As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him." (John 9:1-3 NRSV)
My son, Benjamin, is a great kid. He is smart. He has a great sense of humor. He loves slapstick humor and NASCAR. In 7th grade this year he is in advanced science and advanced math. He has the potential to be an actuary or an aeronautical engineer when he grows up.
Benjamin also has an Individualized Education Plan. For despite his gifts in science and math, he struggles profoundly with receptive and expressive language skills. His challenges with motor skills make it difficult for him to write for extended periods of time. The classroom can become overwhelming for him at times, causing emotional and mental "meltdowns." For all of his gifts, Benjamin is equally beset by challenges in areas many of us take for granted every day.
See, Benjamin has Aspergers Syndrome, which is an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Some would call this a "disability." Insurance companies tend to call it a "pre-existing condition." Truth be told, it is about as pre-existing as life itself, having existed since birth.
One in every 150 children is diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorders. Because of this "pre-existing condition" label, the effects of Autism Spectrum Disorders, as well as remedies, therapies, and supports are not covered by insurance companies. This means that hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of children do not have access to health care, even if their parents do.
When the question was posed to Jesus ages ago, it was the same basic question we face today: Who sinned that this child should be marginalized and excluded from full participation in society as a person of sacred worth? Jesus' answer then is just as relevant today: No one sinned, and no one deserves to be excluded.
Our kids on "the spectrum" have done nothing to "deserve" the challenges which they face; they did not engage in any reckless or detrimental activity through which they brought about their challenges. In short, they have not sinned.
And neither have their parents. There is no activity in which parents have engaged which "caused" autism. In fact, there is nothing they could have done to prevent the lifelong challenge they now face. In short, there is nothing that was done which should have deserved exclusion from full participation in society, or removed such a person from the care and compassion of the community, either then or now.
Jesus does offer another perspective, however; he invites his followers and listeners to look at the situation through a different lens -- the lens of faith. It is as if to say, regardless of how the situation came to be, God's realm can be seen through this opportunity. Through healing and reconciliation, the Glory of God, which is love, can be seen in the world today.
This is the same invitation which calls out to us today, for God is still speaking. We have the opportunity to raise our prophetic voices on behalf of those who have trouble expressing their thoughts and needs. We have the opportunity to speak for those whom society has marginalized and designated "disabled" and "uninsurable." We have the opportunity to co-create a new future with God, one where those who have been outcast are re-integrated into the beloved community of caring. We have before us the chance to live into our call to discipleship as advocates for the realm of God.
Health-care reform is not simply some ivory tower debate. It is a real issue which affects real people -- people who already pay for insurance, as well as those who can not acquire coverage. It is an issue which calls us to raise our voices on behalf of God, for all of the children of God to be treated with steadfast love and justice.
Now is the time for us to heed the call. Now is the time for us to raise our voices. Not just for me as a parent, not simply in response to me as a minister. Not just for Benjamin, or the other kids similar to him in our community. But instead, for the millions of children affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders, both now and in the future. For I have no doubt that if we do, then truly the Glory of God will be seen in the midst of the "other abilities" of the children of sacred worth on the Autism Spectrum, and all the children labeled with and excluded by "disabilities."
Rev. Gunnar A. Cerda MDiv, is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and lives in Delaware, Ohio.