February 21, 2021
I don’t know how many people know me personally, but if there is one thing you should know about me is that I’m a planner. I love to sit down at the end of each week and plan out my schedule for the upcoming week and I block out time day by day based on the things I need to get done. Beyond planning my daily and weekly schedules I love to plan ahead for years to come, whether that was my class schedule for every semester at Carolina or if that’s what my life is going to look like after I graduate. By the end of my first year, I was already blocking out my class schedule all the way to graduation.
However, there is one thing that I could’ve never planned for this past year and that was the pandemic. I know, I know none of us could’ve planned for an event like this to happen, but this wrecked every schedule or plan that I had so firmly cemented in my brain. The beginning of 2020 sent me into a tailspin as I watched my best-laid plans come undone.
I spent many months, especially when I moved back to campus over the summer, thinking of all the things I was supposed to be doing, instead of online school or spending copious amounts of time in my room. This made me angry, beyond angry, I was resentful. I resented our government, the university, and this invisible thing changing the world around me.
I had lost all faith that someday this would be over, and I could return to seeing friends and family, being a normal college student, and getting to do things I enjoy. I began to fall away from faith as well, I lost interest in going to PCM, something I had always loved during my time at UNC. The further I moved away from PCM and the Church and my faith the more frustrated I became. My anger shifted from the world around me and my changing circumstances, to God.
I became as lost as the blind men in the story, and I no longer had faith that the circumstances would improve, and I would ever be able to do things I cared about again. As the summer passed, I was stuck in a loop of resentment. As my senior year approached, I wanted and NEEDED to turn my attitude about God around, not only for myself but because I was also about to become the moderator for PCM. People were soon going to turn to me for guidance about PCM, its events, programs, and other aspects of their own faith. I felt ill-prepared to answer questions about God when I was so bitter towards God.
Along with all the other major changes to my senior year, PCM was also going to have a new campus minister, little did I know that Berry would help me regain my faith in God. I felt so lost going into my first meeting with him, I was anxious about my leadership skills and navigating our group through virtual ministry. In my mind, one of the greatest parts of PCM is the chance for conversation. I’ve laughed, cried, discussed everything from organic chemistry reactions to types of peanut butter in the PCM space. How was I supposed to re-create the richness of these discussions over zoom? How was I going to help foster the first years’ connections to PCM? How was I going to help every member on the Leadership Team feel valued when most of them couldn’t do anything related to their position? After my first conversation with Berry, I felt reassured, his excitement and enthusiasm about the upcoming school year made me excited for what the new year had to hold, for the first time in a long time. He shared so many ideas with me in our first conversation I knew PCM would feel like a home again.
As the semester went on, I began to see little things that began to restore my fractured faith. On Thursdays, I was pushed to discuss my faith in new ways with my friends and this challenge pushed me back towards God. As I embraced this new chapter of my faith, I began to find joy in the things around me. I was no longer bitter about the things I was missing out on because of the pandemic, but instead, I appreciated the things I could do because we were in a pandemic.
I had more time than ever to talk with my roommates and best friends, my relationships with these people became deeper and I reached new levels of friendship that might not have been possible if it weren’t for the pandemic. I had more time to read, to watch movies, focus on my graduate school searches, and time to figure out who I was. I was no longer rushing from class to work to the lab to homework, instead, I was living a slow season of life. I had time to think about how I felt in moments of joy or in moments of sorrow. I had time to take a break when I felt overwhelmed or exhausted.
Looking back at the version of myself in the first few months of the pandemic, I see someone who was just as blind as the two men in our story today. I was blinded by anger, frustration, and deep uncertainty. I spent months in this “blind” period of my life, questioning why and how God had let all of this happen to the world and to ME. In our story, Jesus asks the blind men, “Do you think I am able to do this?” Months ago, I would’ve said no. My blindness obscured me from seeing why God has placed a slow season in my life. Only as I strengthened my relationship with God, through PCM, my friends, and with the help of Berry, my vision became less clouded. I began to realize that this slow season was a time for revitalization, to take a step back from a world rushing around me, to appreciate my life. God knew I needed this time too and I began to appreciate God and be thankful for the life I was living. I learned that comparing what should’ve been with what is, will never change the present. As the new semester ramps up, I can go into knowing I have a newfound appreciation for God, and I can cherish all things that come my way.
