In this blog post, we will see how disabled people are able to relate their life and struggle with the life of the broken risen Christ.
In this whole post, we will try to see the spectacle of a disabled God in the person of a disabled Christ. And how broken risen Christ becomes disabled for persons with disability.
Of the world’s population of 15% of people are living with different disabilities. And within the 2–4% people are difficult functions.
According to the census 2001 in India, there are 21 million people are suffering from some kind of disability; among them, males are 12.6 million and females are 9.2 million.
There are five categories of disability in India. Per 1000000 population of India have one disabled person. According to the above percentage, 48.5% are difficult functions; 27.9% are movement disabilities, 10.3% are mental, 7.5% are speech disorders and 5.8% are hearing disorders.
Nancy Eiesland was one of the Theologians and sociologists who worked hard in the theological sector for people with disabilities. She herself suffered at the age of 13 years and she had 11 operations for the congenital bone defect in her hips.
In her life she struggled a lot due to problems; she faced physically and psychologically and her identity and character were formed on the basis of respective problems. And at the age of 44, she passed away.
Nowadays disability rights movements are growing in and around the world by raising essential cultural and moral questions not only about the term disability; but also the meaning of embodied experience, human dignity, social justice, and community.
In the present situation, even some of the best denominational statements; speaking a theology of access still speak in the voice of the able-bodied community. But it is a time for the Church to reconstruct the theology on disability in its core values; and traditions with liberating meaning by allowing the voices, stories, and embodied experiences of persons with disability.
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God in this world is construct by abled people
God is the spirit we can find in many places in the Old Testament; (Judges Chapter. 3; v10, Isaiah Chapter.11; v 2, Genesis 1; v2). God is a spirit but several images are constructed metaphorically.
The Jewish culture is patriarchal in culture as well as hierarchical. Abled people construct a patriarchal way of “success, beauty and perfection-oriented images of God; like Ruler, Lord, King, Almighty, Father, Master, and Warrior.”
Disabled Jesus as historical Jesus (Disabled People)
Traditional Christological understanding from past years are not giving a clear idea; how Jesus’ attitude towards marginalized and people with disabilities.
Even though in previous years liberation theology emerged; and brought the perspective of Jesus’ attention towards economically poor and socially oppressed people. But disabled people from the perspective of Christological reflections were not much focused.
1. Jesus’ earthly life
In order to understand what it means for Christ as disabled first of all. We have to understand Jesus Christ is fully human and fully God. By looking at the New Testament; we can know Jesus took birth born of the Virgin Mary (Gal. 4:4; Luke 11:27-28). He had a birthplace – a manger in Bethlehem (Luke 2:4-7). He had a family.
Joseph and Mary were his parents (Matt. 1 3:55). He grew up in Galilee with his brothers and sisters (Mark 6:3; Acts 1:14; 1 Cor. 9:5). His neighbors knew of him. In fact, they could not believe that he could possess such wisdom and miraculous powers (Mark 6:3). Their offended feelings showed how much they regarded him as a human being just like them. Jesus had to go through normal physical growth (Luke 2:40).
He became intellectual by questioning, listening, and discussing (Luke 2:46). As a human being, Jesus Christ boxed in time and space (Luke 2:42; 8:1; John 4:4). He traveled from one place to another. He also felt hungry, sleepy, and thirsty, he also needed to eat, drink, and sleep (Luke 7:34-36; 14:1). Like us, he ended his human journey in death (Matt. 27:50).
During Jesus’ baptism he is commissioned as the son of God; as the voice from heaven came, “This is my beloved Son”. whereas in many other books in the Bible, we can see (Isa.42:1 and chp42;13-53;1-12); Jesus as the servant of Yahweh and unlike the kings of Israel Jesus as the son of God presented as a suffering servant.
Jesus understands his ministry and focused to bring justice, care; and concern for the weak, powerless, and people with disabilities. Jesus set a model of inclusive community and breaks the barriers of pure and impure (Matt 11:5/Luke.4:16-30).
2. Jesus had the feeling like a human being
Jesus as a human being like others, Jesus also feels angry on some occasions (Mark 3:5; 10:14; cf. Luke 11:40- 47). In his life feeling of Compassion we can see the love for Lazarus; and on his death having sorrow and grief even though he cried for him (John 1 1:33- 36).
During the time Jesus has to fulfill the will of God at Gethsemane, he feels troubled, distress; and in a loud voice, he cried. As a normal human being he struggled to obey it (Matt. 26:37-39).
3. Jesus experienced disability (Disabled People)
Jesus as divine and Jesus as fully God. We have to view his incarnation from the perspective of who he is. The all-powerful and all-knowing God, experiencing the limitations inherent in becoming a human being. We can understand how Jesus became disabled for our sake. Jesus became disabled not in the physical sense as well as psychologically.
But the “disability of Christ stems from the wide gap between who he is; what he has and what he can do in contrast to who he became; what he forfeited, and the limitations; and confinements to which he subjected himself.” We believe God gave to Lord Jesus in terms of the existence everywhere, but in becoming a human being he allowed himself to be confined by time and space.
Jesus created the laws and he subjected himself to these laws (Col.1:16, 1Cor.8.6). Even though he is all-powerful; but he expressed dependence in everything (John 17:7; 14:10, 31). His utter reliance on God was revealed; when he asked why God had forsaken him at the cross (Mark 15:34). He is all-knowing; but ironically, the masses did not understand him (John 7:35-36).
