At Free State High School in Lawrence, Kansas, every male senior gets on the ballot for homecoming king. But when Audrey Hughes and Aly Frydman looked at the ballot, they were shocked to see one name was missing: Owen Phariss. There were told that an old policy excluded special-needs students. Even mainstreamed kids like Phariss, who has Down syndrome, couldn’t participate. Hughes and Frydman objected. “He’s the coolest, happiest kid in school,” says Hughes. “He stands in the Commons every morning and says hello to everyone.” So they collected over 800 students’ signatures on a petition, persuading the principal to reverse the outdated policy. Then they launched a get-out-the-vote campaign.
Last October, at halftime on homecoming game night, the announcer’s voice boomed across the stadium: “Your 2010 Free State High School homecoming king is…Owen Phariss!” As the crown was placed on his head, Phariss basked in the applause of all his loyal subjects, none more devoted than Hughes and Frydman. “The students felt so strongly about this,” says Frydman. “We didn’t want our school to be a place that discriminated.” As for Phariss, he’s unlikely to yield the throne soon, according to his mom, Nancy. “He often points to photos of the coronation on the refrigerator and says, ‘Mom, that’s me, the King of Free State. My friends voted for me.'”
“Jesus entered Jericho and made his way through the town. There was a man there named Zacchaeus. He was the chief tax collector in the region, and he had become very rich. He tried to get a look at Jesus, but he was too short to see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree beside the road, for Jesus was going to pass that way. When Jesus came by, he looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. “Zacchaeus!” he said. “Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.” Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy. But the people were displeased. “He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner,” they grumbled. Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!” Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.” Luke 19:1-10
It is clear from the Zacchaeus passage that Jesus is in the business of loving the unlovable and noticing the unnoticed. Close your eyes for a second and just think of someone who is considered “unnoticed” or “unlovable” in your life. It could be someone who eats alone at lunch, someone who is considered a little too nerdy, a little too weird, or a little too annoying. It could even be a brand new person to your environment who doesn’t know a soul. Now, write down their name. List at least 4 things you can show them love and “notice” them this week. Don’t worry if it will be a success or not, just allow Jesus to be shared with them through your care.
Sometimes it can be tempting to avoid the “unnoticed” or unpopular kids because of reputation. Jesus was clearly unphased by the people mocking him for hanging out with a “sinner” just like Owen friends were less than concerned about other people’s opinions when they stood up for a special needs student and altered school tradition. Jesus not only changed Zacchaeus’ life, but also the lives of those who watched and those who received part of Zacchaeus’ wealth. Likewise, not only was Owen Pharris’ life was changed, but also the lives of his entire school. So take that leap of faith. Step out of your comfort zone and box. Don’t let Satan convince you to back out….Christ is counting on YOU to change the life of that person this week!
Looking for someone to Bless,