Introduction: If we are to be consistently pro-life we must care for disabled people.
It wasn’t until I had lunch with a friend who is in a wheelchair that I understood all the barriers a disabled person faces. We stopped by a burger place and it was very hard to get through both doors with a wheelchair. Once inside there were no place for someone in a wheelchair to sit at a table. We made the best of it, but it reminded me that I don’t see the struggles most disabled people face everyday. In fact, I don’t notice most disabled people. But if I want to be pro–life, that has to change.
Jesus answers a question about disability
In John 9 Jesus and his disciples happen upon a man who had been blind from birth. The disciples assume that his disability is a punishment for sin, but that did not make sense since he was born this way. They ask Jesus for an explanation.
John 9: Dialogue with the disciples
As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4 As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
6 After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. 7 “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.
Jesus sees this man differently
The disciples saw this man through their cultural lens and wanted to know how he came to be blind. They were looking backward at how the man got here. Jesus wanted them to look forward at what God was going to do in him. They saw a problem; Jesus saw a person.
Most of us do not see the world through this rubric. We do not think God is punishing people with disabilities but we are often preoccupied with causes and blame. We want to know why someone is suffering and whose fault it might be. Is this genetic mutation, neglect or something else? In my experience parents of disabled people do not think this way. While they might wonder about the cause of a disability, in the end they understand that it does not matter. Their child is their child and they need to love him or her as she is. This is the first step to accepting the calling of loving someone with a disability.
This is not to say there is not a place for asking questions. We should find the cause of disease and seek to eliminate suffering where we can. But we should not see disabled people as problems or mysteries to be solved. We should see them as people, that is the first step. The second is to see what God is doing in that person. Part of not looking back to the past is looking ahead for the “work of God” in the life of a disabled person.
Clearly one work of God was the physical healing; the man could see. But there was another work of God happening as well. After the healing, people in the city began to question what had happened and how the man could see. The asked him repeatedly what had happened and along the way his understanding of Jesus changed. First his neighbors asked him how he was healed.
8 His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some claimed that he was.
Others said, “No, he only looks like him.”
But he himself insisted, “I am the man.”
10 “How then were your eyes opened?” they asked.
11 He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.”
12 “Where is this man?” they asked him.
“I don’t know,” he said.
At this point the blind man only knows that Jesus is a man who touched him and commanded him to wash. The neighbors take him to the religious authorities.
The Pharisees Investigate the Healing
13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. 14 Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath. 15 Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.”
16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.”
But others asked, “How can a sinner perform such signs?” So they were divided.
17 Then they turned again to the blind man, “What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.”
The man replied, “He is a prophet.”
Now the man has come to understand Jesus as more than a man. He is a prophet. After talking to the man’s parents, the religious authorities question him again.
Second decisive conversation
24 A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.”
25 He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”
26 Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”
27 He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?”
28 Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! 29 We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.”
30 The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will. 32 Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”
34 To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out.
Now the man understands that Jesus is from God. This becomes clearer and clearer as the religious authorities seek to discredit Jesus. The more they insist that Jesus is a sinner and a fraud, the more obvious it is that Jesus is from God and what he is doing is good. Finally the religious leaders kick the man born blind out of the community and Jesus finds him. Now Jesus is able to ask him. If he is ready to follow the Son of Man. This is the final step in his miracle of spiritual sight.
Jesus and the man
35 Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
36 “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”
37 Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”
38 Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.
39 Jesus said,[a] “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”
40 Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?”
41 Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.
We look for the work of God in the life of disabled people.
The disciples saw this man as a question to be answered or a problem to be solved. Jesus saw him as a man to be loved and one who would reveal the work of God. He did just that. Through his journey he not only received physical sight but spiritual sight. Beyond that he revealed how the opponents of Jesus were spiritually blind, but it was a blindness of their own making. They refused to see what God was doing in Jesus.
Like Jesus we should see disabled people as people to be loved and we should be alert for the work of God in them. Here is one example of that. It comes from Emily Colson, daughter of Chuck Colson, as she shares about living with her 25 year old autistic son.
Emily Colson writes about her autistic son
One night at church, I lost 190 pounds. Fortunately, I found all of it in the toddler room. There was my hulk of a son, hunched over the Brio train table, next to a little child who looked like a garden gnome beside Max. A kindly volunteer was standing over my son, looking a little baffled and holding a Brio bridge that had clearly been ripped off the table King Kong style. “I’ll take that,” I said, knowing full well that my son works quickly when redesigning a train track, and that the nails protruding from the bottom of the bridge were really no match for my 25 year old.
I tucked the bridge under my arm, and Max was off again, tearing down the hall toward the sanctuary. I chased after him, hoping not to lose him this time, praying his anxiety and bulk would not flatten anyone who might stray into his path. This night just wasn’t working—church was different. The lights in the lobby were dimmed. The service had a slower pace. New people had come in droves filling the sanctuary to its limit. There was even a live goat. No, we don’t do animal sacrifices at our church, at least not any more. “Billy” was part of the play being acted out for our Christmas Eve service.
I tried to make Max laugh by pointing to the life-sized camel strutting through the lobby, with two pairs of khaki pants visible from beneath. But Max ran into the stairwell, dropped to the floor like a stuntman, and pressed his fingers over his ears and eyes to block out the world. Every muscle ached as I chased after him. “You should have worn a pedometer, Emily,” someone smiled, “just to see how many steps you’ve taken tonight.” I laughed and called back, “I’m not sure it can count that high.”
After an hour of our autism marathon, we could see the music team moving onto the stage. The service was coming to a close. The Hallelujah Chorus began playing in my head, and certainly in Max’s head too. Max threw open the doors of the sanctuary and ran toward his usual spot, the raised platform beside the sound booth. He climbed the four steps and stood above the congregation, the way he does at the end of every service on Sunday mornings. I could almost see his anxiety fall away. The words appeared on the screen behind the music team, and the congregation began to sing Silent Night.
I stood several steps below Max, and closed my eyes. All I needed was a minute to rest. To remember that God is God, that Jesus came. That even when I miss the service, run ragged through the church trying to calm Max, God is still who He says he is.
And then I remembered something else—church is hard. The thought struck me. Just making these slight variations in our church, minor deviations from a normal Sunday morning service, is like starting all over again. I began to think about everything Max has worked to overcome on Sunday mornings—the sights and sounds and smells, the lights that make a “humming sound” as he says. Max is a greeter, he stacks chairs and vacuums the floor, he sits at the welcome center during the service where he reads Scripture and fills out the sermon worksheet just like everyone else. It all looks so easy now, but these are hard-fought victories. A few years ago Gary and Marsha stepped in to help. They don’t come to church to serve Max; they come to church to serve God with Max. And when our congregation sings at the end of the service, the three of them come into the sanctuary together like the Mod Squad. Max stands on this very spot beside the sound booth, leaping into the air and praising God with the kind of unbridled joy that makes everyone glad they showed up.
I kept my eyes closed as I stood on the step just below my 190-pound son. Suddenly I heard Max’s voice booming from behind me. I cringed for a moment, squeezing my eyes tightly shut, bracing myself for more of the unpredictability of autism. And then I heard singing. It was Max, his sweet voice strong and sure, and blending with all the other voices in the church as one,
“Glories stream from heaven afar
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ the Savior is born
Christ the Savior is born
By Emily Colson
Special Needs Seminar will be on Monday, February 22nd in the Youth Room from 7-9pm. Sib Charles from Joni and Friends International will be speaking. Anyone who has a heart for those with special needs is welcome to attend.