[Reflection from a morning worship service]
I have been spending time working with children and adults with developmental disabilities this past week. It has been a long week, and to help me process the many emotions and things I saw, I picked up a book to read about theology and disability. The author described the following story in his introduction:
One day a number of concerned mothers met with the minister to express their frustration and anger over the unseemly conduct of a particular boy in Sunday School. They did not want their children exposed to this child and feared what he represented. For it seemed that this boy was modeling “bad behavior” – verbal outbursts that sometimes involved profanity, a lack of sensitivity to other children’s personal space (occasionally biting them when irritated or provoked) and an unpredictably violent imagination when playing with toys. No Sunday school is equipped to handle problems of this magnitude. So upon expressing their indignation, the mothers requested that the minister call the child’s parents and ask that he not return to Sunday school. Obviously, there were family issues that needed serious and immediate attention.
The “problem child” was ours. My wife received the call early one morning. The minister was deeply apologetic and pastoral in his approach. But the damage had been done. What were we to do? Where could we go? Over the years, we had been through behavioral programs, family counseling, and psychiatric care. At this point, we were just beginning to come to terms with our son’s recent diagnosis: Tourette’s syndrome. Later, he would also be diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, bipolar disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. But at this point he was about seven years old, and we knew only of the Tourette’s. We stopped attending this church. In fact, we stopped attending church altogether. – Thomas E. Reynolds, Vulnerable Community: A Theology of Disability and Hospitality
In reflecting on these things, the following passage from Scripture came to mind:
You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.
– Revelation 3:17-18
This is not the time or the place to give a sermon on the nature of disability, but it is a place of worship. Under the Old Covenant, it was sinful man who was charged with the responsibility to humble himself and to sacrifice the blood of animals as a cleansing act of contrition in order to enter into the presence of a Holy and a Mighty God. But now, a New Covenant has been revealed in which the divine order has been reversed. Instead of asking us to repair our disabled selves, Jesus Christ disabled himself to live and breathe and walk among us. Jesus Christ,
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
This is the God we worship: the Servant King, who became a helpless babe for our sake, who allowed himself to be mocked and beaten and abused for our sake, who became disfigured for our sake, who bore the wrath of God for our sake. It is He, the Compassionate God, who offers us gold to take away our neediness, clothes to restore our dignity, and sight to see as He does.