They live on the fringes of society. Occasionally they blend in. We have a good time. Then we go home and they go home. Often they are isolated. No one approaches them because we just don’t know what to say, or do. Their only real friends in many cases are family members – and sometimes that’s because their family has to love them. Their family has to take care of them. It is time to open up our lives; it is time to open up the church to people with disabilities and their families.
In the Jerusalem of Jesus’ day people with disabilities were either on the road begging or hanging out by the pool of Bethesda – waiting for a miracle. Friends and family would bring a person in their life with disabilities to the pool where they would wait for an angel to stir the waters so that the first one to jump in the pool could be healed. Imagine a doctor’s waiting room during flu season. Jesus came across a man who hadn’t finished first in the pool angel sprint for thirty-eight years and took compassion on him. “Then Jesus said to him, ‘Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.’ At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.” (John 5:8-9) It was, naturally, a Sabbath day so the religious leaders weren’t happy that the man was carrying his mat.
They were even more upset that someone had healed on the Sabbath. They didn’t stop to think that this man, an invalid for 38 years, could now become a fully-functioning member of society. Think about that word – invalid. I heard someone pronounce it so it sounded like a person was not valid. Isn’t that how we often treat those with disabilities? “You can’t do everything we do so you are not valid.” We may have special events to support people with disabilities. We may even welcome them into our churches, if they don’t make a scene. But we don’t really welcome people with disabilities into our lives unless we really need to.
It’s easy to miss the message of Jesus in this story because very few of us have been given power by God to heal others. We think that because we can’t heal, we can’t help. As the church, though, we have the power to bring healing into the lives of people with disabilities and their families whose lives often revolve around caring for their family. It may be providing a bit of respite to caretakers in the family. It will always include welcoming and caring for those with disabilities. It may involve actively seeking to involve those with disabilities into the life of the church as workers, deacons, elders, or whatever your church may call those people. Too often, people with disabilities are kept out of the full life of the church because of our inability to find ways to integrate them into the church. If the gospel really is for all people, then we are called by God to reach people with disabilities also.
Lord, I am so blinded by my lack of knowledge in this area. I am deaf to the cries of those who have disabilities and their families. I am paralyzed by the fear of that which I don’t know. Heal me and let me serve You by serving all of Your children.