Disability and the Gospel (Part 4 of 5)

(First posted on http://irresistiblechurch.org/disability-gospel-part-4-5/#)

I grew up as a child of the 80s. A fond memory of mine was being allowed to stay up late and watch the A-Team. One of my favorite characters on the A-Team was Mr. T. There were a lot of things that made him unique – things like his outrageous haircut, or the ridiculous amount of gold chains he wore, or the fact that that he was undoubtedly the toughest guy on the show even though he was afraid to fly. The thing that people remember most about him though is a phrase he repeated over and over again – “I pity the fool!” This phrase would be followed by whatever had upset Mr. T.

Pity can be a powerful motivator. Pity can make us go out of our way to do something that benefits someone else. Pity compels us to correct injustice or right a wrong allowing us to feel better. Ridding ourselves of the feeling of pity becomes our motivator. While this is not the right reason to do something it is often the reason people act.

Pity could have been the motivating factor in the biblical account of the men lowering their friend, who was paralyzed, through the roof so he could meet and be healed by Jesus (Luke 5, Matthew 9, Mark 2). The friends may have felt sorry for the man who was paralyzed, or maybe they were just tired of carrying him around! Either way, they were motivated to do something about it when they heard that Jesus was nearby.

The men carried their friend on a mat, but upon arriving at the home that Jesus was visiting they found that it was incredibly crowded – so crowded that there was no way in. They proceeded to take their friend all the way up to the roof of the home, tear a hole in the roof and lower the mat through the roof to place their friend directly in front of Jesus. Talk about motivation and perseverance!

This was a huge interruption to Jesus, but He was in no way disturbed by it. What Jesus does next is surprising, and it gives us insight into how God views people with disabilities. Remember, the men were motivated to see their buddy healed. They wanted him to be able to walk – possibly because they had pity on him, possibly so they didn’t have to carry him around anymore. Jesus takes one look at the man who was paralyzed and said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven” (Luke 5:20, NIV). What? Are you serious, God? Did you not get the memo from the friends on the roof? They were hoping their buddy would be healed, but they did not mention anything about his sins.

The insight that we gain from this account reveals that not only did Jesus not pity the man who was paralyzed, but He did not even acknowledge his physical disability. Let that sink in for a moment. No pity. No acknowledgement of the physical disability. Jesus looks straight to what is most important – the heart.

It is only after the religious leaders of the day almost had a heart attack that Jesus decides to heal the physical disability. The man who was once paralyzed is now able to get up and walk out of the crowded house. Do not overlook who Jesus performed this healing for. Jesus restored the man’s ability to walk not necessarily for his benefit, but rather for the benefit of the religious leaders. He was making a point to them and everyone else present. He was declaring that He is indeed God and worthy of being praised.

Giving the man the ability to walk was, at best, secondary in this situation. One of the beautiful lessons from this story is the fact that Jesus did not define the man on the mat by his disability. For all others present the man was defined by his disability, but Jesus looked at his heart.

Jesus’ perspective in this account harkens back to an Old Testament story. In this Old Testament story we once again see the perspective of God as He looks at mankind, as he looks at us. In 1 Samuel 16:7 we read, “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (NIV). God gives this eternal perspective to Samuel as he is charged with the task of finding a new king for the nation of Israel. This shows that God’s perspective of us is consistent from the Old Testament, to the New Testament, and even to today.

It is possible then to draw this conclusion – God does not view people with disabilities as broken or in need of being fixed. This is a bold theological statement. We are embracing the fact that all of us are wonderfully made. We are all God’s works of art, His masterpieces. When God views us, He does so without pity. When God looks at us He does so with both pride and joy. Rather than focusing on our exterior, He looks upon what is most important – our hearts.