Among the favorite scenes of the life of Christ in the Christian imagination, certainly one of these would be of the Sermon on the Mount. The Savior is pictured as seated and surrounded by an enrapt multitude—men, women, and children—often one arm raised in some gentle gesture, delivering the immemorial words recorded in Matthew 5 to 7.
From that inspired proclamation, including the Beatitudes and the Lord’s Prayer, came some vivid and often startling pronouncements that have stood the test of time, even in secular memory: “‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth’” (Matt. 5:5, NIV). “‘Let your light shine before others’” (vs. 16, ESV). “‘Whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also’” (vs. 39, NKJV). “‘Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two’” (vs. 41, NASB). “‘Love your enemies’” (vs. 44, NASB). “‘When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing’” (6:3, NIV).
And sprinkled throughout these provocative assertions are some hints at the Christian life that Jesus lived out in His everyday ministry. Among these, His reference to the “‘meek’” and the “‘needy’” must not be overlooked. Whom did He mean by these descriptions, and how is the Christian to respond to them?
The best answer to these questions may be in observing Jesus’ day-by-day activities among those around Him. What did Jesus do?
And it takes little attention to notice the kinds of people that Jesus most frequently responded to and how He reacted to them. In the words of Ellen G. White, “Christ spent more time in healing than in teaching.”1
This may come as something of a surprise, given the emphasis Christians have, through history, given to proclamation of the gospel. After all, no one needs to be reminded of Jesus’ memorable charge to His disciples, those who were there at His ascension and those to this day: “‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’” (Matt. 28:19, ESV).
It may be observed, by some, that in a sense, even teaching is a form of healing as it opens the truth to those who may be suffering spiritual illness. This, however, does not seem to be implied in Jesus’ command to His disciples on the mount of ascension. “Teaching the gospel” and “healing the sick” appear to be distinct enough that they were specifically stated.
In this respect, a survey of Jesus’ miracles makes for some interesting observations. Not all, of course, pertain to curative measures. One representative outline in the Andrews Study Bible of the miracles of Jesus divides them into four categories: “Nature Miracles,” “Healings,” “Exorcisms,” and “Raisings From the Dead.”2 More than half of the 35 miracles in this list appear under “Healings.” And, remarkably, more than half of these healings involved the restoration of those who, today, would be considered people with disabilities.
Jesus healed those with various disabilities—the blind, the deaf, the paralytic, the leper, and others. In doing so, He moved them from marginalization to full involvement with life going on around them in ways they had never experienced before. And this must surely have some meaning for Christians today, who hope to emulate the life of the Messiah, to “‘“love your neighbor as yourself”’” (Matt. 22:39, NKJV).
To love one’s neighbor is based on the idea that “every human life has intrinsic value.”3 This was certainly evident in the life and ministry of Jesus. The needs of no one escaped His attention. No one was excluded. Even those who were, to varying extent, dismissed as of lesser value for whatever reason were considered as of worth by Jesus. Women, children, foreigners, those with disabilities—all were blessed by His recognition of their needs. It could have seemed, in fact, that these were actively sought out by the Savior as specially deserving of inclusion.
This was His way of demonstrating the importance of inclusion in His church. The body of Christ recognizes the importance of every single member, and as it shares the love of Jesus, it will be accepting—embracing—all who believe in Him. “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9, NKJV, italics supplied). This would surely include even those with disabilities.
Too often, however, a casual glance around a Christian worship service may raise a question about this inclusiveness. Theologian Hans Reinders writes, “The times that I have asked ministers and pastors about members of their congregations who are disabled, the most frequent response is ‘We don’t have them.’”4 When the doors of Seventh-day Adventist churches all over the world are thrown open on any given Sabbath morning, is anything special being done to make those with disabilities welcome to worship with the congregations inside?
When Jesus foretold the final judgment as recorded in Matthew 25, He described the saved as those who had served Him. This appeared to be surprising to them, for they asked, “‘“When did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?”’
“‘And the King will answer and say to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me”’” (Matt. 25:37–40, NKJV).
Adventist congregations around the world that have made an effort to minister to those with disabilities in their neighborhoods are learning something that many had never before considered. They are learning that those with disabilities are often abled in unique ways that can complement the efforts of the congregation as it seeks to serve their communities. They are learning that all are sons and daughters of God; all are gifted, needed, and treasured.
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