Love sees you: so testify to Love. In these weeks before Easter, we are looking at encounters with Jesus from the Gospels. These encounters teach us Jesus came to show us we are loved. The people in these stories were imperfect. They weren’t on the list of most righteous. No one would have called them blessed in their world. Today we stretch our thinking as we hear the story of a blind man as told in the Gospel of Mark.
46They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”48Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” 50So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” 52Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
Human beings seem to gravitate toward perfection or at least normalcy when we talk about ourselves and each other. The first thing we look for at birth is 10 fingers and 10 toes. Is the inclination for perfection or what we consider normal, part of our humanness, or is it the result of external influences? I’m not an anthropologist and don’t know the answer to that question. I do know in some cultures beauty is a very different concept from the Vogue magazine definition.
In ancient times, those who were challenged by some deviation of the body from what was considered normal were pushed to the margins and often left to fend for themselves, especially as adults. There were places the beggars gathered so as to receive the charity of others—sometimes known as “Beggars Row.” In that time and throughout history, people with what we would term disabilities were seen as less than and were dependent on the coins tossed their way or the food left on their mats. That mindset persisted for a long time and still exists although acted out in different ways.
Opening the eyes of the blind is a biblical theme and each Gospel includes a story of healing someone who is blind. The story may be about spiritual blindness, but it is also about not being able to see.
I wasn’t sure whether Jennie being on vacation was good or not as I worked with this story. We most certainly could never say that being blind made someone less than others after knowing Jennie. While she would be someone with a disability according to government standards, Jennie is a most abled person. She amazes us sighted people. In my preparation I read the stories of some people who are blind and their experience of living in our world.
One man from Massachusetts had been blinded at age 5, when he and his brother were throwing jackknives at the barn door. His knife hit handle-first, boomeranged back and got him in the eye. Infection took the other one, too. He had visual memories, what things looked like, and colors, but it had been decades since he had seen anything. He was smart as a whip and earned a PhD in history from Columbia, but no one would hired this blind professor. Ten years later he got a law degree, but no doors opened for him. So he worked as an administrator in the offices for the blind. And he was bitter about that. Not about his blindness, but about the social rejection of his abilities, because of his disability. He hated Bible passages about healing the blind, for he said, it wasn’t the blind who needed healing; it was the sighted who kept on insisting that being blind was pitiful, and made normal life impossible.
In ancient times a lack of knowledge about the human body led to a belief that being blind or deaf or having a skin disease or any other deviation was a curse or punishment. Being healed was having the curse lifted. Being healed allowed a person to be restored to life in the community, not outside it. In the story of Bartimaeus, we hear him asking for mercy—“Jesus, have mercy.” And we hear Jesus ask him, “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus doesn’t just go ahead, but asks first. How often do we assume what someone needs without asking first? How often do we rush to help someone who looks to be struggling instead of asking, “May I help?”
This is a story about mercy. Have mercy on those who are different in some way. Have mercy but not as pity. Have mercy and restore each person to their full humanity. What is full humanity? For me it is to be known and loved just as you are. Short, tall, skinny, not-so-skinny—one is not better than the other. Blind or deaf doesn’t make us less. Missing an arm or leg doesn’t mean we can’t dance. We should know that in our day. Having a disability doesn’t make us less than. If our culture lived that, maybe we wouldn’t struggle so as we age and need to use a cane or walker. What if we celebrated every person for their ability and didn’t focus on their disability? Maybe we wouldn’t have to legislate laws to ensure their access to all parts of life—we would just do it.
It is a struggle for anyone who is perceived as different, as not the norm, to feel blessed. Sometimes our desire to rid ourselves of the thing that makes us different, keeps us from achieving all that we can. The words of the song When Love Sees You say: “I see what I made in your mother’s womb; I see the day I fell in love with you. I see your tomorrows, nothing left to chance. I see my Father’s fingerprints.” That’s Jesus talking. “I see your story; I see my name written on every beautiful page. You see the struggle. You see the shame. I see the reason I came.”
I think we all secretly want to be perfect. We know we aren’t but we wish we were. We’d like someone to airbrush our picture and make us look perfect. We speak about normal as if there was such a thing. Look around this room. Now define normal. We’ve bought into the mistaken belief that being normal means to be worthy. Jesus, over and over again, blows that belief out of the water and says you are worthy just as you are.
Mister Rogers said: "As human beings, our job in life is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is, that each of us has something that no one else has—or ever will have—something inside that is unique to all time. It's our job to encourage each other to discover that uniqueness and to provide ways of developing its expression."
Is that what our job is? Is that our purpose? The catechism many of us studied says the chief purpose of human beings is to love and worship God. Is this how we love and worship God—by helping people realize their value?
Each of us has something inside that is unique to all time. Mr. Rogers’ whole life was devoted to helping children know that.
I am so grateful for organizations that exist to help us see those who are differently abled as equals, not as less than—organizations like Options Center for Independent Living, Special Olympics, Gigi’s Playhouse and Easy Street Theater. I am grateful for organizations who help to counter racism like the ACLU and Teaching Tolerance, and for the thousands who gave so much to the Civil Rights movement. I am grateful for organizations that work to end discrimination of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, like PFLAG and Human Rights Campaign. I am especially grateful for the witness of churches, like the UCC, who claim full acceptance for LGBT people based on sound biblical teaching. I am grateful for St. John where we do our best to welcome all. We don’t always succeed, but we keep working on it.
We still have much to do—and right here in Kankakee. Race, religion, ethnicity, ability, economic status, sexual orientation, and gender identity and expression are all still ways our world determines worthiness. When next we hear words that harm another human being, will we be willing to say stop? Will we use language ourselves that makes all people feel worthy? What else is God asking us to do? Who in our circle of connections needs us to help them realize how rare and valuable each one really is, that each has something that no one else has—something inside that is unique to all time?
You’ve been hearing about this song “When Love Sees You”. The choir has been learning this song and will now sing it. “I came for your story. I came for your wounds. To show you what Love sees when I see you.”