The Word on Disability, Part 2: The Gospel

If the Law brings the bad news, all have disobeyed, all are under God’s judgment and curse, then the Gospel brings good news of God’s mercy.  Mercy triumphs over judgment.  As John the beloved wrote, “The law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). Let’s explore this good news, this grace and truth.

 In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus’ public ministry began after being baptized by John the Baptist and then spending 40 days in the wilderness, tempted by the devil.  He returns to his hometown of Nazareth, and as a good Jewish man, as was custom on the Sabbath, he went to the synagogue.  On this particular day, Jesus stood up to read and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah is given to him.  Jesus unrolls and reads, 

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me 

to proclaim good news to the poor.  

He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives 

and recovering of sight to the blind, 

to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Jesus rolled up the scroll, sat down, and declared, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).  Jesus announced from the beginning that he was anointed to reach out to the poor, the captive, the blind, the oppressed.  Those living with disability, in this specific reference, the blind, were those Jesus spent time loving and serving.  As we will see, Jesus will often use physical disability to speak to a deeper disability and brokenness.

One of Jesus’ first miracles, found in Luke 5 involves a disabled man, a man living with leprosy.  The man sees Jesus passing by and cries out for healing.  Being disabled with leprosy, in Jesus’ day, was not just physically disabling, but socially disabling.  Those with leprosy were unclean and wouldn’t be touched.  From a wrong reading of the Law again, the religious elite had created massive barriers between those who were clean and unclean.  And as we see, Jesus rebukes these leaders for their pride and arrogance, their lack of understanding of the intent of God’s law.  Mercy triumphs over judgment!

This man, living with leprosy, or perhaps barely surviving with leprosy, begs Jesus to be healed, to be cleansed.  And Jesus, as this healing is recorded in the Gospel of Mark, is moved with pity.  Jesus doesn’t judge this man and say, “Sorry man, you disobeyed God and this is God’s judgment.”  Rather, Jesus extends deep empathy and true pity.  And rather than simply speak a word to heal, which he had done earlier with Peter’s mother-in-law who was ill, Jesus touches the untouchable.  Jesus touched the man and healed a physical infirmity but with that touch, he touched an even deeper place in the man and no doubt brought profound soul healing, showing him that the Son of Man was not there for judgment but for mercy.

In the next story in Luke’s Gospel Jesus heals the paralytic who is lowered down through the roof to Jesus.  Again, Jesus cares for the whole man, body and soul.  After the man is brought into Jesus’ presence, the first thing he tells the man is that his sins are forgiven.  Then he physically heals the man telling him to take up his bed and go home.  The man obeys, is healed, and glorifies God.

One of the most profound encounters with disability that the Gospels record for us is found in John 9 and the man born blind.  The disciples ask Jesus the question we all asked internally, as our own lives were impacted by disability, “Who sinned?  Who’s to blame?  Who’s fault is it?”  The disciples ask Jesus, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  Does this remind you of Deuteronomy 28.  If I obey, life will go good, pain free.  If I disobey, life will be suffering, calamity, disability.  Is this the right way to think? Well, it’s clearly how the disciples are navigating this blind man from birth. But Jesus is patient and renews their minds.

Our beautiful Lord responds, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.”  Our human condition loves to justify itself.  We think we can live by the score card.  I just need to check off all the boxes and I’m good. Jesus came to shatter our self-righteousness, and often disability in the Gospel narratives is used by Jesus to reveal how all humanity is disabled.  Later in this story, Jesus will rebuke the Pharisees who think they can see when in fact they are blind.  Though they can see with their physical eyes, they are blind to the Messiah and Savior standing right before them, seeking to justify themselves with their own religiosities and self righteousness.

Our ways are not God’s ways.  Our Good and Sovereign God will bring good through suffering.  As we see in the Gospel, our very redemption and deliverance from our slavery to sin and the judgment of God, comes through suffering, yet the suffering of another, our Lord Jesus Christ. As Jesus declared in John 12, “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” 

Brothers and sisters, Christ died in our place, on our behalf, and through his suffering, we have received the forgiveness of sins and the righteousness of Christ.  The suffering of the Gospel was not plan B for Jesus. And your life, filled with the trials of disability, is not plan B.  Disability, with all its pain and disappointment, is used, orchestrated, ordained by God, not to point fingers and bring shame, but to display the grace and glory of our great God.  Let’s consider one final Scripture in our look at the Gospel.

The Apostle Paul in his letter to the church in Galatia expounds on the beauties of the Gospel and Christ’s righteousness, and specifically speaks to the issue of blessings and curses that we’ve been considering.  Here we find a definitive answer to these questions of blessings and curses.  In this short letter, Paul is encouraging the Christians not to drift from the simplicity of the Gospel.  Resident within each one of us is a distorted desire to cleanse ourselves, dress ourselves up, to think we can make ourselves presentable before God.  Paul pleads with these brothers and sisters to rely on nothing but Christ.  Listen to his appeal:

“All who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.” (Galatians 3:10-14)

For me, this verse has been a constant balm and comfort.  Without Christ, I am cursed.  But in Christ, by putting my faith in His righteousness and free gift of grace, I am blessed, forever blessed, just like Abraham, the great father of our faith.  If you are in Christ, you are blessed.  And nothing can separate you from that amazing grace (Romans 8:38-39).  In fact, the trials and tribulations you face, the disability and disappointment you battle,  are being used by God to enrich and embolden your faith (1Peter 1:6-7).  May we learn to suffer well in these storms of life.  

In Part 3, we’ll explore an often neglected section of holy writ, the Wisdom Literature.

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