God’s People, part 185: Paralytic

Read Matthew 9:1-8

“Jesus told him, ‘Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!’”  (John 5:8, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

disabled-signPart 185, Paralytic. Accessibility has always been an issue for folks who have been traditionally seen as “disabled”. In fact, it still is an issue as not every place is accommodating of different needs. Still, overall, accessibility has come a long way and more places than not are taking into consideration the needs of others. In fact, the word disabled is even up for discussion as some people feel that is a denigrating label that devalues those with differing abilities.

For instance, while one might not be able to walk, that disability does not, nor should it, define the whole person and/or what they are or aren’t capable of. In fact, we all have “disabilities” one sense or another. For instance, I can sing. That is an ability I have. Others, however, are tone deaf and couldn’t even accidentally stumble onto a right note. That would be a “disability” for them; however, tone deaf people are not labeled and stigmatized by the term “disabled”. Yet, an opera singer who is paralyzed would be labeled “disabled”, which defines them by their disability, rather than their ability.

With all of that said, the fact that we’re even discussing the “labels” that folks in need of ability accommodations shows that we’ve come a long way from where people were in Jesus’ day. That just wasn’t a topic of discussion, nor was it in the social consciousness of people. Especially in Judaism, being born paralyzed or crippled was often seen as a result of sin.

We can see this is the case in the account of Jesus healing the man born blind. “‘Rabbi,’ his disciples asked him, ‘why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins’” (John 9:2, NLT)? In that very question, we see the mindset of the people in Jesus’ day and age. The disciples assumed that someone who was born blind must have been paying the price of sin. Otherwise, why would God allow for that.

Jesus’ response was pastorally corrective. People are not paralyzed, blind, deaf mute, etc. because of their sin or the sin of their parents. God was not behind the man being born blind, he just was. God is not behind paralysis, or the loss of hearing, or any other “disability”; rather, those things happen because we live in a world that is broken and fallen. That brokenness is the result of sin broadly speaking; however, Jesus is clear that someone who is differently abled should not have their “disabilities” held over their heads in judgment.

In fact, the appropriate response to any person, regardless of ability, is to approach with dignity as children of the Most High God. To do otherwise is counter to God’s law and the teachings of Christ. The disciples were looking to find reasons to avoid the blind man and if they knew his sin, that would give them justification for their biases. Yet, Jesus raises their understanding to see the bigger picture: the child of God in front of them and God’s work within that person bringing about the glory of God!

We, as humans, too often fall into the trap of labeling people and judging them based off of the labels we assign them. We do this racially, we do this in terms of age, ability, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, socio-economic status, and a whole host of different categories we label people by. What’s more, as hypocrites, we do not like it when people label us. I don’t like it when someone labels me a “white Anglo-Saxon Protestant male”, but in what ways do I label others?

The challenge for us is to become more aware of how we refer to and treat other people. Are we aware of who they are as human beings, attentive to their needs, and respectful of their humanity and the divine image they’re created in? Or do we assign labels to them and objectify them in ways that take away their dignity and diminish (if not eliminate) their humanity. It is clear, which way is the Christian approach, and which way is not. Let us follow Christ and treat people with dignity regardless of differences.

“Everyone wants to be seen. Everyone wants to be heard. Everyone wants to be recognized as the person that they are and not a stereotype or an image.” – Loretta Lynch

Lord, help me to avoid labeling others and help me to treat everyone with dignity, respect and love. Amen.

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