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Jesus and the paralytic, the blind and the lame: A Sermon.

By Josie Byzek

New Mobility Associate Editor Josie Byzek is a founder of Faith Groups for Justice, which "actively opposes the misuse of religion to promote intolerance and inequality."

Painting Two thousand years ago, in ancient Judea, there was a young idealistic man who had a God-given vision of how his people could live with, and love, God and each other. In his heart, he saw a nation that cared more about each other than about rituals and laws that were followed by rote, but without feeling or thought. He wanted to create a world where the contribution of even the poorest widow was seen as valuable -- in fact, proportionately, more valuable than a large contribution by a rich man. He wanted to create a world that was fair for all people; even tax collectors.

He wanted to create a world where oppression was a thing of the past; even if the oppressed was a woman. Even if the oppressed was from another land, another culture. Even if the oppressed could not see, or walk. He was a good man who died young for his beliefs. He was also the son of God, who rose from the dead, and who wants to bring us to him. All of us.

People are not given disabilities so that non-disabled Christians can sing about how happy they are that they're not disabled -- blind, lame, or otherwise. People do not have disabilities so that Christians can test their faith by trying to heal them -- or so nondisabled people can chalk up points with God by being charitable to them. People have disabilities because people are human, and disability is a natural part of the human state.

Today, Jesus still moves us to look past ritual, rote and easy sacrifice to what lies behind: God, and each other. It is us, God's people, that Jesus lives for; he wants all of us to truly love one another, to accept one another for who we are, and to grow toward God together, unified, and equal.

To do this, Christians are called to stop oppression where ever it is found. As Christians, this means that we are called to help stop the oppression faced by people with disabilities at the hands of our fellow Christians.

Disabled people oppressed by Christianity? Christianity as a weapon to oppress the group that Jesus worked so hard to succor and to heal?

"Not true!" the non-disabled Christian will want to say. "After all, Jesus healed people. Healing people doesn't oppress them, it helps them. Jesus made them whole.

"He took their lowly state and used them as symbols to illustrate his mission, as when he cured the blind man to signify he would bring light to the world.

"Wasn't the blind man born blind so Jesus could work his miracle, and people would believe in him? And, besides, if disabled people would just have the faith of a mustard seed, one little mustard seed, won't they also receive Jesus' healing power, and be made whole?"

Not quite. As is often the case with that young man from Judea, there's more to the story.

Jesus is a hard man to pigeonhole. There are many ways to understand his teachings and actions. Let's take another look at what some of those teachings and actions concerning people with disabilities were, and see if we, too, can share the vision Jesus has for all of God's people.

People with disabilities face soul-crushing oppression every day. Many are forced into institutions because of a lack of community services. Many who use wheelchairs live in government-subsidized "wheelchair accessible" apartments where they can't close the bathroom door behind them, let alone use the kitchen.

Transportation for people with disabilities practically does not exist outside of cities. Even in the cities, accessible transportation is often twice as expensive as the public bus. Nearly 70 percent of Americans with disabilities live on some form of Social Security. That's usually less than $600 a month. Surveys show that our nation would much easier accept legalized physician-assisted suicide -- doctors killing people with disabilities -- than spending the dollars it takes to keep them alive.

Yet, even with all these problems, our modern American society is still better to its citizens with disabilities than was ancient Israel.

In ancient Israel, there was no Americans with Disabilities Act. Only one occupation was open to a person who could not walk or who was blind: begging. There were no wheelchairs. If an ancient Israelite could not walk, he crawled -- or stayed in doors until he died. It was a miserable existence.

As a young man, Jesus could not bear to see anyone have a miserable existence, if he could do something about it. As the son of God, Jesus could at least touch the humans that he came into daily contact with.

So he did what he could within the culture of the time: he healed people of their disabilities -- so they would be viewed as whole by their fellow countrymen, and their oppression would lessen.

I think Jesus knew that the oppression came more from how disabled people were seen than from their disability -- that "wholeness" had nothing to do with whether or not a person had a disability.

Consider the following from Matthew 9: 1-7. It deals with the healing of a person with paralysis:

He entered a boat, made the crossing, and came into his own town. And there people brought to him a paralytic lying on a stretcher.

When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Courage, child, your sins are forgiven." At that, some of the scribes said to themselves, "This man is blaspheming." Jesus knew what they were thinking, and said, "Why do you harbor evil thoughts? Which is easier, to say, "Your sins are forgiven," or to say, "Rise and walk"?

But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins . . . " he then said to the paralytic, "Rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home." He rose and went home.

Many people who read this immediately focus on the miraculous cure: Jesus made the man whole! Yet when read carefully, it becomes clear that the grace Jesus imparted to the man was imparted before the man was cured. Jesus forgave the man's sins before he was cured. For the man to have had his sins forgiven by Jesus would have been enough for both of them; neither expresses disatisfaction in the text.

