UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

The Big Question

How did Jesus treat those living with disabilities?

By Paul Reed

I have been effectively blind in my inward-turned right eye since birth. In many ways, I have compensated for it; in other ways, I haven’t and can’t. I have been fooled. Swimming on a still, grey day, with no distinguishable horizon, I swam to recover what I thought was a beer bottle floating nearby only to discover it was a barrel far offshore. I don’t have binocular vision. I judge distance by relative size. I am often asked what that is like, and to explain how my vision differs from what is normal. I can’t answer; this is my normal.

I gave up competitive hockey early. I could follow the puck, but I couldn’t see the opposing player on my right. I learned this lesson hard against the boards, and came to terms with it in the chair of a dental surgeon removing a portion of my upper jaw. I am watchful for dangers on the right, but I will still miss a subtle greeting or wave from that side. This, too, is my normal.

It is my normal, and yet to speak of it can choke me up. I can tell the story of that dental visit 40 years ago and laugh at my wide-eyed horror when the surgeon turned to his assistant and, setting down his hammer, asked for the bigger bone chisel and mallet. That is easy. What chokes me up are the schoolyard memories: the many times I was called “four eyes,” or someone stood in front of me and deliberately crossed their eyes for the laughter of classmates. What I remember is a persistent message that I was less than normal.

I feel for the man (John 9:1-12) who wore the label “sinner” for no other reason than he was born blind; he was labelled and discarded by society because of how he differed from the community’s standards. Before restoring the man’s sight, Jesus told the disciples the man was not a sinner, but made blind so that God’s works could be revealed in him.

Jesus’ compassion is described in many stories about healing the sick, the lame, the deaf and the blind. But the healing he offered always went beyond the physical. He did not condemn the sick and the disabled for their afflictions. Jesus looked beyond the surface and saw a person’s inherent value.

In my early 20s, I received such a gift of healing. While working on a housing project in a northern Ontario First Nations community, I became aware that I was being identified by an expression that, when I asked, was translated as “the one who sees in two directions.” It wasn’t an insult — it was simply a reference to my distinguishing characteristic. After mediating a conflict, I became aware of a subtle difference in the expression that the community members were using, and I inquired again. It was explained to me that I was being called “the one who sees both sides.” My crooked eye wasn’t merely a characteristic; it was being described as a gift. I am not less for what I cannot do, but called worthy for what I can do. It was a subtle difference in sound but a wonderful gift of grace.

What a gift it must have been for that blind man to hear Jesus’ words, “This man is not a sinner,” followed by the affirmation that he was a worthy individual, a creation of God, and in spite of his blindness — indeed because of his blindness — the glory of God could be revealed. Jesus restored his sight, but the more important gift, that of acceptance and worthiness, had already been given.

No one should be labelled, ridiculed, rejected, barred admission or treated as less than worthy for a characteristic that makes them who they are. Each and every person is a creation of God, through whom the glory of God can and may be revealed. Those who refuse to see the gift that lies within are the truly blind.

I recently presided at a memorial service for Marion Stainton. Marion was a founding member of Lupus Ontario and lived much of her life from a wheelchair. She often reminded people, “It is time to realize that a wheelchair is no longer a symbol of disability. It is a symbol of freedom for people who cannot walk.” I think Jesus would have seen the chair as freedom — if he noticed it at all. He would have been focused on the person in it, knowing them, valuing them and making them whole.

Rev. Paul Reed is a minister at Cambridge Street United in Lindsay, Ont.

Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!

Announcement

New Observer editor and CEO, Jocelyn Bell. Photo by Lindsay Palmer

New editor named

by Observer Staff

Promotional Image

Editorials

David Wilson%

Observations

by David Wilson

A perfect send-off

Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: My Year of Living Spiritually

by Observer Staff

Anne Bokma left the Dutch Reformed Church as a young adult and eventually became a member of the United Church and then the Unitarian Universalists. Having long explored the "spiritual but not religious" demographic as a writer, she decided to immerse herself in practices — like hiring a soul coach, secular choir-singing and forest bathing — for 12 months to find both enlightenment and entertainment.

Promotional Image

Society

November 2017

Trump country

by David Macfarlane

A northern Alabama county voted almost unanimously for Donald Trump in 2016. One year later, the writer, together with photographer Nigel Dickson, travels there to try to understand why.

Faith

November 2017

Involuntary pilgrim

by David Giuliano

The return of a tumour sets David Giuliano on a path he calls his ‘Camino de Cancer’

Faith

October 2017

A tale of two cancers

by Catherine Gordon

One year after the writer discovered she had breast cancer, her sister in California received the same diagnosis. They both recovered, but their experiences were worlds apart.

Society

November 2017

Trump country

by David Macfarlane

A northern Alabama county voted almost unanimously for Donald Trump in 2016. One year later, the writer, together with photographer Nigel Dickson, travels there to try to understand why.

Faith

November 2017

Involuntary pilgrim

by David Giuliano

The return of a tumour sets David Giuliano on a path he calls his ‘Camino de Cancer’

Faith

November 2017

Grey matter

by Trisha Elliott

Is consciousness just a function of the brain — or something more?

Promotional Image