May 26, 2019–Disabled, Not Crippled

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Sylvia Alloway, Grenada Hills, CA

Warm-up Question

  • Do you or does anyone you know suffer from a life-long disability?
  • How is “normal” life different for a person with a disability? How do you think those with a disability live useful lives even with their difficulty?
  • The website for ELCA Disability Ministries notes, “All of us are disabled in some way as we stand before God.”  How does observation affect the way you think of those with an intellectual or physical disability–and yourself?

Disabled, Not Crippled

Most people have heard of Joni Eareckson Tada, the woman who became a quadriplegic at 17 after breaking her neck in a diving accident. It is hard to imagine how a young athlete could deal with the fact that she was not going to get better, but famously, Joni did. She learned to paint by holding the brush in her mouth. She founded “Joni and Friends,” a ministry that helps disabled people and their families physically, financially, and spiritually. 

Does that mean that Joni is supremely spiritually confident and that her disability no longer makes her sorrowful or confused? Not at all. In a meditation she wrote on the 50th anniversary of her accident she confesses her early despair and the ways she tried deal with it: drinking and socializing with “dark companions” – and how the memory of those days still haunts her. The efforts of Christian friends, who studied the Bible with her, included her in their social events, and shared words of wisdom with her kept her going. One thought given her by a friend still upholds her when she (as we all do) sometimes doubts God’s love: “God permits what he hates to accomplish what he loves.”

God does not allow personal suffering because he likes giving people pain. Yet God can miraculously bring beautiful results from ugly situations, strength from weakness ,and joy from sorrow. The trouble-free lives we sometimes wish we could live would only hinder us from becoming the strong, dedicated people our loving God wants us to be.

Discussion Questions

  • What might have happened to Joni’s life if other Christians had done nothing but tell her to cheer up or assure her that “All things work together for good to those love God,” rather than becoming a part of her life?
  • Joni’s suffering gave her the desire to help others with similar problems. Has anyone ever helped you through a hard time that they have gone through? How did they help you?
  • Have you ever had the chance to help a friend through a difficulty you yourself experienced? What did you do? How did the person respond?
  • Can you think of a way that God has turned a negative situation in your life or someone else’s life into a positive result? What happened?

Sixth Sunday of Easter

Acts 16:9-15

Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5

John 14:23-29

John 5:1-9

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

The man in today’s Gospel lesson had given up. Paralyzed, he had been waiting 38 years for someone to help him and complaining sorely when they didn’t. His disability had become a way of life, completely filling his mind and heart with his own suffering. We may think he had a right to his self-pity, but what good was it doing him? Then Jesus came and asked him if he wanted to get well. 

What was his response? “Oh, yes!” “Absolutely!” “More than anything!” No. He answers with all the excuses he has been rehearsing all these years for why he can NOT be healed, why he will NEVER be healed. There’s no one to help him into the healing pool. No unselfish person who will let him go first. It’s been that way ALL his life. 

Jesus sometimes healed people based on faith, their recognition of their need for him. Not this time. Jesus interrupts the man’s complaints with a strong command. “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk!” The man needed not only healing of his body, but of his attitude. He takes his first positive action in 38 years. He gets up. He obeys Jesus’ command and he can walk. 

Few people must suffer a complete, life-long disability. But what about the problems we DO have? Do I fail to smile and greet others because of flaws in my looks – a big nose, less than perfect skin, inability to afford the “right” clothes? Will God ever cure my fear of speaking in front of people? Of my sorrow over the loss of a parent, sibling, or friend? 

Actress and comedienne Gerry Jewel suffered from cerebral palsy. Here is what she had to say about her disability: “I used to feel self-conscious, but not anymore. I just say, ‘Hi! I have cerebral palsy. What do you have?’ And nine times out of ten, they have something.”

Everyone has something.  Instead of withdrawing into ourselves because of whatever disability we have like the paralyzed man by the pool, we need to reach out as Joni’s friends did, and as she in turn did the same to see to the needs of others. Yes, it takes courage. Yes, there is risk. But if we don’t obey Jesus’ command, we will never truly know what it is like to walk with him and share his love with those who need it. And if we do, the result might just be miraculous.

Discussion Questions

  • Why do you think Jesus healed the paralyzed man, even though (as we might say) he didn’t “deserve” it?
  • We don’t have Jesus’ miraculous powers, but we can promote healing in others. Name some ways in which we can do this.

Activity Suggestions

  • Ask students to invent situations in which a disabled person might need help and someone else might provide that help. 
  • Ask for situations in which a person with a disability might be able to help someone else. 
  • If time permits, have students act out one or two of the situations.

Closing Prayer

Heavenly Father, we don’t always understand why you allow people to be disabled. It is hard to suffer or watch a loved one suffer in this way. Bring to our attention examples of those who bless others despite disabilities, who shine with joy even in their sorrow.  Give us the strength to follow these examples and give you praise for the result that they bring.  Amen.

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