Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year C.
If you’ve ever walked face-first into a spider web, or had a bug fly straight into your eye, your reaction was probably quite comical. Not comical to you, of course, but to anyone who happened to be watching. To the casual observer, it probably appeared that you were fending off an army of invisible bats, or that you suddenly got the urge to gouge out your eye. Whatever the reason, you completely lost it. All because of something as invisible as a spider web or as small as a fly.
No matter the size of the foreign object—no matter if it’s a fist or a fly—anything that comes at our face unexpectedly, or that threatens our eyesight, is met with a dramatic response. We instinctively know that this part of our body, which is home to four out of our five senses, must be protected at all costs. Usually, the only people we permit to touch our face, before whose contact we do not flinch or pull back, are those we love dearly and trust completely: a parent, a boyfriend or girlfriend, or a spouse.
“Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them as their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.” In heaven, we will see God face-to-face. And not only that, but God will reach out and touch our face, wiping every tear from our eyes. There is perhaps no more beautiful description of the kind of relationship we will have with God in heaven than this: that we will love and trust Him enough to allow Him to do what we considered in this life to be one of the most tender signs of love and affection: to wipe the tears from our eyes.
This is a happy, and deeply consoling thought, of course. But there are other things than tears that can obscure our vision. And God doesn’t want to wait until heaven to reach out and give us perfect sight. To see as God sees is a task for this present life, not just for the life to come. “My children, I will be with you only a little while longer. I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” To see with the eyes of love is to see as God sees; to see with anything less than love, is to be blind in some way.
Sometimes the English language is denigrated because it has only one word for love. Greek, the language of the New Testament, has four words for love, making English impoverished by comparison, or so the argument goes. But this single word, “love,” invites us to consider what all of these different forms of love have in common. Whether we love pizza or we love our dog; whether we love our friends or we love our spouse; whether we love out of self-need or out of self-gift; there is something fundamental in common. When we love someone or something, we are affirming the goodness of that thing or person. “How wonderful that you are!” “How good that you exist!” This is what we mean, fundamentally, when we say, “I love you,” whether we say it to a spouse, a friend, a dog, or a piece of pizza. “How wonderful that you are!” “How good that you exist!”
“God looked at everything he had made, and found it very good” (Genesis 1:31). God looked, and He loved; His looking was His loving. “How wonderful that you are!” “How good that you exist!” These were God’s first words when He saw us. The question, of course, is whether He still says that when He sees us today. After all, we each have our own list of people to whom we would never dare to say those words. We all have our own list of people to whom we’d rather say, “How horrible that you are!” “How bad that you exist!” Whether we’ve ever thought or said these exact words before, we’ve probably had them in our hearts or on our lips when faced with someone we dislike or even hate.
“Human beings see the appearance, but God looks into the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). One of the biggest obstacles to seeing as God sees, to looking upon our fellow human being with love, is refusing to see beyond our neighbor’s exterior. Our senses tell us one story about our neighbor; and that’s the only story we are interested in reading. But if we look upon our neighbor with love, if we see them as God sees them, we may find a different story lying behind or beneath the cover. St. Teresa of Avila says this, “As soon as [we] love, [we] go beyond the [exterior] and turn [our] eyes to the soul and look to see if there is something to love in the soul. And if there isn’t anything lovable, but [we] see some beginning and readiness…, if [we] love this soul and dig in this mine [we] will find gold.”
If we don’t look at our neighbor with love, if we don’t try to see them as God sees them, we miss the opportunity to find the gold, even if it be the tiniest fleck, which lies in their soul. Only by loving someone do we see the truth, the full truth, of who they are. Love is not blind; love is the only thing which brings true sight. So often we look at people to find the fault in them. We do so in order to attack and criticize them. We are like snakes waiting in the weeds to strike some unsuspecting victim. God made our eyes for truth, for the whole truth. But so often we look not in order to see the whole truth, but only the part that we can use against someone.
Dear friends in Christ, we are so concerned about protecting our physical sight, that the moment something threatens it—even if it’s only a flea—we react strongly in our defense. Would that we cared as much about our spiritual sight that the moment something threatened our ability to see as God sees, we would react as vigorously. In heaven, God will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and everything else which obscures our vision. But He wants to give us true sight even now. My challenge to all of us this week as this: Think of one person in your life that you have a hard time looking at with love. Think of that person and ask God for the grace this week to see them differently; to move past the appearance and, with God, to look into their heart. Notice the nugget, or at least fleck, of gold, that you were blind to and refused to see in their soul. And then thank God for that goodness, however small, that you find in them. That goodness, after all, came from God and is a sign that He made that person.
This is how God looks upon us. And, as He does, so also we should do. “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” Amen.