On Friday afternoon, I had a layover at the Newark Airport.  The airline had switched my plane to a different gate which was adjacent to the wall in that part of the terminal.  They started the boarding process and people began to get up and move to get in line. 

It was then that an airport employee, a man who was probably in his forties and dressed in his work uniform, leaned over the trash can next to the wall.  He sounded as if he was trying to cough up something.  The sound was deafening actually, and he continued wretching for several minutes while people all around started laughing and trying to cover their ears.

“Is there not a bathroom anywhere around?”

“Does he realize what that sounds like?”

“What is wrong with him?”

I have no idea if the man heard anything that was being said or whether he could sense that he had quickly become the object of much derision in that area of the terminal.

I felt as if I should go up to him and offer him a Kleenex or some water or just ask him if he was okay.  What stopped me was honestly not any concern about what people would think.  It was that I had a deep fear that he would not understand why I felt compelled to reach out to him and that he would be upset with me for doing so.  

So I sat there and waited until they called my row so I could board the plane.  All the while I took in the behaviors of everyone around me.     

I share that with you because I don’t think that I acted as I should have in that situation.  

But it occurred to me that I was observing a modern-day example of the castigation of paralytics, lepers, and blind men that we so often see in the Gospels.

To be honest, I almost felt like I was back in junior high and everyone else thought they were hot stuff.  It wasn’t even like this man had approached anyone around and yet they clearly wanted everyone else to know that they not only disapproved of his behavior, but they disapproved of him.

There’s something about our image and perfection-obsessed society that just can’t stand the sight of public discomfort or awkwardness.  Of course, other cultures look down upon such things.  But we pride ourselves on appearance, and so we prefer if uncomfortable and unpleasant things occur in private.  And we would really like it if everyone just acted like they don’t even happen at all.

I don’t know that man’s home culture, nor whether he has healthcare.  I don’t know if he had any concept of how his actions might be perceived, or whether he was too uncomfortable to care. 

But I do believe that if Jesus had been sitting in that gate area, He would have silenced every person around by the way He would have treated that man.

I believe the snickering would have stopped and everyone would have stared as He walked up to the man, put an arm around him, and asked him what was wrong.  

He probably would have held on to the man while he coughed into the trash can a few more times.  And I’m sure he would have handed him a handkerchief to clean off his mouth and nose.

And then the two of them probably would have walked over to Uno’s, sat down, and shared a pizza together.

The man would never be the same.

And everyone else would sink down into their seats in silence.

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