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The Invisible Man

He wasn't really invisible – at least, not at first. On the day of his birth, he was the most visible of all his siblings. His parents looked at him, and looked at him again. His mother's eyes welled up with tears, and his father shook his head, making a tsk noise with his tongue.

Their son was born with a terrible birth defect. His legs and ankles were deformed, and they knew he would never walk. This was the greatest tragedy the family had faced. In their society a man who could not walk was a man who could not plow or harvest a field. He was a man with no use at all.

He spent the first years of his childhood lying alone on his cot while his brothers went out to work. He listened sadly as he heard the laughter of children playing, the shouts of children fighting. He wondered what he had ever done to deserve his fate. He cried out to God, but God had nothing to say.

His sixth birthday was a memorable one. His father and his oldest brother picked up his cot and carried it out of the house. They walked down the street, collecting stares from passersby. Two men carrying a little boy on a cot is not an everyday sight. They carried him to the city gate, and set him down there. Gently his father explained to him his great purpose in life--to beg for money, or food. Anything to make it worth his family's while to support this crippled child. Then with a quick tousle of his hair, father and brother left him alone on the crowded sidewalk.

"Pennies for a poor boy? Pennies for a poor boy?" This became his cry throughout the day. He stretched out his legs, to ensure they were exposed to the pitying glance of the businessmen who walked by with wallets full of gold.

"Pennies for a poor boy?"

One by one the citizens would pass by, always with a quick glance at the pathetic child. Some even dropped a coin in the boy's hand. Most just kept walking.

"Pennies for a poor boy?"

At the end of the day, his father and brother returned, and carried him home. Happily, he showed his mother the coins that he had gathered during the day. They laughed, and cheered, then went on with the evening chores.

Day after day, his father and his brother carried him to the gates. Day after day he cried the same cry. Day after day he had that moment of approval as he dropped coins in his mother's hand.

But as the days passed, and weeks turned to months, something happened there at the gates of the city. The boy began to blend into the landscape. Those who had noticed him for the first week--or even the first month--walked by without seeing his deformed legs, without hearing his pathetic voice. Their busyness blinded them, and their clamor deafened them, drowning his pleas.

He became invisible.

As the years passed, and childhood passed as well, hopelessness set in; the boy no longer looked up expectantly as people passed by. He stared--barely seeing--at the ground in front of him. Now he saw only feet, heard only footsteps as they passed him by. As the feet came into view he would put out his hand and say to them, "Pennies for a poor boy?" But the feet never heard him, never saw him, never changed their course, and the boy's hand remained empty. Despair deepened as he spent his days studying ankles that worked, feet that walked.

There was one day when the boy became visible again; it was the day he stopped saying "Pennies for a poor boy?" and began saying "Pennies for a poor man?" Oh, that was different, and the crowds noticed it. But soon he faded into the landscape again.

He was invisible once more.

How many years he sat there, he didn't know. The passing of years was marked most significantly on the day when his father announced he was too old to carry a grown man down the streets. Now the two older brothers carried him. And life continued.

Then came the day when everything changed. Later, the man would be tempted to say that he knew there was something different about that day. But the truth was, it was like any other day. His brothers grumbled about carrying him to the gates, his mother complained that he wasn't making any money, the feet walked by, same as always.

Then there were two pairs of feet, walking side by side. The man held out his hand. "Pennies for a poor man?"

The feet stopped.

The man stared, uncomprehending, at the feet. They didn’t just stop--they turned! As though the owners of those feet were looking at him. As though the owners of those feet actually saw him! The man didn't move. He didn't say anything more, or make any sudden movement. If he startled those feet, would they run away? He continued to stare.

Then a voice spoke from far above him. "Look at me."

Slowly, he obeyed. His eyes traveled from the feet to the ankles, from the ankles to the legs, and then on up to the two faces that looked down at him--looked at him! With--what? What was that look? Compassion? The man barely remembered what that looked like. A faint ray of hope surged in his heart, and he held his hand up higher.

One of the men shook his head. "I don't have any silver or gold," he said sadly.

Then why did you stop? Why did you get my hopes up? he wanted to shout.

"But what I do have..." the man smiled. He was preparing to impart a great secret. "What I do have, I'll give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!"

A hand reached down and touched him. Touched him! Not enough that these men saw him; not enough that they looked on him with compassion--they reached down and touched him. Took him by the hand and pulled him from his cot. Dizzy with excitement, he almost wanted to believe that he could rise up and walk. He wanted to believe that it was his own legs holding him up, not the strength of this man who held him by the hand.

After a moment the supporting hand let go. He was prepared to tumble helplessly to the ground – indeed, he did feel wobbly, for he was using his legs in a way they had never been used before. But he continued to stand.

Then he was walking. Then he was leaping. Then he was shouting for joy. And something was happening that had never happened before in his long, tedious life; crowds were gathering around him. They were seeing him! They were staring, gawking at him! They knew he was there, and they were amazed!

And he knew, at that moment, that his life would never be the same again.


Two thousand years later, our world is still filled with invisible people. Where will we find them? In all the places we least expect. They are the bag ladies we never notice walking the streets of our towns and cities. They are the men, women, and children who live out of the back seat of a car, because they have no home. They are the teenagers smoking pot in the school yard, because they have nothing else to live for. They are the men and women whose world is defined by the four walls of a prison cell. They are the sick and the elderly, hidden from view in our hospitals and nursing homes. They are the refugees starving and dying around the world.

And on the day that we see them, on the day that we have compassion on them, on the day that we touch them with the power and the love of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, their lives will never be the same. But we must see the world as God sees it – for He alone has eyes to see the invisible. He alone has compassion to love the unlovable. He alone has power to touch the untouchable.

Oh God, let me see this world as you see it. Help me love this world as you love it. Use my hands to touch this world with your tender, loving touch.


Copyright 2001 by Douglas Twitchell