When we see the loving presence and saving action of God in our lives, then we have faith. First, we see what we know. Second, we see what we don’t know. Third, we see as God sees.
The healed blind man was one of those no nonsense guys who saw what he knew. You can picture him stopping off at the first century equivalent of the American Legion Hall with his bowling ball on the way home from the tournament. His friends called him Bubba. Don’t try to confuse him with theory. Don’t impose any sweet piety. “Give glory to God,” said the authorities. Bubba rolls his eyes. “First of all…” Bubba rolls his eyes again. Anytime they start counting out numbers he is turned off. So he butts in. I don’t know anything about theology, I can’t tell you the whys and wherefores. “I know this much: I was blind before; now I can see.” That’s enough for him. Faith for Bubba consists in experiencing the action of God in his life. What did he know? That God was on his side. There’s a contemporary story of a catechumen who was being challenged by his still unbelieving friend. “If you have been converted to Christ you must know a great deal about him. What country was he born in?” “I don’t know,” the convert admitted. “How old was he when he died?” “I don’t know.” “How many sermons did he preach?” “I don’t know.” “For someone who claims to be converted to Christ you certainly know very little about him!” The converted answered slowly, “You are right. I am ashamed how little I know about him. But this much I do know: three years ago I was a drunkard. I was in debt. My family was falling to pieces. My wife and children would dread my return home each evening. But now I have given up drink; we are out of debt; ours is a happy home. All this Christ has done for me. This much I know of him.” To see with the eyes of faith is to know what you know. That happens when you are changed by it. The knowledge of faith is not in one’s head but at the heart of human existence. All the world looks different, is treated differently, from the perspective of faith. We look at our lives and see that God has been acting in order to have this kind of faith.
There is another way of faith-filled seeing that is called for, however. We must also see that we don’t know. The mistake the Pharisees made was in insisting “But we see” when actually they didn’t. “We are disciples of Moses. We know that God spoke to Moses,” they claimed. They thought having the holy books or the right religious attitudes was all that was needed. But the result was a judgmental attitude about others. “We know this man is a sinner.” “You are steeped in sin from birth.” “This man cannot be from God.” The Pharisees imagined they knew who was right with God and who wasn’t. Only by accepting our inability to comprehend exactly how God is moving can we live in unity and have an accepting love. The mother superior had instructed the young novice to always feed any vagrants who came to the convent door. “It might be St. Joseph in disguise,” she reminded her. One day the novice was all upset. “There’s a vagrant at the door.” “Well feed him; it might be St. Joseph in disguise.” “But Mother,” said the girl, “he’s been drinking.” The mother superior answered, “Feed him anyway. It might be St. Patrick in disguise.” To have faith is to remember what you don’t know. We have faith in God even when we don’t see why we’ve had to endure life’s suffering. We have faith in God even not seeing how God is at work in the hearts of those who seem so lost and estranged. We have faith in God’s providence at work in the lives of those who are not like us. Sometimes we just can’t see how God is at work — but not knowing and still trusting is the way of faith.
The things we see with the eyes of faith do enable us to see as God sees. As we are reminded in the Old Testament lesson, “Do not judge from his appearance. God does not see as we do — we see the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart.” The appearances, in many ways, are why we go to school — a successful job, a comfortable lifestyle, being important. But that is not what God is about. Instead of seeing in terms of appearances, God looks at the heart, God sees reality in terms of relationships. As children of the light we look at relationships for “goodness and justice and truth” to learn to see as God sees. God sees goodness when we reach out to those who have hurt us, keeping a door open, making a reconciliation possible if they should ever be ready. God sees justice when we use our time or talent or money in ways that demonstrate how connected we are with every other person. God sees truth when we judge things not simply from what makes me feel good but from the point of view of the relationship we have with God. If we see relationships, with our family and friends, with other people, with God, as what matters most, then we are judging the heart, not appearances. Then we are seeing as God sees. There’s a famous story of six blind men encountering an elephant. The one who grabbed the trunk insisted, “An elephant is just like a snake.” The one who touched the ear said, “An elephant is like a fan.” The one who felt the tusk asserted, “An elephant is like a stick.” The one who walked into its side was sure an elephant was like a wall. One wrapped his arms around the legs and knew an elephant was like a tree. And the one who had the tail was certain an elephant was like a broom. Only by pooling their individual insights could they know what an elephant is really like. Only in relationship can one see the big picture as God does. Know what you know — that God is at work. Know what you don’t know — how God is at work. See as God sees — that relationship matters most. Then we have the eyes of faith, then we truly see.