Jesus voluntarily left all the privileges, power, and fame, (Phil. 2:7-8); he emptied himself, he was beaten, punished, and died. Jesus might not have been excluded from religious communal life as some people with disabilities suffered due to several problems.
But Jesus suffered for the people; who were looked unholy, impure, suffering from several problems in their body; and stigmatized as sinners in society. For their sake Jesus was humiliated; people spat on his face (Matt 26:67); he was counted as a sinner; “then the high priest tore his clothes and said he has blasphemed, they struck him and some slapped him” (Matt 26:65-68).
4. Disabled Jesus’ response toward disability
Jesus challenged such discriminatory practices and attitudes. He stated that those who are exploited or given to neglect; and abuse are now brought into the mainstream in the eschatologically oriented community.
In Luke’s account; Jesus begins in Ch.4:18-19. He applied the Scripture is fulfilled “today in your hearing. This is the main task of the ministry of Jesus, as the Asian theologian C.S. song had said, God’s heart aches when the world is gripped with pain and suffering.
Our Lord is the Lord of passion and compassion; and he came not to save the righteous, but rather save the sinners, the poor, and the disabled.
The cross is the symbol of pain and it’s the reality. Because of his pain on the cross, he knows the pain of humans; especially the pain of disabled people and their families.
We can’t do theology in our comfort place for doing theology we must go out; and reach out to the people in order to understand their pain and feelings; the same as they feel and need to identify the pain of Christ; on the cross in the suffering people. Then our theology may help in building the faith and courage of disabled people.
Broken Christ on the Cross
It was on Cross Jesus suffered and experienced pain, suffering, and shame. Jesus’ disability was the result of his becoming a human being.
As a human being, he experienced low social status (Mat.13; 58), stigma as uneducated (Jn.7:15); mentally challenged (Mk.3:21); Demon possessed (Mk.3:22); Glutton and drunkard (Luke 7:34); friends of sinners and tax collectors (Mk.2:15-16); hunted for life (Matt.2:1-3)/Luke. 4:28-29); criminal (Luke.23:39-40) and all this meant to be weak, to be confined, and to feel pain.
Like any person with a disability; he would have preferred not to go through suffering (Matt. 26:39). Here we can see how Jesus suffered on the Cross and can feel the pain, distress, depression, and struggle of people with disabilities.
How people with disabilities struggled; as they are physically, and mentally not fully abled according to our society? Since disability and sickness were considered as preliminary forms of death; Jesus went through a similar death experience.
1. Broken Risen Christ
In the Gospel of Matthew, we can find how risen Christ identifies himself with people who are disabled. (In chapter 25:31-46) people who are in real need due to diverse circumstances and people who accept them.
Risen Christ is affirming to them that “truly I said just as did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family you did it to me” V 40. Here Jesus shows, “ministering to the people with disabilities is ministering to Christ”.
People who accept and served Christ in this manner will inherit eternal life; and we got the message from this “through persons with disability Christ is revealed now in the community”.
In (Luke. 24:36-39/John. 20:27) we can see how risen Christ appears to his disciples by showing his hands; and feet to all of them and giving them comfort and peace. On the basis of “Nancy Eiesland” point of view how she understood “broken risen Christ” by showing his scars which Jesus bears vulnerability on the cross as the witness to his resurrection.
In showing his hands and feet to his disciples and followers Jesus revealed himself as the disabled God. Jesus did not come in kingly dress and with a new body; which heal, but still scars on the body; which helps and gives significance to persons with disability to relate their life with risen Lord.
Within “Eiesland” own experience; she wondered whether such a God could even understand disability.
Whereas “Rebecca Chopp” added in the viewpoint of Eiesland; in Christianity, the most remarkable point is that Christians do not have an abled-bodied God; as their primal image rather it is a disabled God; which promises grace through a broken body to the persons with disability.
Response of the Church to the disabled people
It is not only the responsibility of the church; but family role is also very important.
In the family other people can help and motivate not to look down upon his /her disability; as a weakness instead of helping her/him to look at the positive side of life; interaction with our loved ones encourages them; and also struggles to understand the meaning of belonging where other people always look down on our physical body; explore what kind of talents God gave them and motivate them. So, they can improve and polish their talents.
The church is the place that played a very important role in every person’s life in nurturing and firming up physically and spiritually. Pastors, elders, and all the families of the church are unified with each other.
So, it is the responsibility of every person in the church as a family to change their mindset toward persons who are with disabilities. Never look down on them, and think we are superior and they are inferior to us, and never ignore them.
By changing the church structure is not sufficient to break the stigma of looking down on persons with disabilities. But the real change and barriers should break within people’s hearts and minds.
Our loved ones in our church, who are with a disability do not need pity, or mercy, and do not treat us as objects instead of they need a community to love, accept and care for them whatever infirmities, weaknesses, or even disabilities one possesses.
The persons with disabilities within our family, relatives, and friends are able to cope by having the will to live, able to achieve something, they can interact with people inside and outside the family too, can accept the reality of disability in them also in this way.
In the last, we want to say that by looking at the broken risen Christ from the eyes and experience of persons with disabilities. We learn that God is not God of only abled people instead of God in the person of the disabled Christ is of all.
So we should respect and have equal space for persons with disabilities in our own family, society, and nation whom God gave diverse talents by whom which they make our society beautiful and creative.