Neither he nor his parents

Autism is a development disorder which affects the speech, behaviour, learning and social skills of 1 of every 68 people on the planet. There is no known cause; it is simply there. It is not the fault of the person or his parents. In bygone days people with this condition were mocked or shut away in institutions where they lived their lives in a prison-like regime. Having such a child was a disaster, something families tried to hide and the child was never referred to in conversation. They were a cause of shame.

All this has changed wonderfully in modern times. Whether because of a sharper awareness of human rights or a breakthrough by autistic people themselves, we have woken up to their dignity and their demand to be treated just like everyone else. They have special needs but so have the blind, the deaf and the lame. What a poorer world it would be if we had not welcomed severely disabled Stephen Hawkins, renowned theoretical physicist and cosmologist!

But despite advances people still don’t know how to relate to autistic people and are embarrassed when they meet them. Those who know autistic people are their parents and families and specialists who care for them. But now a breakthrough is on the way into the consciousness of the general public. The BBC has had the brilliant idea of introducing an autistic muppet, 4 year old Julia, into their children’s comic programme, Sesame St. This means that children, while enjoying their TV, will be introduced to,  and become familiar with, autistic people from an early age. One more barrier to a friendly world is removed.

In the story of the man born blind Jesus’ disciples ask him if it is the man’s fault or his parents that he has that condition. You can sense the indignation of Jesus that it was anyone’s fault as he replies, “neither he nor his parents. He was born like this so that the works of God may be displayed in him.” People living with disabilities of any kind open doors for us all that we may enter a world which reflects ever more clearly the way (the kingdom), of God. The blind man is cured physically but that is only the beginning. He meets challenge after challenge as he responds to the people, to his own parents and finally to the Pharisees. At each step we see him growing in confidence.

It is the kind of breakthrough God delights in. It is a sign of the kind of victory we constantly see in our modern world. The walls of slavery, colonialism, racism, gender and now autism are crumbling. And we can add one more; nationalism. As I write 27 nations in Europe are celebrating sixty years of the European Union. In 30 years from now they will celebrate the first century ever in human history when that continent has never known a major war. Such a war is now impossible in Europe. Now, that’s progress.

26 March 2017                                   Lent Sunday 4 A

1Samuel 16:1…13                             Ephesians 5:8-14                                              John 9:1-41


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