I went with my sister to her oncology appointment today. We were coming in the building just as a young man on a gurney was being wheeled in by the ambulance transport team. Another man followed my sister and me in. He had a rolling suitcase, a valise, and keeping some distance between himself and us, also waited for the elevator.
We couldn’t all fit in the elevator, so my sister and I waited for the next one. The man with the suitcase got in with us. She asked him which floor he wanted. He held up three fingers. That’s when we noticed he had a trach and couldn’t talk. She confirmed which floor. He nodded. She asked, “Is that the infusion center?” He nodded. The door for our floor opened and we stepped out, saying, “Have a good day” as the doors were closing. He smiled. I doubt he was going to be having a good day.
We met up with the gurney man and the transport team at the check-in desk.He wasn’t going to be having a good day either. There was confusion as to where he really was supposed to be. Was it below ground for radiation? The infusion center for a day of poison slowly being dripped into his vein? Or with the doctor before he was to be wheeled off to who-knows-where? Was anyone going to talk to him – alert man on the gurney – or talk about him through his transport team, who were just assigned to bring him to the cancer center?
The gospel passage for this third week of Advent calls us to see people we might have overlooked or who we might see differently now. Jesus specifically calls our attention to the blind, the disabled, the lepers, the dead, and the poor. How have we viewed these people? And then, given how Jesus treats these people and our turning and commitment to follow his way, how are we to see them now? What will we do differently?
Our culture is in danger of the bias of “ability.” We norm our world and our expectations for others on their ability to see, hear, have no physical or mental disabilities, and who have at least middle class economic means. Often there’s an assumption that “healing” needs to happen so “these people” can join in with the rest of us. Who’s to say what “normal” is or if “normal” is the same for everyone? Who’s to say whether or not someone needs to be “healed”? Healing comes in many forms, and often the person who doesn’t think they need healing is exactly who needs to be healed! As hard as it is to have a loved one die, dying is a difficult part of life, as is illness, and other infirmities that we must learn to live with.
Jesus turns all of those assumptions upside down when he responds to John’s question:
Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
It’s time to consider seeing a new normal. For that young man on the gurney, his life will never be the same now that he has cancer. He may one day be cancer-free or he may die from the cancer, but his life now is reset with a new normal. No doubt he is making adjustments in his life – like not being able to transport himself to his appointments – but he still has much to contribute to us. And we have much to learn from him.
It all depends on who we see. Do we see him? Do we see him?