“Faithful but Unfeeling”
August 25, 2013
I remember a commercial from my childhood that had somebody my age at the time sitting in a wheelchair and looking straight into the camera and saying, “Lucky you. You never needed anything from the United Way. Luck you. Lucky, lucky, lucky you.” Tell me that doesn’t beat itself into your psyche. There’s a sense in which we are aware that none of us is immune to the simple accidents and illnesses that come along and take from someone the abilities and skills that help us negotiate our daily lives, or at least make it so difficult that we need help – whether from a walker or from a doctor. Seeing someone making their way painfully up a ramp or hearing them struggle to put a few words together can undermine our own false sense of omnipotence.
I came across a guide for people who are getting used to using a wheelchair that made some very apt observations. It notes that
“The unfortunate truth is that there are many deeply embedded attitudes in the culture about people with disabilities. People will usually be uncomfortable unless they have already had direct experience with a disabled person. Your presence might make them nervous at first. They'll be wondering if there's some special way to treat you or if they'll be expected to help in some way. They might have an association with someone else, perhaps a parent or grandparent, who used a wheelchair at a time when they were very ill. They might be projecting themselves into your experience, imagining it as a horrible way to live. All of these attitudes are significant obstacles to your ability to make a connection with that person. Once they come to know you well, and witness the kind of life that is possible, they find out that your personality shines through even the most severe disability.”
It’s true that if you spend time around a particular person with a disability, however, those feelings tend to go away. You realize how strong someone may be, or how incredibly adaptable human beings are. People live with terrible pain but sometimes keep their sense of humor. They learn to use the gifts and strengths that they do have to compensate for the ones that are missing. I don’t cease to marvel at Minnie Thacker. Those of you who know her know that having been born without hands has not prevented her from leading a full life and in the narthex you can see that it hasn’t even prevented her from being a good painter.
The people around folks with challenges adapt as well. (Maybe I should say that we are all challenged – it’s just that some of us get a break from the challenges while others live with them every day.) I used to visit a woman who, like the one in today’s reading, was terribly bent over. When I went to see her the first time she was very apologetic about sitting up on a tall chair and asking me to sit on a low hassock so that we could see one another’s faces as we talked. After awhile, if I went over, she would just say, “Pull up a rug.”
I want to think that’s what may have happened in the relationship of the leader of the synagogue to this woman whom Luke tells us had been unable to stand straight for eighteen years.
“When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, ‘Woman, you are set free from your ailment.’ When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.” [Luke 13:12-13]
That’s wonderful, and cause for everyone to praise God. The leader of the synagogue, however, saw it as an example of Sabbath-breaking. It wasn’t that he didn’t want her to be healed, but after eighteen years, don’t you think she could wait another day, even less than twenty-four hours?
“But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, ‘There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.’” [Luke 13:14]
It took Jesus to remind him that she had a very, very basic need and that to address it was not work, but a joy.
There is a thin line between treating someone with disability as a regular human being without condescension and becoming callous to their individual situation. There is where Jesus seeks to bring healing to those who may be physically whole but who sometimes need – let’s call it – an adjustment of the heart, whether learning to see a disabled person as a person, not a disability, or whether learning not to assume that just because they adjust (sometimes in wonderful ways) means they don’t still have (again, like anyone else) specific and real needs. He healed the woman outwardly, and at the same time straightened out the leader of the synagogue in his attitude. It reminds me of the old hymn that says,
“Just as I am: poor, wretched, blind;
Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea, all I need in thee to find,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.”
She needed the straightening and he needed the “healing of the mind”, and Jesus offered both.
So, here comes the commercial, or the opportunity, or the chance to respond and to take him up on the offer for yourself. In about three weeks, on September 18, we’ll be holding a session on “Finding Personal Spiritual Healing” that will be led by Rev. Carolyn Jordan, the pastor at Grimes A.M.E. If you feel like there is something that has been weighing on your own soul for a long time, that may have been bending your spirit over, I hope you’ll consider being part of that, because Jesus was all about helping us to become whole people, whatever that may mean for you or me. For the leader of that synagogue it meant having a right relationship to the people around him, learning the ways of mercy. For someone else it may mean letting go of anxiety, or some ancient hurt, or anger, or fear, or breaking the grip of long-entrenched and destructive habits. Let me know if you want to be part of that evening, but think about it, and ask yourself what there is within you it would fill you with joy to hear Jesus say, “You are set free from your ailment.” [Luke 13:12]
Of course, you don’t have to wait for then. Just like Jesus didn’t wait until the Sabbath was over for that woman, there is no reason that right now, at this moment, he cannot work within you or me or any of us to undo the ways that the world and its woes have twisted us up. He can do that right now, if you ask him.
Let’s take a moment and do that. I invite you to join me in prayer, first considering what burden, what habit, what attitude, what fear, what grief, what sin most weighs you down, and then looking to Jesus for help with it. Let us begin by looking to the Lord in silence, and then join together in reading the prayer printed in the bulletin …
“Healer of our every ill,
light of each tomorrow,
give us peace beyond our fear,
and hope beyond our sorrow.
You who know our fears and sadness,
grace us with your peace and gladness,
Spirit of all comfort: fill our hearts.
In the pain and joy beholding
how your grace is still unfolding,
give us all your vision: God of love.
You who know each thought and feeling,
teach us all your way of healing,
Spirit of compassion: fill each heart.
Give us strength to love each other,
every sister, every brother,
Spirit of all kindness: be our guide.
Healer of our every ill,
light of each tomorrow,
give us peace beyond our fear,
and hope beyond our sorrow.”
 Marty Haugen, “Healer of Our Every Ill”.