I’ve always found the biblical narrative in John 9 about the man born blind to be a compelling one. Jesus heals a blind man and when questioned by his followers, who mistakenly equate disability with sin or wrong doing, he replies, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (V. 3) He doesn’t stop there, however. As he tends to do, Jesus takes things a step further saying, “As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (V. 4-5)
So, what does, “light of the world”, mean and, perhaps more importantly, what does this mean for me as a follower of the one who said it?
Well, if we look further, we see it is the not the blind man whose understanding of the world is problematic at all. It is the people around him. They don’t believe the blind man is the same person they’ve known all along. When he says, “I am the same man you’ve known”, literally everyone other than the man’s parents, neighbors and religious leaders included, refuse to believe him. In fact, rather than see and accept him for who he is, much less include him in daily life, they throw him out! (V. 34)
So, the question for me becomes, “Who am I not seeing” Who are the people I look past on a daily basis and why? Do I write them off assuming the help they need is out there and they’ll find it? Do I believe their reality is so far from mine I could never be like them? The truth is when I slow the narrative down enough I’m not as far from the bottom as I think even when I don’t want to think it.
Have you ever consider how easily you could become "the least of these"? Circumstances beyond one’s control happen all the time and no amount of effort on his or her own will provide relief. It is far more complex than simply pulling one’s self up by his or her bootstraps.
I was homeless for a time. In my case, it was the result of a relationship breakdown, something that happens all the time. Fortunately for me I had a network of people willing and able to help.
What if I didn't have this help available? What if I didn't have money or credit to help me move forward? What if I wasn't privileged enough to have a motel owner look upon me with kindness, beyond my rough exterior from a month moving from place to place, and give me the opportunity to rent? Even now, finding myself more physically disabled these days due to unexpected knee replacement surgery complications, I'm trying to work my way through other affected areas of my life; not the least of which is finances.
Truthfully, I don’t think most people understand how easily, or quickly, they could become disabled. Though, reality dictates this will be the truth for most of us if we live long enough and, again, this doesn’t even account for any number of other significant life changing events which could also happen just as it did to me. Are we afraid to be confronted by this reality?
This isn't just about me, though, or even you. It’s about awareness and working toward a world where people on the margins are redeemed and restored back into full community connection and relationship. In short, we are called to work toward a world where everyone, regardless of our differences, is seen, which goes far beyond the ability of our eyes instead calling upon our heart.
Any number of things are happening right now which keeps a person from living their fullest life; something we all deserve.
I'm giving you a window into my world simply hoping you will think and then act, however and wherever you find the opportunity, in Christian spirit and kindness, to make sure others are included. You never know, it could be me you’re helping or maybe I will help you.
That’s the beauty of our world. Underneath all the other things which aren’t so beautiful, we are given a chance to participate, one and all, in God’s love story. You get to be the light of God in the world.
Perhaps it starts with one simple question, “Who am I not seeing?”
Thank you for pondering with me.
(Chris Wylie is an elder in the Upper New York AC who is currently on incapacity leave.)