What makes a person with disability so precious to God?
My precious son, Benjamin died on May 11th 2013, aged 16. Benjamin lived with quadriplegic cerebral palsy. In his case this meant being a wheelchair user, being non-verbal, being tube fed into his stomach via a gastrostomy and being physically dependent for all his basic needs.
But like millions of people living with a disability around the world, Benjamin was a shining light to those who knew him, a portal through which people got a glimpse of grace, and the very heart of God. He had an extra special awareness of God in his own life and could see Him in the lives of others. I haven’t got the space here to tell you how that panned out in Benjamin’s life, but I do want to explore what it is that makes people with disability so precious to God.
Theologian Richard Rohr says this ‘The Bible is extraordinary because it repeatedly and invariably favours the people on the bottom, and not the people on the top.’
The Church, and society in general, have moved a long way from this Biblical solidarity with the powerless. Once it was at the centre of the establishment and had, in the main, lost its revolutionary identity, the Church became a bit embarrassed by this powerless, bleeding, crucified loser from Galilee, Jesus. He ended up an accused criminal for goodness sake and died that way, disempowered, disgraced, disabled, on a cross.
Sure, we have maintained our worship of Him, but who wants to end up like Jesus? Who wants to be ridiculed, treated, at best, like a second class citizen? Who wants to be pushed, ignored, and spoken about as if they weren’t there, having to listen to what is being said about them?
There is something that is more than a bit weird about the majority of us! Many of us worship this illegitimate, Palestinian street kid who was born surrounded by dung in an animal trough. The vast majority of us at least acknowledge His existence at Christmas, some of us may take pride in the fact that we follow ‘The Son of God,’ we may consider ourselves to be compassionate beings, but in the nitty-gritty of daily life we want to be winners, successful, on top.
Yet it was to those who were defiled, considered by the religious people of the day to be ‘unclean’, that Jesus not only hung out with but found a special place in His heart for.
Who are those people in today’s world? Those with learning and physical disabilities, minority groups, women (in some cultures), refugees, the addicted, people who are trafficked, those persecuted for their sexual orientation, the prisoner, the homeless – in fact anybody who does not fit nicely into a neatly constructed social system.
But it is those very people, the people that God is so passionate about, who are the most effective demonstrators of the Gospel.
As Fr. Richard Rohr puts it ‘these are the ones who represent what we are most afraid of within ourselves, what we most deny within ourselves.’
People with a disability were, and I would argue, still are, partners in the ministry of Jesus: The man of Luke 5:19 who was lowered by his friends through a hole in the roof to meet Jesus is one example. Yes, of course, his friends helped him – that’s what friends do – but it was the man with a disability who not only encountered Jesus himself, but was the gateway through which his mates also had an encounter!
Or there’s the man who is blind in John 9:1. When asked by his disciples who it was that had sinned, the man himself or his parents, Jesus explained that the man was this way so that the Kingdom of God could be seen?
How inspiring! How counter-cultural. CBM UK and our grassroots Partners are with people with various disabilities, living in the poorest communities on the planet. CBM is about enabling, empowering these people to have access to their rights and potential, but it is the person with the disability who is the inspiration, and the portal through which we, and many others besides, get a glimpse of grace.