But then Jesus realized that the scribes thought him a blasphemer for forgiving the man's sins, so, he cured the man. Clearly, the cure was to make a point: "Which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise and walk'?"

Jesus forgave the man's sins in his paralytic state. Jesus saw the man as worthy and deserving of God's love just as every other -- non-disabled -- person in the room. Not any more or any less "whole." If Jesus did not accept the man for who he was, equal to all other people in the room, then he would have healed the man first and forgiven his sins second. Or maybe just healed him, and let it go at that.

Jesus was a good man who could not stand to see anyone in pain, if he could do something about it. Since he was also God, he could always do something about it. Yet, being God, he respected human "free will." Although he would point out oppression, and try to lead people away from being oppressors, he never used his Godhead to simply root oppression out, no matter how sad it made him.

Matthew 9: 35-37 eloquently shows this:

The Compassion of Jesus.

Jesus went around to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness. At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd.

Did Jesus pity the crowd because of their diseases and illnesses, or because they were troubled and abandoned? The text says that he cured them. But even after curing them, which many modern-day Christians would assert was the reason he pitied them, he pitied them still. He saw that "they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd."

Troubled by whom? Abandoned by whom? Not by God. God sent them his Son. His Son in turn worked to create change in all of us, to stop troubling each other and to stop abandoning each other.

Many Christians trouble people with disabilities every day. Every time a value judgement is made that somehow a person with a disability is not quite as good as every one else; not quite as wholee then that person is indeed troubled. Because Christians abandon people with disabilities every day. Every time an excuse is made for a church, or a business owned by a Christian, to not be made fully accessible, people with disabilities are abandoned by Christians. If it is not accessible, then one Christian walks in, and the other must stay outside. -- troubled,abandoned. Not troubled by the disability, but how she is treated by her fellow Christians because of the disability. Abandoned because of how fellow Christians perceive the disease.

Jesus's earthly fate was caught up with the fate of the people with disabilities who were not allowed to enter the Temple.

As a man, Jesus would let him in. Even if it meant knocking a hole in the roof of his house, Jesus would let him in.

One of the last acts of his short life on earth was the cleansing of that Temple. Here's the accounting of that cleansing from Matthew 21: 12-15:

The Cleansing of the Temple.

Jesus entered the Temple area and drove out all those engaged in selling and buying there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves. And he said to them, "It is written: 'My house shall be a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of thieves.' " The blind and the lame approached him in the Temple area, and he cured them.

In the New American Bible translation, there is a note attached to Matthew 21:14 that tells us, "According to 2 Sm.. 5-8, the blind and the lame were forbidden to enter 'the house of the Lord,' the Temple. These are the last of Jesus' healings."

When "the blind and the lame" approached Jesus in the Temple area, he welcomed them as they were, and in contradiction to regulations. They were healed within the Temple area, not outside it. They entered the Temple area as disabled people.

The chief priests and the elders demanded to know by what authority Jesus did these things. One of "those things" that Jesus did was let "those people" into the Temple area.

Eventually, Jesus was executed because of his acts on earth that challenged people to think beyond what they were simply taught. I believe that one of these acts was loving people with disabilities as they were, in all their disabled humanity.

Jesus laid down his life so that all people might be free. His earthly fate was caught up with the fate of the people with disabilities who were not allowed to enter the Temple, only to beg outside of it.

Today's non-disabled Christians are also called to help take the yoke of oppression off the neck of people with disabilities. To do this, they must learn to love and accept people with disabilities as they are: disabled. Non-disabled Christians must let go of the arrogant and dehumanizing attitude that disabled means "unwhole" and "pitiful" by definition.

We are not Gods. We cannot cure everyone; not everyone is meant to be cured. Disability is intrinsically woven into humanity. We can learn from Jesus, and become laborers to help cure the trouble that arises when people with disabilities, or any oppressed class, is cut from the herd. We can labor to cure the abandonment of people with disabilities and other oppressed people.

We can stop seeing people with disabilities as foils to people without disabilities. People do not have disabilities so that non-disabled Christians can sing about how happy they are that they're not disabled -- blind, lame, or otherwise. People do not have disabilities so that Christians can test their faith by trying to heal them -- or so nondisabled people can chalk up points with God by being charitable to them.. People have disabilities because people are human, and disability is a natural part of the human state.

Jesus knows that.

Being God, he allowed the Israelites free-will to oppress the beggar outside the Temple gate. Being human, he did what he could at the time to get that beggar inside, and off of the street -- even though it was one of the acts that cost him his young life.

Being human, we, too, have free will. It is a divine gift. We can use that free will to help bring about that young idealistic man's vision of a nation where all belong. We can use that free will to do what is Godly, and what is right -- not merely what has always been done.

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