. What did God do to Paul before He enlightened him? He struck him blind! Paul had to realize that he was in fact blind to the truth about Christ, even though he was one of the most educated, zealous, and hence clear-sighted of the Pharisees of his day (yes, Paul was a Pharisee).

In a similar vein, the same Paul says that if we want to become wise we had better first become fools. The earliest Christians were mostly low-born, insignificant, poor, of no account. Such are the ones who are able to see clearly. Start at the lowest place and wait until you are called up higher. Don’t think you know it all or know it better.

We have to accept, however, that the process of enlightenment is a gradual one. The scales fell off Paul’s eyes after only a few days, but for most of us it takes a long time. We're more like the man who was healed in stages (Mark 8:23-25). We know, however, that if we persevere in trusting God, eventually we will see, for that is why Jesus came. We have to first frankly acknowledge that we really don’t see, don’t understand, don’t get it, but that very admission should restrain us from breaking commandments as if we knew better than God; it should restrain us from acting imprudently on what is admittedly a lack of understanding and clear-sightedness. That’s one reason we have commandments. We can’t figure things out for ourselves, and we would make a mess of everything if all we had to see with was our own cross-eyed or blurred vision. So God says: you don’t see it, but I do. Trust me in the meantime, and do what I say, as I gradually open your eyes.

Along with our own salutary self-distrust, we need to have an openness, a longing, to learn, to grow, to be given the capacity for clear vision and understanding. Better to be among the blind who are just beginning to see than among the “seeing” whose eyes are growing dim…