It’s presidential election time again…when something is in the water that brings out the ‘crazy’ in everyone…except ourselves, of course. Only in America do parents tell their children, “You can be anything. You can even be President!” Even visits to the White House are considered a great honor. Over the years, many have angrily said that limits to presidential candidacy are things like race, gender, intelligence, or disability. Confession: when I think of a president who overcame social stigma and barriers, I don’t think of our current president as much as President Roosevelt, who was wheel-chair bound from Polio. He was unable to walk and yet he led a nation. He stood as a symbol for the United States, though he literally stood less than 5 times during his presidency. With help from the media, the nation did not see his broken legs, but his unbroken spirit. Perhaps being humble about his abilities made it possible for him to do what others could not.
Wondering what children will become is a natural, cross-cultural phenomenon. While Americans wonder if their child is a future president, ancient Jews wondered if their sons could possibly be the Messiah. (Ultimate mom bragging rights!) They knew traits to seek from Old Testament prophesy, but there were certainly things that would disqualify candidates. (Sin, for example?) The gospels record Jesus encountering people of various rankings on the Jewish social scale- Pharisees, Sadducees, ‘rich young rulers’, hungry crowds, parents, farmers, fishermen, widows, tax collectors, adulteresses, and the physically disabled. These people wanted Jesus to conquer the Romans, to answer theological quandaries, provide validation, give food, perform signs, and heal. He was constantly chased when he tried to retreat for prayer and rest; the Messianic version of not being able to shower without a kid asking for a popsicle.
As people encountered the most influential man of the day, reactions to Jesus fell into two categories. There are those who don’t really comprehend or accept Jesus’ message and there are those who believed, received, and were forever changed. I am struck that the most blessed and the ‘true believers’ are not the ones who were high-achieving and influential in society—they are the ‘disabled’ and the ones who had lost hope in everything but God’s power. Their belief was extraordinary. With a full heart, I turn to the gospel of John, where the ‘remedial’ surpasses above average and the religious ‘honor roll’ is sent back to school.
“As they passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind? Jesus answered, it was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” John 9:4
Jesus puts mud on the man’s eyes and tells him to wash in the pool called “Sent”. (Coincidence? I think not!) The man obeyed Jesus- he got up and walked blindly, obeyed Jesus’ instructions, and came back seeing. Hooray! Wait.. uh oh…this happened on the Sabbath. Neighbors who recognized him took him to the Pharisees (church gurus) may have been joyfully showing off a miracle, but the Pharisees weren’t impressed. They proceeded to question the blind man, didn’t believe his story, and even tattled to his parents. These ancient parents were of the old school and sided with the ‘teachers’ rather than their son. “They feared the Jews, for the Jews had agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ he was to be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” Ouch.
Then the Pharisees questioned the now-seeing blind man again. The poor guy lost it. (That’s okay- he’s not the only guy who lost his temper in the temple.) “I have told you already and you would not listen!..never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” Day one in the temple and he’s already preaching! “I was blind, but now I see.” Catchy. That line may have song potential.
The reaction of the religious scholars and over-achievers? “They answered him, ‘You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us? And they cast him out.” They rejected this man not for his blindness, but because they viewed him as a sinner. Apparently, they were born without sin. (Jesus would address that later.) Utterly rejected by the world once more, Jesus returned to him. The blind man knew His voice, but now saw the face of his healer. He could have questioned, blamed, or been angry after the day he’d had but instead, “He said, Lord, I believe and he worshiped him.”
What a response! He had been healed from an obvious physical ‘defect’, been left by his parents, and been expelled from the synagogue. His own mother, who had been his eyes for him and perhaps taught him to walk by faith and not by sight, finally had a seeing son. How many times had she prayed for it? Been judged for it? Felt guilt over it? Their son could finally see. He was a walking miracle, but they refused to see it; they were the ones truly blinded.
Now, some social elites did believe when they saw and heard Jesus. Nicodemus was a born-again Sadducee. Joseph offered his tomb. The centurions, teachers, and leaders who accepted Christ, like the blind man, also recognized their own fragility and problems. Still, humility is often hard to find in the intelligent and talented. The ones who were changed came desperate and broken. They weren’t putting Jesus to the test; they desperately wanted a better life. The blind man saw, two different lame men took up their mats and walked, the widow’s son and Lazarus were raised from the dead, the demon possessed and sick were cured. Those who witnessed these miracles believed and proclaimed that Jesus was God. When Jesus restored the afflicted who desperately sought him, the witness was powerful; hundreds believed. There is a special joy in seeing the ‘disabled’ live joyfully because they are accepted and loved. Their impairments are not a mark of sin, but designed to bring God glory- should they allow it. It is easy to identify the brokenness of those who bear it physically, but we are all created broken. Those truly aware of their need who humbly seek healing will receive it.. They are the meek that inherit the earth.
One pastor recently said his favorite baptism was for a 10 year old girl who had Down Syndrome. “Never had I baptized someone so full of joy. She was so excited about Jesus that she splashed the whole back row of the choir!” This girl knew her brokenness was not in her mind or body, but in her soul. Jesus had healed her true brokenness and she reacted accordingly. May we all be so aware of our need for Jesus and joyfully proclaim His healing. I pray that each of us can witness the miracle of someone the world sees as ‘disabled’ living a life of perfect healing from the Creator. We can all use a good splashing from that kind of joy.