As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.
Arriving at the health clinic in the inner city where I had been booked to get my COVID vaccine, fear gripped my heart. Out front on the lawn lounged numerous homeless people. They sat on the accessible ramp, not moving, as I navigated my power chair up into the clinic.
I didn’t feel any better once inside the waiting room. The staff who signed me in were friendly enough and seemed competent, but a small hole had been smashed into the wall, a substance I guessed might be urine was on the floor—though probably it was some unidentifiable drink someone had spilled—and all the baseboards had been peeled off and removed. The receptionists sat behind an inaccessible, barred metal area and all over the walls were signs about addiction support services. I had never encountered a medical clinic like this.
I was scared, and my fear overwhelmed me. None of the other patients who waited for their vaccines alongside me tried to talk to me, but if they had, I don’t know what I would have said, even though in almost any situation in life I am the sort of person who is rarely short of words. Would I have been rude or mean? No. But would I have had the same spirit of love and kindness and openness in which I usually interact with others? Also, probably, no.
When I finally left the clinic, I overheard two of the people on the lawn talking. “We’ve all gone through really hard things,” one person said to another.
Hours later, as I lay in bed that night, I realized my fear had caused me to see all the people inside and outside that clinic with eyes of judgment instead of eyes that saw each person as an individual with great value to God. I saw scary homeless people on the wheelchair ramp, not individuals who have gone through hard things including losing their homes. They have quite likely experienced deep challenges I know nothing about. None of them were rude to me in any way, but I saw them as threatening. I saw people who appeared to be in a very different socioeconomic class, as well as have other differences to me, in that waiting room. I only saw their differences. Not their humanity.
I believe that in this instance I saw with eyes that were exactly the opposite of the eyes Jesus would have seen with.
We are taught in the Bible that all people are equal and have great value. Regardless of any differences a person might have to ourselves, be it disability, socioeconomic level, gender, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or anything else, we are to always, always, always follow Jesus’ model of love.
I think most of us who have been Christians for a long time think we generally do a good job of this. We are not unfamiliar with the teachings of Jesus, the core of which is love of God and our fellow humans. I thought I was pretty good at seeing other people through eyes of value and love and equality, especially because I myself am visibly different to most other people.
I use a wheelchair that is set up with a very unique leg support system unlike any wheelchair I have ever seen, and I talk using a communication machine: I explicitly know what it is like to be stared at, judged incompetent (talked to like I am a toddler or cute puppy), simply ignored, or treated with inequality based on my disability differences. Far too often, I have been unfairly judged and put into a box that doesn’t fit who I am, with little openness to change the other person’s views of me.
So I thought I knew—knew deeply what it means to not be seen for who I am. And for Whose I am.
And yet how easy it was to allow a fear of differences and fear of the unknown and, frankly, a dirty floor, to create a cloudy lens of judgement, disdain, and superiority that changed how I saw the people around me.
We are called to follow the example of Jesus when he encountered the Samaritan woman at a well in John 4. The Bible says the woman herself was surprised Jesus talked to her, as Jews of the time did not associate with Samaritans. Not only this, but she was a woman in an age when women had little power, and she had not only had numerous prior husbands but now lived with a man not her husband. None of this would enhance Jesus’ reputation as a religious leader, especially in that era.
However, Jesus treated this woman with respect and dignity. He honored her by teaching her and making her one of the few people to whom he directly revealed his identity as Messiah.
He said, “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.” —John 4:21-26
How easy it is to not even see a person at all because all we see are the things we think make them different. We must confess how rarely we truly react with genuine love as Christ has called us and modeled to us. We must pray that he will work in us and through us and instill in us eyes that see a person for who they truly are and hearts that genuinely love people as incredible, valuable, precious miracles.
May God fulfill in us the promise of Ezekiel 36:26: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”
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