October is National Disability month. In 1988 the United States Congress made the declaration to raise awareness of the needs and contributions of individuals with all types of disabilities. Earlier this year I read an article on the BBC News website “Stop Trying to Heal Me!” (click here for the full article and to understand the title of this article) which reminded me of something that happened when my wife Ellen and I were visiting Israel. We were staying at a resort style hotel on the Sea of Galilee that largely catered to Christians on pilgrimage. A woman stopped us and ask if she could put her hand on Ellen (a stroke survivor) to pray for healing. The author of the article claims this happens to some friends with frequency.
For Candida Moss, the Edward Cadbury Professor of Theology at the University of Birmingham, these stories can be alienating for readers who, like her, are disabled. “I think the main problem for disabled people reading the Bible is that while Jesus does spend a lot of time with people with disabilities, every time he meets them, if they encounter him with faith, he heals them and so he’s sort of like this cathartic scourge that wanders around eradicating disability from the world. That relegates people with disabilities to just being there to show the power of God. They’re not really real characters or real people who have feelings and needs and personalities. That pushes them to the margins of the story.”
I have two thoughts on this. First, Jesus wasn’t pushing people with disabilities to the margins of the story, he was bringing them to the center. Jesus demonstrated love by touching the untouchable. Jesus touched the menstruating woman. He reached out and touched the man with leprosy.
Second, is the little discussed story of Mephibosheth in 2 Samuel 9. He was the son of Jonathan and grandson of Saul. He became disabled when his nurse fell with him in her arms as she was trying to flee from danger, resulting in a mobility impairment for the rest of his life. When David became king, he made inquiries as to whether there was anyone left from the house of Saul to whom he could show kindness for his friend Jonathan’s sake. When he found Mephibosheth, he did not single him out for his disability – he simply did what he would have done for any son of Jonathan. When David discovered Mephibosheth’s disability; he treated him exactly as he would have done if Mephibosheth had been a powerful warrior. He welcomed him to his table, gave him Saul’s land and provided servants to farm it for him. David treated Mephibosheth simply as a friend, not a “disabled” friend.
A powerful metaphor for the kingdom of God, where abled and disabled people sit together side by side as equals at the feast table.