When we see Jesus in this passage, he is at the peak of his ministry. He’s Tom Brady in the playoffs, Game 6 Michael Jordan, Serena at Wimbledon. He’s traveling, preaching, and healing like it’s no one’s business. From children being raised from the dead, to expelling demons, to bringing speech to the mute, Jesus is a miracle machine.
On his traveling, he is chased down by two blind men, begging for Jesus to restore their sight. Blindness was not uncommon in biblical times. The climate of the Mediterranean is not known to be partially kind: harsh sun, rough sands, and the lack of optometrists led to blindness being a common affliction in Biblical times. In fact, the Bible mentions blindness over 50 times. From the blindness of Elisha to the blinding of Saul, blindness is a common theme. In Biblical times, blindness from birth and many other cases of blindness was believed by many to be some sort of punishment for transgressions someone had performed. If you were born blind, it was believed that your parent’s sin had caused it. Throughout the bible we see many references to those who were questioning their faith also being affected by some sort of blindness, one of them being Paul, a persecutor of Christians, was blinded until his turn to a disciple, when he was able to “see” the faith and regained his sight.
So how does this passage tie into that idea, the faithful sight? Well instead of just laying on hands and calling it a day with the two men, Jesus engages with them. He asks the blind men, “Do you believe I can do this?”
Now this is quite a loaded question. This isn’t like your doctor saying, “hey do you think I can perform this surgery?”. You’ve gone to that doctor because you know they can perform the surgery. They have the credentials, and they were probably recommended to you, and in the order of social trust, they’re pretty far up there.
Jesus didn’t have an MD, as you can imagine, as Roman medical schools were subpar at best. Jesus is asking the two men in a heavenly action, an action built upon faith alone. Jesus here is asking if they have an open-eyed faith, ready to see the kingdom that Jesus is trying to bring to Earth.
Their conversation continues with Jesus touching their eyes and clarifying, ““According to your faith let it be done to you”. Immediately they’re free to see again. Both their spiritual and physical eyes have been fully opened.
At first glance there really isn’t much here for us. Two guys roll up to Jesus, get their vision back, and get back to their life… But digging deeper, we see what a true deep-seated faith in these two men. They go and seek out Jesus. They do not question Jesus one bit, but fully pronounce their faith in him as soon as they are asked. They are living into one of the core tenants of the Protestant faith, Sola Fide, to be justified in the sight of God by faith alone.
Now Sola Fide isn’t the name of some new spaceship program helmed by Elon Musk, its translation is “faith alone” and it was one of the core ideas to Martin Luther’s reforming of the Christian faith.
Back in the pre-Reformation days, faith was seen as a side project to works. In some of the hierarchical and hell invoking theology of the Catholic Church at the time, your salvation was directly tied to goodness of the works you performed in your brief time on the earth, rendering one’s relationship with the mercy of God to a purely transactional one. To oversimplify, “Do good things, you get a golden ticket to heaven.”
But, no action we can ever do comes close to earning our salvation, it’s the grace of God and our faith that offers us salvation, a gift from a faith-full God.
That’s the power of grace by faith alone. God’s grace is present, ready, waiting, all encompassing. But blindness keeps us from it. Who knows what it takes to open our eyes, maybe it’s having a moment of being directly questioned like these two men were. Maybe it’ll be catching a glimpse of the expansive grace, grabbing and fully opening our vision. Maybe it will come down to just choosing faith when presented with misgiving, choosing sight over blindness.
So what to do? I think it comes down to consistently asking ourselves the question Jesus posed to the two men, “do you think I can do this”? In effect, this looks like constantly questioning our own faith. And the answer there is a tough one, it requires answering from a place of strength and vulnerability. We have to be strong enough to want to grow and see, but vulnerable enough to recognize our own barriers to sight. Only then can we be in full step with our faith, and begin to truly see the Kingdom around us.