Wrinkles lined his weathered face; his unkempt hair and week-old stubble made him look older than he likely was. A worn, brown leather jacket covered a wrinkled shirt above jeans ripped and stained. His construction boots were coated in crusty mud. Everything about him didn’t fit in. Hindered with a slight limp, he hunched as if a burden was on his back.
The smile on his face completely contradicted the rest of him. Bible in hand, he made his way to the front of the church and sat in the first pew. He voiced his opinions throughout Sabbath school, quoting the Bible and Ellen White. Church was no different; he regularly interrupted the pastor to question the sermon. Church members whispered, judging from their back row pews.
We all have people in our lives whom we don’t want to acknowledge. Maybe it’s an annoying coworker, an unkind classmate, or a homeless woman who lives by the grocery store dumpsters. Sometimes it’s a man who dresses and talks differently or a teenager going through a phase of self-discovery. It could be the child in a wheelchair who can’t speak. Perhaps we simply don’t want to be around people who are different than us, whether in skin color, behavior, fashion, or beliefs.
What makes us different than those we marginalize? We all have human body parts—we’re not species of aliens who can’t communicate with each other, nor are we animalized brutes relying purely on instinct. In God’s eyes we are all His children. “For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7, NKJV). External deficiencies or differences should not determine how we treat others.
Outside the city limits, the blind man sat, dirty, ridiculed, and forgotten. People knew who he was and did everything possible to keep their distance. Having no way to make money, the blind man resorted to begging from all who walked by.
One sunny day, a certain Man passed by followed by a large crowd. The blind man cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Almost simultaneously, the crowd turned as one to the blind man. “Shhhhhh! You old fool, Bartimaeus. Jesus won’t associate himself with the likes of you.” More than a few called out slurs.
Not to be deterred, the man cried out once more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
With that, Jesus stopped and asked the crowd to call Bartimaeus. A few mocked the blind man, saying, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you!” The rest of the crowd laughed and some turned away, disgusted that Jesus dared to talk to the city beggar.
Bartimaeus, however, had all the encouragement he needed. Jesus wanted to see him! He threw his ragged cloak to the ground and made his way toward the Man.
Jesus asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” Of all the things Jesus could have asked, He chose the painfully obvious question. Still, Bartimaeus had to think. If he regained his sight, he could live a normal life.
So he answered, “Rabbi, I want to see.”
Jesus took a moment to study the man. No deceit marred his face; his heart was pure. “Go. Your faith has healed you.”
As soon as the words left Jesus’ mouth Bartimaeus regained his sight. He gazed upon the face of his Healer and Redeemer. “Oh Master, my life is forever Yours. Give me the strength to follow You wherever You go.”
Jesus took the time to listen to the marginalized and rejected. He is the only perfect example of godly love. “God demonstrates His own love toward us. . . while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8, NKJV). Being the Son of God didn’t dissuade Him from risking everything to come to Earth and die for us. His ministry was all about unconditional love—for tax collectors and lepers, for the sick and maimed and prostitutes. Jesus loved them all. He wasn’t afraid to get to know their stories.
Imagine you are the one walking into church with tattooed arms and facial piercings. You are ostracized for living on the streets. People whisper behind your back because of the way you live. While we shouldn’t be spineless doormats without a voice, we also shouldn’t be strait-jacket oppressors with no consideration toward others.
Battle with Blindness
Chimamanda Adichie, a 2009 TED Conference speaker, argued that most of our lives are lived by a “single story,” whether it’s the one our culture, parents, pastors, or teachers taught us (watch TED talk). We are content inside our little bubbles, and anything we encounter that doesn’t fit inside our bubble is, by default, bad. I am guilty of judging people on their appearances and keeping my prejudices even after I’ve met them, regardless of their character. I’ve battled against negative comments and blatant prejudices and the struggle has inspired me to keep an open mind.
After church was over that Sabbath, a few of my fellow church members invited the man to potluck. He stayed and fellowshipped with us, sharing his stories and perspectives on life. I never saw a significant change in the man; he didn’t become an elder, and, to this day, he comes to church dressed in filthy clothes. However, I know he loves God. The smile on his face radiates the joy he receives from sharing Jesus.
Can we make a difference? Even the smallest acts of kindness can impact somebody for a lifetime. We all need a change in our mentality. Thoughts beget actions, which then become habits; habits become a lifestyle, which ultimately defines our character. A ripple effect takes place when our attitude positively affects those around us. By accepting and valuing others for their many stories, we open ourselves to love as Jesus, Son of David, does to us in our blindness.
This article was also published in the February 2015 print edition of OUTLOOK, our annual special issue written and designed by Union College students. It was written by Melissa Burton, a sophomore communication major from Norridgewock, Maine. The print version was designed by Dakota Youngberg, a junior international rescue and relief major from Temecula, California.