This story is a reimaging of the biblical narrative in John 9 inspired by my own disabilities and the voices of my sisters and brothers, especially those in the LGBTQIA community, since the exclusionary decisions of the General Conference of The United Methodist Church in February 2019.
Today, I want to tell you about a man I know named, Bob.
Bob was born blind. Yet, for years, Bob struggled for others to see him. Wherever Bob went, some people insisted on restricting poor Bob.
His sight wasn’t a problem for him. Bob could do everything he needed or at least Bob could do as much as those who placed themselves in charge of deciding who’s allowed to participate in community thought he should do.
You see, Bob’s problem wasn’t Bob’s problem at all. Bob being a problem to those in charge was Bob’s problem.
Funny how that works, isn’t it? Sometimes, people with truly limited vision, and even more limited hearts, want to exclude others. I’m sure you know the type. Religious leaders, politicians, and their cronies come to mind here.
I’d urge them to be careful though. Exclusion is tricky business. One day, you use it to exclude someone else. The next day someone else uses it to exclude you.
These religious exclusionists don’t want to hear from me or Bob of course, thinking they have it all figured out, but I wish they’d trust me. I’ve seen a thing or two. However, for now, let’s get back to my friend, Bob.
Bob was lucky. Bob met Jesus one day in his travels.
I know, I know, those exclusionist religious types claim to know Jesus too. Maybe it’s a different Jesus, I don’t know? Besides. I’m not here to debate that today. I’m here to tell you about Bob.
Yes, Bob knew Jesus. He walked right up to him. The story seems almost unbelievable but it’s true.
Bob encountered Jesus when his disciples, which is fancy talk for following students, wanted to know why Bob was blind and, even worse, they wanted to know who was at fault for Bob’s blindness.
Poor Bob couldn’t catch a break it seemed but Jesus was about to change that.
After Jesus explained Bob’s blindness was nobody’s fault and that God could use Bob exactly as he is, Jesus went the extra mile to help others include Bob as well. He’s known to do this. Only, this part seems a little strange to me too. Strange or not, though, it worked.
Jesus took some dirt and made it into mud by spitting in it. (I know, right? Wait, it gets better!) Next, he took the mud and rubbed it on Bob’s eyes. (Imagine this scene. Was he kidding?)
Except, he wasn’t kidding. Jesus then sent Bob to a pool called Sent for him to wash off this muddy eye paste. Perhaps Jesus did this to demonstrate that both he, Bob, and each of us are sent by God to bring our fullest possible stories for our collective benefit. Whatever the case, Bob could see!
Again, unbelievable! Maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that his neighbors couldn’t believe it either then. Whispers began, “Is that Bob?”
Well, word got around as it does. Now, the religious follower types who would side with those in charge wanted to know what was going on. Surely, they couldn’t let just anyone join their grand temples. They had to protect the institution. Anyone with authority would understand. So, they hauled Bob off to the super religious leaders, the tops of the tops, for further interrogation.
Bob recounted his story. Except Jesus, and thusly Bob, were religious rule breakers. Jesus healed Bob on a day when no healing was to take place. Bob still could not fully participate in religious life as such. It would never happen this way!
Things got worse for poor Bob after that. Can you imagine? Jesus says, “You have gifts. I’m going to make sure you can use them to their maximum.” Alas, religious leaders, always getting in the way.
They didn’t even believe poor Bob was poor Bob. “Surely, he must be some kind of imposter Bob just as he is impostering his gifts,” they thought. What’s next if we allow this? Others blind imposters may want to use their gifts too! This ends now!
An idea sprang up. As smart as they are, religious types are never lacking for ideas. They sent for his parents. They would know their son was unqualified just as they would know this man was an imposter, wannabe faker. They asked the blind man’s parents, “Is this your son?”
“Yes,” their answer came. Shocking, I know, both the question and the answer!
“How is it that now he can see?” the leaders asked. “Who know?” came the answer from Bob’s parents. “We only know he is our son, ask him if you want more information.
Bob trudged forward as these gatekeepers tell him, no longer asking questions, “Give glory to God by telling us the truth! We know he’s a sinner.” (As is Bob and sinners have no place here is the understood implication.)
Now, Bob, getting a little steamed says, “Look, I don’t have an answer to all of your questions. All I know is he recognized my full personhood and my gifts which is something you didn’t do then or now. Do you want to be a follower of Jesus too? You must want to follow Jesus since you’re asking all these questions. Well, if you do, that’s cool, things are better when we are all included.”
The ultra-religious still didn’t get this inclusive notion of course. Bob’s thinking is far too outrageous. To preserve the institution and rules they created, Bob was thrown out rather than included. Better to be safe than sorry.
But, what a guy, my friend Bob, even at his most frustrated, he wants to include others.
Just imagine a world where we let everybody live freely without exclusion or restriction? Bob knew the power of this all along. The problem never was Bob at all. He never missed a chance to recognize the value of others in front of him.
Fortunately for the rest of us we still have the opportunity to join forces with this bigger, inclusive love that accepts even those overlooked without restriction. It does what love does.
No matter what, when it comes to justice oriented inclusion, love accepts, no exceptions.