He Sees the Good

Joni Eareckson Tada had a luncheon with a group of inner-city pastors from Chicago. Joni was left paralyzed many years ago from a diving accident. As she talked about disability ministry with these inner-city pastors, she couldn’t help wondering, “Am I supposed to say ‘African-American?’ Or would they prefer ‘black?’ It’s OK,” she thought, “to say ‘people of color.’ “ Then Joni thought about her husband, Ken, who is of Japanese descent. His mother prefers the word “oriental” while he prefers “Asian,” but his dad likes the term “Japanese-American.”

Joni continued talking to the pastors about the subject of disabilities. The subject of color didn’t come up. Later, when the subject of Hispanic churches was discussed, Joni says she got tongue-tied between using the words “Hispanic” and “Latino.” She decided then to ask the pastors if they wished to be referred to as “black” or “African-American.”

To her surprise, they slapped the table and laughed out loud. The pastors had been wrestling with some questions of their own. During lunch, they had watched Joni being fed a sandwich by her friend. They discussed, “Now when we refer to her, are we supposed to say ‘handicapped’ Or ‘physically challenged?’ We know we’re not supposed to refer to her as a ‘cripple’ or an ‘invalid.’ But which is it?”
One of the pastors said, “We were itching to know all during lunch how you wanted to be called . . . there are all those fancy terms ... we didn’t want to say the wrong thing and were wondering what was right!” Together, Joni and these pastors had a good laugh over their mutual awkwardness at being able to simply see each other as unique individuals. (“Forget the Label,” by Joni Eareckson Tada, MOODY, September 1995, p. 30)

The gospel passage today is filled with people with perfectly good eyes who do not seem to be able to see what is clearly there. It begins with the disciples discussing the origins of the man’s blindness as if he were also deaf, or not even present. And once his sight is restored, the neighbors decide he must suddenly have a look-alike. The Pharisees immediately go through all kinds of contortions rather than admit that Jesus has given this man sight, because if they did, they would have to admit that they must change the way they looked at him.

The one with clear vision is Jesus. The blind man does not even ask Jesus to help him, but Jesus immediately sets about testing his willingness to believe. He makes the paste of saliva and dust and applies it to his eyes and sends him off to wash. And with his new gift of sight, his mind is then able to see that Jesus is one who speaks and acts for God. And at Jesus’ invitation, he makes his act of faith that Jesus is the Messiah.

It is the same as Jesus looks at us. He looks beyond our weaknesses and failings and sees us as his sister or brother. He knows our needs. He sees our heart when it is broken by another, and offers us his consolation. He sees our struggles with temptations and lends us the strength to keep on fighting to do better. He sees our smallest acts of kindness and rewards us with his love. He sees us when we are suffering and afraid, and promises that he will always be at our side to see us through.

During this fourth week of Lent, we are invited to make sure our eyes are looking at others as does Jesus. It is easy to look for the sin behind someone’s actions as we talk about them, but only Jesus can read their heart and know their reasons for acting as they do. It is easy to excuse our anger with another because we don’t like the way they act or speak, but Jesus invites us to join him in being a peacemaker. It is easy to look at someone else and pick out the external things that make us different from each other. But, each person is loved by God as his special creation, and if we would only take the time to welcome them, to speak to them, to accept them, we will discover in them the goodness that Jesus already sees is there.

–Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk