For an Informed Love of God
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Where are the blind pastors? (1 Cor 12:22)
I just attended the Global Access Conference hosted by Joni and Friends. Everybody needs to attend something like this because it will make you sensitive to things that you might not otherwise see.
If you are not aware of Joni and Friends, you need to check them out. They are the main Christian disability ministry, helping the church understand how to serve and be served by people with disabilities.
One of the things that I saw this week was exegetical. Paul is talking about the different gifts in the body (i.e., the church). He writes, “those members of the body that seem (δοκοῦντα) to be weaker are indispensable (ἀναγκαῖα)” (1 Cor 12:22).
Who are the weaker members, and what does it mean that they are ἀναγκαῖα? Fee writes that by analogy Paul is referring to the internal organs of the human body that are weaker in the sense that they must be protected. “Paul’s point seems to be that such apparent weakness has no relationship to their real value and necessity to the body.… Appearances deceive, Paul is saying. If one removed an organ because it appeared weak, the body would cease to be whole.” Fee also talks about the dangers of trying to identify certain people as “weak,” and yet his words have to refer to someone.
Who are those in the church that you think are weak and unnecessary? The blind? Lame? Deaf? My friend Caleb who is autistic? Anyone in a wheelchair? Those with downs syndrome? Be honest; who do you think (and act like) are dispensable?
“Indispensable” may be under-translating. The full expression is πολλῷ μᾶλλον … ἀναγκαῖα, “how much more … indispensable.” The NLT reads, “actually the most necessary,” although “most” is probably saying too much. It is not that the weaker parts are the most important; it is that they are decidedly more important than what we first think.
I would like to suggest that those with disabilities are an indespendable part of the body of Christ. It is not that they are a burden to serve, and it is not even that they are a joy to serve -- frankly, I would rather roll on the ground with Caleb than serve a gossip and slanderer. If we truly see that they are ἀναγκαῖα, then we will see that they should be in leadership positions, serving us.
When does that happen? So much of the conversation about people with disabilities is how do we care for them -- ramps; headphones; trained workers. But the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and likewise people with disabilities have a voice and should be serving those of us whose disabilities are not visible.
Those who are “weaker” see life so differently than most of us; and while they may “seem” to be weaker, they are much stronger than you can imagine. I watched Joni throw her left arm over the back of her wheelchair using only the muscles in her shoulder; this gave her the leverage to throw her right arm on the table in front of her so she could turn the page. I listen to a blind pastor from Liberia tell us what he sees of Christ.
They only seem weak to those who don’t know them. They have a voice, and it is indispensable to the health of the church that they be heard.