With the resignation of Iain Duncan-Smith disability, or specifically disability funding, has hit the headlines. As part of his overall critique of government policy Duncan-Smith has also questioned the line that ‘we are all in it together.’
As we enter into Holy Week it seems apt to stop and ponder on our own reactions to the disabled. After all this is the week in which Jesus’ body is disfigured in the most appalling manner. This is also the week in which we see the very real emotional and spiritual turmoil that Jesus has to face.
Of course his impending bodily disfigurement and his sense of being isolated, forsaken even, cannot, should not, be easily decoupled. Christianity is an embodied faith. Bodies are important.
Nor should we sanitize the post resurrection Jesus. His body is still broken, disabled even. His friends and intimates didn’t even recognize him. And yet, he remained the Messiah, the Holy One of God. In order to fulfill his calling to humanity he didn’t need the body of an Olympian ‘God’, or an X factor winner. No the Christ we meet, post resurrection, is a disfigured and disabled Christ. He, this disfigured and disabled Messiah, remains the sole (and soul) means for our salvation. The prophet Isaiah captures this thought in the Old Testament reading set for the Eucharist on Good Friday:
‘Just as there were many who were astonished at Him – so marred was his appearance, beyond human semblance and his form beyond that of mortals,’ (52, 14.)
‘He had no no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was desired and rejected by others, a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; as one from whom others hide their faces, he was despised and we held him of no account,’ (53, 2-3).
So this Easter as we sing ‘Thine be the glory’ and ‘Jesus Christ is risen today,’ perhaps we need to hold in our mind’s eye a picture of Jesus, as gloriously disabled. A Messiah whose very status is not contingent on the ‘body beautiful.’ And we need to ask ourselves how we react to such a savior.
And what of the disabled in our own communities? Are they a set of people who we should merely fund so that they can have some form of quality of life? Poor folk to be treated with charity in its coldest sense? Or are they to be regarded as brothers and sisters who should receive the same investment opportunities as everyone else? These, I suggest, are the sort of questions that theologians should be bringing into the public square, after all as Iain Duncan-Smith said in his interview with Andrew Marr it is the job of ‘churchmen’ to moralize.
Do we recognize the disabled as being made in the likeness of God, that is our real question.
Last week I was blessed to be invested, inducted and installed as Rector of the Winslow Benefice. The preacher, the Archdeacon of Brighton and Lewes (a good friend) spoke movingly on Mark 2, 1-12 (the Healing of the Paralytic).
He asked the congregation to reflect on the relationship between the men who carried the paralytic to Jesus and the paralytic (he also asked us to consider the possibility that until the day of the ‘Jesus meeting’ the paralytic and his new friends possibly had no relationship whatsoever and that it was the presence of Jesus that brought them into relationship), leading to the question of ‘who is responsible for bringing the other to Christ?’ Or, ‘who carries who?’ For, in some sense we all need carrying, don’t we?
He also suggested that we reflect on whether we would have aligned ourselves with the Pharisees and their offense at Jesus’ actions or with those who rejoiced in the paralytic’s healing? We need to ask ourselves questions such as these for I suggest that they are ‘converting questions.’
The preacher and I have something in common – we are both the parents of disabled children. Our children’s disabilities are very different.But, we both agree that through the experience of disability our pilgrimage through life has been deeply enriched and that our understanding of, and relationship with both our fellow human beings and with Jesus, is somehow different.
The disabled are not problems to be solved, lesser folk to be merely funded, but nothing less than the image of God, and that for me is a theological given! So, if I am correct, the only remaining question is: how do we respond? How do we respond to the image of God?