Tag Archives: ablism

God’s People, part 198: Deaf Man

Read Mark 7:31-37

“If you were blind, you wouldn’t be guilty,” Jesus replied. “But you remain guilty because you claim you can see.”  (John 9:41, 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.

009-lumo-deaf-manPart 198: Deaf Man. When I had graduated high school, I had gotten a job as an aide on a special needs bus. To begin with, I had been put with special needs kids who had behavioral issues. There was one boy I specifically remember, who was a good kid but had a hard time sitting still on the bus. Of course, that can pose serious issues for the bus driver and the safety of everyone on board.

This child would get angry if you tried to enforce the rule that he stay seated. He would even get combative.  It was a challenge to work with him, but it was a blessing as well because in the end he and I bonded and I became one of the few people who could reach him and keep him calm.

The next year I ended up working on a bus with deaf kids and that experience taught me a lot about myself. I headed into that assignment thinking that I was dealing with “handicapped” people who were different than I or the other “normal” people I that I went to school with when I was back in elementary school. I didn’t consciously think those things, but they were underlying presumptions I made because I knew that these children were deaf and attending a special school for deaf folks.

Those presumptions couldn’t have been further from the truth. The kids I encountered on that bus were regular, “normal”, kids. The only differences they had from me as a child was that they could not “hear”, and they fluently spoke two languages, English and American Sign Language (ASL). In other words, these kids were actually brighter and more advanced than I was at there age. Wow. Humbling.

I have always been a quick learner with a fairly open heart and so, I learned quickly that I had been wrong in my presumptions and I opened myself up to learn from them. They taught me ASL, at least as much as I could learn on a bus ride and I learned to communicate with them so that we could understand each other. When they spoke in sign language, they also spoke verbally, though the formation of their words were not as clear, because they cannot properly hear themselves speak.

I am imagining that this is exactly what we have in this account of Jesus healing the deaf man with a speech impediment. The speech “impediment” was not that he couldn’t speak properly, but that he could not hear himself speak due to his deafness. When he was brought to Jesus, he led the man away from the crowd so that they could be alone.

Why alone? Probably because Jesus didn’t want a spectacle. This man, no doubt, had be the victim of everyone’s presumptions. To them he was a deaf man who sounded funny. To them, he had a problem and they were the “normal” people. They had written this man off as less than them, someone who needed fixing. No doubt, this was the case for many of the people Jesus healed; however, this time, Jesus led the man away from the crowd so that they could be alone, and he healed him.

What this account does is tell us about ourselves. We often see ourselves as “normal”, and others as “abnormal”. The truth is, while people without hearing would love to hear again, it was the “normal” people who need healing from the hardness of their hearts. We think that our lives are the pinnacle and anyone who has “less” than us should be pitied and prayed for.

The challenge for us is to be aware of that bias we place on our abilities and to become an agent for removing the stigmas associated with “disability”. In fact, many people choose not to even use that word because of the connotations of it. Remember that while Jesus healed the blind man, he told that Pharisees that they were the ones who were REALLY blind. And while Jesus healed the deaf man, we are the ones who really need to have our ears opened, along with our hearts, to Jesus Christ.

“My disability exists not because I use a wheelchair, but because the broader environment isn’t accessible.” – Stella Young

Lord, open doors of my heart so that I might view all people as children of God, no matter what differences I may perceive. Amen.