Jesus has shown us how to work with persons with disabilities in our communities. In Mark 7:31-34 we read of the disciples bringing a man who is deaf to Jesus asking that he lay hands on him and heal him. Jesus took the man to the side, away from the crowd, and spoke directly to him using hand gestures and touched the man as a way of communicating how he would be healing him. Likewise, in Mark 8:23, Jesus heals a man who is blind by taking his hand and leading him outside the city gates. Jesus spits on his eyes and puts his hands over them, then turns his head upward toward the sky. Jesus was willing to find a different way to communicate with each person he healed.
When Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law and the man who was lowered down through the roof and when Jesus cleanses the man with leprosy and many more of Jesus’ healing stories, we see over and over again Jesus is providing healing so that person can be restored to the community. When it comes to Jesus in scripture, healing is more than a medical cure, it is an invitation for the individual to engage again fully in the community.
Many of the folks Jesus healed had been ostracized from their community because of their illness or disability. Jesus wanted to make certain before he left each town that if he healed someone they could walk back into the temple or central market and be seen in a new way by those in the town who had previously ostracized the person. Jesus knew he couldn’t change the entire community to be accepting of persons with differences in the time he had, so he healed folks in a way where the community would welcome them back in. And we, too, can heal in the name of Jesus Christ by making and maintaining spaces of welcome and full engagement of all persons in the life of the congregation.
Jesus didn’t make persons with disabilities the poster child of the synagogue. Jesus treated each person as a beloved child of God, as a person with inherent dignity and worth, as a person with unique skills, giftings, and presence. Jesus knew that each individual with whom he worked wanted to belong, wanted to create, wanted to exist in the beautiful chaos of every day life with others. Don’t we all want that? To belong, to create, to be acknowledged for the depth of who we truly are and are becoming? Persons with disabilities do not need to become your project or your poster child for the church. What they need, what we all need, is to be able to fully participate in a vulnerable, honest, respectful community. Is your church that place?
Using Jesus example, when we prepare our churches to be safe, welcoming, and inclusive of families with disabilities, we are saying we will find diverse ways of communicating God’s everlasting love, we are committing to the creation of community where all persons are welcome, and we are creating space where all persons can fully participate in the life of the church using their unique skills, giftings, and presence.