When I used to teach classes on the Gospel of John at the Lutheran College in Tokyo, I often had my students wrestle with the notion of irony. One kind of irony in narrative, situational irony, occurs when actions have the opposite outcome from what was intended. A familiar story that uses such irony is the story “The Gift of the Magi.” Jim sells his watch to buy Della combs for her hair…and Della cuts off her luxurious hair and sells it to buy Jim a chain for his watch. Both people sacrifice everything on gifts that must be used on the very item that the other partner has sold. So, there’s a tragic element to the story. Even though there is another story of light and hope behind the story on the page, at first we are in the dark about it. This is situational irony. It does not end as we might expect. The Gospel of John is more than just a story, but from its opening lines, we find situational irony here, too. The world, though it came about through Jesus, did not recognize Him. Jesus’ own people did not recognize Him (John 1:10-11)! This goes against our expectations. It is tragic. Here too, there is another story “behind” that story, but on the face of it, the Gospel appears to be introducing a sad and even tragic tale.
Fast forward to the episode of the man born blind from birth. The disciples famously ask, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus does not pin the blame on the blind man or his parents, but simply says, “It was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” And then, later on in John 9, we get a glimpse of another story of hope and light behind the dire state of affairs encountered in John 1. Because of Jesus, the man born blind from birth DOES recognize Jesus as the Light of the world. To those who see, Jesus remains a trouble-maker. This is a gospel where you can expect the unexpected!
On this International Day of Disabled Persons, it’s worth mentioning that a similar situational irony accompanies those whom the world does not see as whole. “Who sinned? What happened, that this child would be born that way?” It is a story that we might think at first has a predictably tragic ending. But Jesus does not pursue that line of thought. He simply holds up all his children (even/especially those that some would call “disabled”) and says, “Look! See the works of God displayed here!” Seeing those among us who are “differently gifted” yet praise God as revealed by the Light of the world...Jesus Christ…it’s almost like we can hear Jesus talking. What might he say? “Behold! Here you see the children of God.”
We should be proud that because of Trinity members like John Hargraves and Billy Mehaffey, our church has been honored this year by ARC of Southern Maryland with a Meritorious Service award. We give thanks for the families of the disabled who serve them and are served by them. The thing is this: the closer you get to Jesus, the more you realize that “ability” and “disability” don’t mean much. We’re all a little blind. Together, in Christ, we are whole. The story WILL have an unexpected ending. We hold on that hope as we wait for Christmas light to shine again this year.