Disabilities and Grace

Blind Faith (No. 35, 2015)
Weekly Devotional for August 27, 2015
Disabilities and Grace

1 in 5 Americans deals with a condition defined as a disability
under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Sunday, July 26, 2015 was the
25th anniversary of the signing of the ADA. The law was the first
comprehensive legislation prohibiting discrimination based upon a person
having a disability and requiring equal access to public and private
services. About all that most people know about the ADA is that it is the
reason for curb cuts in sidewalks, ramps alongside stairs for access to
buildings, and Braille dots on elevator controls. The 25th anniversary of
the law received only a smattering of attention in various media. Some
churches and other houses of worship (which are exempted from the law) took
note of the ADA as a step toward inclusion of all people. After a couple of
days, awareness of the ADA generally receded into obscurity.

A favorite story about Jesus offers an opportunity to think
creatively about how communities of faith might extend God’s grace and be
more inclusive toward people living with disabilities. A leading advocate
for disabled persons (and aren’t we all disabled, at least by sin?) observes
of the ADA that a law can do so much, “but what you really want to do is
change the hearts and minds of people.” So, think of this Bible story with
the characters’ responses to the disabled/paralyzed man in mind:

One day as Jesus was teaching the people, the Pharisees and teachers of the
law from every town in Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem were there. The
Lord was giving Jesus the power to heal people. {18} Just then, some men
were carrying on a mat a man who was paralyzed. They tried to bring him in
and put him down before Jesus. {19} But because there were so many people
there, they could not find a way in. So they went up on the roof and lowered
the man on his mat through the ceiling into the middle of the crowd right
before Jesus. {20} Seeing their faith, Jesus said, “Friend, your sins are
forgiven.” (Luke 5:17-20 NCV)

One helpful way to gain insight into the full implications of
any story, including Bible stories, is to identify with a particular
character in the narrative, trying to imagine the actions in the story from
the character’s point of view. With whom do you naturally identify in this
story?

Few people identify themselves as someone in the large crowd,
just trying to see and hear Jesus. Lots of them were Pharisees or other
religious teachers. Sunday School and sermons have taught us not to identify
with them! (But . why are so many of them gathered from surrounding towns
and even from Jerusalem? What are they expecting from Jesus?) We tend to
view the crowd as background, incidental components of the story. But the
people in the crowd are crucial players in this event. I encourage you to
imagine yourself as one of the crowd jostling for a good position to see and
hear Jesus, and to think through the story from such a person’s perspective.

Recall the setting and details of the Bible story. Luke tells of
a huge crowd gathered around Jesus, as Jesus was teaching in a house. Most
Galilean houses were single story, mud-brick buildings, with flat roofs.
Access to the main entrance should have presented no barrier to the men
assisting the paralyzed and disabled man who wanted to approach Jesus in
order to be healed. The formidable obstacle preventing access to Jesus was
the crowd that remained indifferent to the needs of the disabled man and his
caregivers. If the crowd had simply cleared the way, no extraordinary
measures would have been necessary to provide access to Jesus for the
disabled man.

The friends who had carried the man’s cot to the house so that
he could meet Jesus would not take the crowd’s indifference as the final
word. They went on the flat roof of the house and constructed a handicapped
access entrance for the paralyzed man! Note that they did not open the way
into some back room or other “out of the way” area of the house. Their
entrance put the man right front-and-center with Jesus. They provided
quality access that did not require additional navigation for the man to be
included in the ministry being performed. As a result, his spiritual and
physical needs were met.

How do you think you might have acted, if you had been straining
to get in to see Jesus, and some people carrying this disabled man showed
up? Think beyond the particular situations described by Luke. Think of the
disabling conditions many people live with today, life disabilities that
desperately need God’s grace. Physical disabilities may be more immediately
obvious, but many more people face barriers due to emotional or social or
spiritual limitations. People live with disabling fear and anxiety over the
loss of economic security, jobs, or educational opportunities. Others are
paralyzed by broken family relationships, guilt and shame, or addictive
behavior. Low self esteem disables many people. What are you doing to
facilitate getting them to Jesus in order for Jesus to heal their bodies and
spirits?

Most people identify with one of the friends carrying the paralyzed man to
Jesus. Everyone wants to be a caring, helpful friend. We easily put
ourselves into this somewhat heroic role. Is this a familiar role for you?
Why, or why not? Can you name a person living with a disability that you can
help or include in life-affirming activities?

Some people may identify with the disabled man. You may be
facing some situation that is far beyond your own capacities to resolve.
Sometimes we desperately need others to pick us up, to support us in
extraordinary ways, and most importantly, to take us to Jesus. Can you
imagine yourself being helped as compassionately, creatively, and thoroughly
as the paralyzed man was? Who can you call upon to help when you are unable
to do something solely on your own?

Rarely does a reader assume the role of Jesus in the story. He
is, after all., well – Jesus! We may hope to emulate his actions or strive
to learn fully what Jesus is teaching about genuine faith in God. That’s
about as far as we venture to identify with Jesus. If you dare further
identification with Jesus’ point of view, what does this account tell you
about God’s grace for people with all kinds of needs? What might Jesus have
thought about the religious leaders and the people crowding to hear him,
while they effectively excluded the man who needed to be included in Jesus’
healing ministry?

So, choose a character with whom to identify in Luke’s story.
How does assuming a different role in the story alter your insights gained
from it? From the vantage point of the character with whom you identify, how
does this incident fit into your perception of Jesus? What can you do to
facilitate bringing people with physical, emotional, spiritual, relational,
abusive, or any other disabling conditions to Jesus? Do you need help
getting front-and-center with Jesus, yourself?

Live with Jesus and the people Luke tells about as they meet
Jesus. You might discover a way Jesus touches you with his grace or how you
can facilitate sharing his love with others as you envision yourself
standing in a different pair of sandals near Jesus.

– J. Edward Culpepper