My father wanted me to be educated in business so I declared that as my college major and was introduced to ledgers and accounting principles. My father was pleased. I wasn’t. Instead of making money, I wanted to teach English. After completing my student teaching requirement, I earned a degree to teach English. I filed my application with the county school offices and waited for an offer to teach. Two weeks before school was to open, I got a call from the school offices to interview for a special education class position. They were desperate for a male teacher and, with no English positions available, so was I. Their first question was “Do you know anything about woodworking tools?” I reasoned that I knew what a hammer and a saw was so I said that I knew “a little” and they offered me the job. So I signed a one-year contract to teach a class of developmentally disabled teenage boys, hopeful that I could teach them something. The next day the teacher who supervised my student teaching called me to say that she had made special arrangements for me to interview in the adjoining county for a high school English position. She said the interview was a formality and that the job was already mine to take. When I told her about the other contract I had signed, she said that I could easily break that contract in order to teach in my certified field. I thanked her but told her that I was going to honor the contract I had signed and see how things would go teaching those teenaged boys in that special class. I never taught English, but the way my life has turned out affirms that I made the right decision.
I started my first year teaching and was told by the principal that he did not want my students there in the first place. Because they were there, he set forth rules for us that prevented us from eating in the cafeteria and separating us as much as possible from the other students. We had to wait and eat our lunch alone, and I was to eat with the students to supervise them. I had to explain all this to my students. Similarly, my students could not be in the halls when classes changed. Our classroom was in a vacant wing of the school to further separate us. That was the plan the principal had for us “special” people. I talked to my class about those plans and the questions often asked was, “Why? Does he think we don’t know how to act? We know how to act!” They were right; we knew how to act so we asked the principal to spend some time during the day with us . . . in our classroom and in the cafeteria. He agreed and came everyday for at least a little while. Then one day he told us that he had misjudged us, and he lifted the rules that separated us. He realized that we were more like the other students than different. Our disabilities didn’t matter anymore, and we were invited to the table to eat with everyone just like my students and I hoped would happen.
Hope for people deemed different is revealed through Jesus’ life. Jesus offers hope with these words in Luke 14:12-14:
When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.
Jesus loves us and give us hope that our differences do not separate us. Instead, Jesus celebrates our unique abilities and unites us with the invitation to come to the table of the Lord.