His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
Can I tell you how this verse tears my heart into tiny ribbons every time I read and hear it? I have long ago rejected this kind of thinking even before having my own special needs child, but a lot of the world, and a lot of Christians…have not.
The idea that children born with various physical, mental, developmental and cognitive disabilities were a punishment for sins of the parent pervaded well into the late 20th century. Why didn’t we see more of these children in public in decades past? Well, the majority of them were sent to institutions where society could ignore them and the parents could silently bear the “burden.” And it happened in Catholic families as much as in the general society. How remarkably pro-life of us to treat the least among us with such dignity! (For the un-initiated, that last sentence is sarcasm.)
For a society that prides itself on how “progressive” and “accepting” it is, we sure do abort unborn infants for suspected inferior traits at an alarming rate. Let’s not forget how we rush to defend the parents who murder their children with disabilities in cold-blood by decrying what a hard life the parent had. And while we’re at it, why don’t we also talk about how welcoming churches are in general to those with developmental and cognitive disabilities. By the way, I’ve heard people use today’s Gospel reading to defend all of the above actions because Jesus cured the man’s blindness which means surely He rejects the imperfect as well.
If you think that way…if you think my child is a punishment for my sin and that Jesus loves her less, it might be time to turn in your Christian card.
Just look at the next verse:
Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.”
In the case of the blind man, restoring his sight was a very specific action to show Jesus as the light of the world. It does not mean Jesus rejected the man and his disability. As our pastor pointed out today, this man had an encounter with Jesus. We can all know as much about Jesus as the Bible, the Catechism, our parents, attending Mass, receiving the sacraments and events like Eucharistic adoration can teach us, but have we really and truly encountered Christ? And his first suggestion to meet Christ in your life? Head to our local Miracle Field and watch the differently-abled athletes compete. Watch their parents faces. Watch those who volunteer with them. He pointed out that from all the commandments the greatest was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind and all your strength but the second, was to love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:29-31). And at the final judgment when the people on the right ask Him when they saw Him hungry, thirsty, a stranger, etc, He reminds them that whenever they did something for the least among them, they did it unto Him (Matthew 25:37-40).
In the face of all that, it is undeniable that God creates each life for its own unique purpose and it is completely irrelevant if we fail to see what that purpose is. It is most definitely arrogant and even evil if we suppose there is no good purpose and no right to life and dignity of those with disabilities if we cannot see for ourselves what that purpose is. It is most-likely not the only reason God created my child, but let me tell you, she has allowed myself, my husband, my children, her grandparents, her Godparents, and all she meets to encounter God in an amazing and profound way. I can tell you my boys have learned more in their short lives about patience, compassion and self-sacrifice than I did in the 26 years I lived before God blessed us with Shelby.
And it’s not just the disabled who can help us encounter God. There are also the elderly, the homeless, the sick, the marginalized…
And why does it matter that our children have these kinds of encounters with God on this level?
A while ago there were a few articles floating around the interwebs that claimed to give Catholic parents a guaranteed way to keep their kids Catholic. They spent a lot of time talking about going to Mass, reading the Bible, having the Catechism at the ready, setting a good example in the above and parents being the primary educators of their children. But in none of them was included the actual living out of the Corporal Works of Mercy and seeking out these encounters with Christ. Which may be why so many parents read those articles and wept because they did all those things and one or more children fell away from the Church. This morning our pastor held himself up as an example of one who left and it wasn’t until he encountered Christ in real way, not just learned about Him, that he realized just how important it is that our kids learn where and how they can meet Christ.
And this is the real reason this Gospel is hard. It makes us really reflect on what we’re doing to encounter Christ in our own lives and how we’re making it a priority with our kids. It forces us to reckon with the fact that we may not only not be living Christ-like but may not be seeking Him out for substantial encounters. And it might be a sobering reminder of what we really need to do this Lent…find Jesus and truly encounter Him.