“Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy” (Is. 35:5-6).
There are two senses of the word “vision”: first, our capacity to see, our sense of sight itself; then second, “vision” as the sight we take in, what we see itself. An optometrist can check your eyesight, which is vision in the first sense; but vision in the second sense is another thing entirely. To a certain extent, the doctor can tell you how well you’re seeing by asking you to read the bottom of the chart; but your vision in the second sense is a matter of orientation, the way you face. Another way of saying this is that there are different ways to answer the question, “What’s your vision?”
Our first reading, from the prophet Isaiah, starts off with vision, with the opening of the eyes of the blind. The prophet goes on to the healing of the limbs, and ears, and tongue, but he begins with vision. It’s this prophecy that is repeated in our Gospel today, from Matthew, as Jesus responds to the disciples of John the Baptist. “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them” (Matt. 12:4-5).
In other words, in answering their urgent question as to whether he was the Messiah, or whether they were to look for another, Jesus himself looks back to the ancient prophecy. He takes a fix on the past in order to peer into the future. The pattern he finds in the prophet Isaiah is one of healing and restoration of life, one that he himself recapitulates in his own ministry. He invites John’s disciples to see and understand the pattern revealed in his own works: something they’ll be able to do if they have the vision for it (vision in the second sense).
What founds this vision is trust in God, belief in the One who can do mighty things. As we heard in the reading from Isaiah, the vision includes the restorative power of God, not only to heal humanity but to heal the earth as well. “Waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water” (Is. 35:6-7). God is making a way in the wilderness where there was none before! The exiles return to their homes, and sorrow and sighing flee away.
Note that Jesus does not develop his own vision. He relies instead on the prophet Isaiah for the insight that’s needed. Fundamentally, it’s God’s vision that the prophet delivers, God’s promise for the world. As the vision comes from God, it draws the eye and becomes our own. We turn in the right direction as we see what God has prepared for us to see.
What we see depends on the direction we face. Without the backward glance John’s disciples, and we ourselves, will never get properly oriented. We’ll miss the meaning of what’s taking place as Jesus heals the blind, the lame, and the deaf; the fulfillment of prophecy in his healing the lepers and raising the dead. The poor are having good news preached to them as Jesus teaches and works miracles. What is taking place is fleshing out the promises spoken by God to the prophets. To see it, we need to have vision.
In a sense, it’s our own eyes that need to be opened, if we’re going to see and understand. We may have twenty-twenty vision, but until we open our eyes we will not be able to see. We’re now oriented on Jesus; we turn to face him. Remember, “Go and tell John what you hear and see” (Matt. 12:4). What they hear and see is Jesus himself, and so should we. Jesus not only restores our vision; he himself is the vision, the direction we face, and the person we see.
Our confirmands this morning are renewing their vision through their renewal of baptismal vows. All of us are doing the same thing as we join with them in these affirmations. As we come to the altar today, we receive renewal and healing, the new life in Christ. What prophets saw centuries before becomes real and visible in Jesus Christ, who makes himself available to us in his body and blood in the sacrament of the altar. Here today, we see and hear what God has done for us in Jesus Christ our Lord.