Christianity and Disability

For some time now I’ve been thinking a great deal about this topic.  Just from different things that have happened.  I’ve wondered what is the best approach to talk about this subject or rather write about it.  I’ve come to the conclusion the best way to address it using the passage about Bartimaeus.

1 He cried out

Bartimaeus was on the side begging, but he heard a commotion, he asked what the noise was about and he was told it was Jesus, obviously knowing about who Jesus was, he cried out to him,  he cried out because he knew Jesus could help him.  The words he used was Son of David, have mercy on me.  Yes he was shouting to get Jesus attention because he wouldn’t have been able to find him easily.  But he could have cried out those words for another reason.  Particularly his reference to David.  Was he thinking about the story of Mephibosheth of which  he may have heard in the synagogue, this is recorded in 2 Samuel Ch 9.  David showed kindness to Mephibosheth even though it was his dead rivals sons relative.  Bartimaeus probably didn’t feel that he earned the right to sit at the masters table but asked for mercy anyway. Because he knew that David had shown kindness to someone with a disability.  David had shown kindness on the previous king’s relative by asking him to come to his palace and providing him a place to live and be seated at his table as if he was one of his own.  Mephibosheth was also given servants.  For this Mipobosheth had done nothing to deserve this kindness.  So Bartimaeus was appealing to the son of David’s kindness in the form of Jesus.

2 The people were stern with Bartimaeus

The people’s response to Bartimeaus cries were hostile and harsh telling him to shut up.  Why tell someone in need to shut up, why tell someone whose lived with debilitating condition for many years to shut up.  What is our response when disabled people complain or cry for help?  In fact thankfully in spite of the harshness of the people surrounding him he didn’t give up, he was single minded in his pursuit of Jesus, and had the courage to speak out all the more, telling someone to shut up can often lead to the opposite affect, nothing was going to deter Bartimaeus from receiving his sight not even the fear of man or peoples prejudice.

Before I go any further in this post with the different points of the story I need to say that from this point in the story by the two different accounts recorded in the Bible they diverge.  One accounts Bartimaeus throws off his cloak and  is called over by Jesus, in the other account, he tells those around him to bring Bartimaeus to him.  I’ve decided to go with the account recorded in Luke as I believe it better reflects Jesus character and actions and although I’m sure Bartimaeus threw away his cloak and , therefore throwing away his identity as a disabled person, I don’t believe because of his blindness he would have been able to make his way through a crowd of people to Jesus on his own, therefore I believe Luke’s account is more accurate.  Now I will proceed.

3  Jesus  stopped and commanded “Bring him to me”

Jesus stopped, why because he heard someone cry out to him.  Not just anyone, Jesus didn’t just ignore this man or his disability, in fact he stopped and listened, not only did he stop and listen he also responded. In fact he commanded those around him to bring Bartimaeus to him, he didn’t expect Bartimaeus to try and navigate to him on his own in the huge crowd pressing on him.  He honoured him, he knew his limitations and gave him dignity.

4 Jesus  asked him what he wanted

It may seem strange and it may seem obvious that this man wanted his sight back, but no.  Many disabled people sit in churches and the people assume if they need prayer its because they want prayer for the healing of their particular disability , or that’s the only prayer they need.  NO NO NO.  People with disabilities have the same needs as everyone else, provision, relationships, and emotional health.  so don’t assume when a disabled people come up for prayer its physical healing they want.  Jesus was showing the man respect, he may have already have known Bartimaeus needed physical healing but he needed to ascertain what he wanted at that particular time.  Jesus asked him in order to demonstrate the principle of not assuming you know what someone needs just because it’s obvious.  Also there is more to a disabled person than their disability and this I’m sure he wanted to demonstrate in his actions to the people around him these points that I’ve written here.

5 He responded to his request

Jesus did heal Bartimaeus.  But I want to point something out that may not be obvious. When did Bartimaeus get healed.  You might think it was when Jesus laid hands on him.  I believe it was far sooner than that.  I believe it started at the point where Jesus commanded those around him to bring him to him.  Once those people around Bartiemaeus responded to his command and  brought him to Jesus that’s the point where I believe healing began, because it was a demonstration of love, which I believe is a prerequisite for healing or at least the start.  As soon as Bartimaeus saw Jesus loving response and the immediate kindness from those around him he was able to throw away his identity as a disabled person and become someone with a disability.  Once he reached Jesus then Jesus did the rest.  Bartimaeus became a man who was blind but now could see.

So what does this passage teach us about disability and those of us who are Christians?

1 Listen to people with disabilities  when they cry out for help.

2 Don’t rebuke a disabled person asking for help.

3 Seek to understand what they want and not dismiss their issues and concerns as mere complaining.

4 Ask others to come and assist that individual but be willing to be the one to ultimately help that person if necessary.  Much of the time a disabled person just needs to be heard and understood and ultimately loved the same way as any able bodied person would.

5 Pray for them but ask what they want prayer for.

I may write more on this issue, because I know there are issues that have not yet been addressed. So don’t be surprised if I do another part to this in the future.  Please feel free to ask questions or comment. Thanks 🙂

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