Hancock Church Sermon – Rev. Dana Allen Walsh – August 25, 2013 – Luke 13:10-17


“Standing Up Straight”

Since moving from the suburbs of New Jersey to the city of Boston, I’ve had lots of visitors – eager to take in a Sox game, walk the freedom trail, enjoy a lobstah or a stroll through Harvard Yard.

Now, some of the visitors are comfortable with city life – others are not. Certainly, things like the T,  the rotaries, the crosswalks are confusing and different. And then there is the tricky issue of how to deal with homeless people.  If you live in or frequent a city often, you have may have figured out how to live with the reality of people shaking a cup and asking for spare change.

Comedian Louis CK,  has a bit in which he describes the cousin of a friend who visits New York, from her farm in New Hampshire, for the first time:

“She had never been to any city before,” he begins, and we’re picking her up at the Port Authority, that smelly hole of a place. We pick her up there, and she’s just freaking out at New York, she’s never seen anything like it. And we pass this homeless guy, and she sees him. I mean, we all passed him—but she saw him. She’s the only one who actually saw him. We didn’t—me and her cousin were just, like, So, he’s supposed to be there”

And right there, in the Port Authority, Louis’ friend’s cousin immediately takes a knee beside the smelly and unwashed man. “She says to him, ‘Oh, my God, sir, are you O.K.? What happened?’ ” Louis CK scoffs. “What happened? America happened.”

The woman tries to help the homeless man, and Louis and his friend “start correcting her behavior, like she’s doing something wrong.”

“Why, is he O.K.?” she asks.

“No, no, he needs you desperately,” he tells her. “We just don’t do that here… Silly country girl!”

Comedians are our truth tellers, aren’t they? Louis C.K. is absolutely right – we often buy into the common cultural practice of ignoring those in desperate need. We may bury our heads in our phones, smile politely and shrug, or give a few cents, but not fully engage. We have our reasons – care for safety, not wanting to fuel an addiction, or our lack of time. So, to take stop and take a knee, to ask a question, would be strange and out of our cultural norm.

I wonder about the homeless man. What was it like for him to be noticed?  For someone to stop and acknowledge his personhood?  To sincerely wonder if he as okay.  It was probably the first time he was really seen in a long time.

The same could be said for the woman from our Scripture passage, who had probably been ignored for a long time.  I’m sure people noticed her presence, maybe even expected to get a glimpse of her slowly walking hunched over in the back of the Temple, but no one thought too much about her.

Except for Jesus.

While the Pharisees pass by, Jesus sees her. He sees her, while at the Temple on the Sabbath and notices her condition that causes her to be “bent-over”. Her visual world is the ground in front of her feet.  She cannot stand up straight and look into the faces of people she encounters. Instead, she can only sees the tops of their feet.  As you can imagine, this had caused her great pain and loneliness.

Jesus doesn’t bury his head in his phone or come with a pithy excuse.  He goes directly to her, lays his hands on her and says, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment”.  And yes, with miraculous strength, the woman stands up straight and begins to praise God.  The woman whose sight was limited is able to fully see. She is no longer captive to her ailment.

The woman’s inability to see with world around her was physical, but the inability of the Pharisees and the disciples, the crowd to see her was conditional, learned. In this story, we understand how important seeing is for Jesus.

One hundred and thirty eight times, in the four gospels, Jesus is reported as “seeing”.  It wasn’t that others around him did not physically see, it was the way he saw that contrasted with his disciples, the crowd, and the Pharisees

So let’s ask ourselves, “What was different in the way Jesus saw this woman that could teach us to see as he did?”

I believe there are three different ways that we can learn from how Jesus saw the disabled woman.

First, Jesus saw the person, not the condition.

In Louis CK’s story, his cousin and him see the homeless man as a product of an economic system, as a victim of perhaps alcoholism or addiction. They don’t see his common humanity but instead  a condition that can excuse it away.

In our own lives, we often fear that we will be known only by our conditions  – medical, financial, personal. That we will be seen as a diabetic man, the divorced woman, the autistic child– and not for our full selves.

Second, Jesus saw the person, without prejudice.

It would seem that Jesus had the wonderful gift to see exactly what was before him in its full kingdom potential.  He was not swayed by our societal assumptions and past realities.

In South Africa, where they are still working on the fallout of history of Apartheid, there is a question asked in anti-discrimination workshops. “Why is it that when we see a white person running in the street, we ask, ‘I wonder what he is late for?‘” “When we see a black person running in the street, we ask, ‘I wonder what he is running from?‘” [1]

Jesus did not see through the filters of race, power, beauty, ability or disability, instead, he saw the depth and humanity of the person.

Third, Jesus saw the potential, not just the present appearance.

We don’t know when exactly the healing of the woman took place. Was it when Jesus told her she was free of her ailment? Was it when he touched her? We have no way of identifying the moment, but I would like to think that, at some level, the healing began when Jesus saw her as whole person.

I believe people often become and manifest what we “see” them to be.

A terrifying and amazing example of looking deeper, to see someone’s potential, without prejudice is what happened at an elementary school in Decatur Georgia this week.

Michael Brandon Hill carried an AK-47 and more than 500 rounds of ammunition with the goal of killing himself and others on Wednesday into a school filled with more than 800 children.  The 20 yr old man had stopped taking his medication and felt he no longer had a reason to live.  The combination of despair and mental illness drove him to a hopeless, dangerous place.  But Antoinette Tuff, the bookkeeper at the school, saw him not just as a harmful threat, but also as a hurting young man.  She talked to him, for almost an hour.  She told him that she was there to listen.  She prayed for him.  She told him that everyone goes through difficult things.  And that she had recently fallen into despair after her husband of 33 years left her and she alone has a disabled son to raise.  She talked to him like he was a human being and not a monster.

Even after he had fired off a few rounds of gunfire at the police outside and even shot into the walls of her office, she did not run.  Instead, she stayed seated at her desk and encouraged him to put his weapons down, lay down on the ground, and surrender to police.   And that’s what he did.  And she tells him, ““I just want you to know that I love you though, OK? And I’m proud of you. It’s a good thing that you’ve just given up. Don’t worry about it. We all go through something in life.”

In interviews, Tuff has constantly spoken about her faith and how she credits God with giving her courage and strength she needed.  And without her in the school office that day, this story could have ended much differently.  She choose to look deeper, to see the man through a lens of love and hope.  And the result saved many, many lives.

Hopefully none of us will find ourselves in a situation like Antoinette Tuff.  But let’s ask ourselves to look a little deeper this week.  Before we take the easy route of judging and sizing up another person because of their appearance or condition, lets take another look.  Can we see the potential before us?  Can we connect through our shared humanity, knowing that we all experience brokenness and pain?  Can we see the other as a child of God, not that much different from ourselves?  Let us see as Jesus did – through a lens of appreciation and love.



[1] http://thelisteninghermit.wordpress.com/2010/08/17/believing-is-seeing/