Did you know that you have the power to make people disappear? As you move through a public space, who do you see? And who do you not see? Who do you intentionally try to not make eye contact with? Of course, we see our friends, and usually have no problem seeing people we may not know. But there are the others…
Here in Victoria, there is a business that hires people to be fund raisers for various charities. They place people in pairs on the street, lying in wait to sign you up as a regular supporter of groups like the Red Cross, or Amnesty International. I admit, I often do what I can do avoid getting pulled in by their tractor beam—ducking into a store, or crossing the street. Panhandlers have told me more than once that they feel invisible. Even when they offer a cheery “Good Morning!”, they are often treated as if they didn’t exist. How about the ‘non-normal’ person that you come into close proximity with as you walk down the sidewalk? The lady with the white cane, the boisterous drunk or flailing young addict trying to maneuver their way down the street. The social misfit, the chatty guy from the group home, the obvious member of a different culture. “I don’t feel comfortable….” “Not quite sure what to do….” So I pretend they aren’t there. Perhaps we are acting like the first two characters in the story of the Good Samaritan who ‘walked by on the other side.’ But what does it feel like to the one who is ignored?
And then there is the flip side—those who don’t want to be seen, who don’t want to have an encounter. Ears plugged with earbuds, eyes focused on texting or reading, apparently afraid that they might have to join the real world.
What does this all mean? Is it OK to ignore those who look like they want to be ignored, or those I am uncomfortable with? The prickly question to ask in response to the previous questions is: “What would Jesus do?” If my most important calling in life is to follow Jesus, what would he be doing? He would go to the well in the center of town where, in the heat of midday is a Woman who Has a Past. And he would talk with her. He would hang out with publicans, tax collectors, sinners—the riffraff. He would let a prostitute pour oil on him, wiping him with her hair. He would touch the untouchables.
The old gospel song says; “I’ll go, where you want me to go, dear Lord.” Will we? Will we go down an uncomfortable street? Another song says; “Here I am, Lord. I will go, Lord, if you lead me, I will hold your people in my heart.” Really? Will we go where he has already gone? How about: “Open our eyes, Lord, we want to see Jesus.” In the light of Matthew 25:40 (Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.) will we open our eyes and see Jesus in the person we were trying to ignore?
You have the power to make people disappear or appear. What will you do?
Life has taken me from the rather predictable working year after year and not feeling fulfilled to serving with Youth With A Mission as a missionary in my homeland of Canada. I am presently active in Victoria, with responsibilities and interests in our YWAM office, and out on the street. (and feeling more fulfilled than at any time earlier in my life.)