Thursday, February 7, 2008

More Thoughts on the Healings

I was thinking, again, about the miraculous healings found in the New Testament. The Lord has certainly changed my perspective on many things over the years, but my perspective on the healings are going through a most radical change. Perhaps other people have always had this all figured out, but I haven't (I've been too busy figuring out how to solve America's problems, I guess...).

Anyway, the healings have always been presented to me as acts of Jesus kindness and compassion. Teachers would point out that Jesus would choose to give his time to the "the crippled, the sick and those 'tormented by evil spirits' ". "Tormented by evil spirits" could mean almost anything depending upon whatever church I happened to be sitting in. To some it meant demon possession, to some it meant being tormented by illness and to yet others it meant mental illness. To me it shows that the concept of grouping all disabled people into one big "group" rather than seeing them as individuals with very unique needs can be seen even in ancient times.

The teaching tends to focus on the fact that Jesus was always willing to give his time to the "least of these", to the outcast, the people who no one valued. The thought being that if Jesus was willing to love even them, then certainly he would love me. Before my days as a mother of special needs children, that explanation was enough for me. Jesus did seek out the broken, there certainly is truth and insight in that interpretation.

However, once I became a Mom, I realized that there are some concerns with that interpretation. It began when I started reading children's literature about disabilities. I noticed a subtle attitude that would often come through the text: we should have compassion on them.

I freely admit that I am a curmudgeon, and that I often read through things looking for unspoken attitudes and cheap imitations of the truth. However, take, for instance, one children's book I read where a child and grandpa go to the zoo for the day. While out, they don't just look at the animals, they also look at a myriad of people with disabilities. "Look a monkey! Hey, Look at deaf girl!"

Albeit that was a wee bit of hyperbole, the feel of the book was simply that. The perspective it was written from was a "us looking at them". Even at the end of the book the kid writes a letter to a disabled kid saying, "I know your just like everybody else." Of course, if that's so true, then why did he have to write and tell her in the first place?

It's all so pedantic.

I started to think, "How would I feel to be the subject of a book like that?" "How would I like it to be labeled 'the person we're supposed to have compassion on.' "

Maybe it's just pride... but maybe something is there. As a child, how would I feel if someone wrote me a letter saying, "Really, I believe you're just like everybody else?" Well, I would be pretty concerned as to why a person would feel the need to say that to me.

So, does this apply to the miracles? I think so, because maybe, just maybe, the only point wasn't that Jesus was just compassionate, but that Jesus understood the value of people with disabilities, and that those who have a disability don't have to be on the margins of society. With Jesus there wasn't a "we" and "them." He didn't need to tell disabled people "you're just like everybody else." He knows it and He knows they know it.

Think, again, to the story of the man by the pool of Bethesda. Jesus asked him if he wanted to be healed. Our presumption is, of course, that he would want to be healed. The most common explanation I've heard for that question is that Jesus is asking him because maybe "he wants to be disabled, he wants to have an excuse for not working." But, perhaps Jesus knew that not every disabled person desires healing.

"Do you want healed?"

There's an option. Jesus understood that abundant life was available to the man whether or not his body was healed. Perhaps one of the points is that either way it's okay. It's okay for a person with a disability to want healing, and it's okay for a person with a disability to not want healing. It's a message of reassurance to disabled people. At the same time, it's a message of perspective for those of us who don't have a disability: don't presume just because someone has a disability that they wish they didn't have it.

Give compassion where compassion is due. Give respect where respect is due.

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