disability and theology #9

…the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honourable we bestow the greater honour, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our presentable parts do not require. (1 Corinthians 1:22-24a)

In other words, people who are the weakest and least presentable are indispensable to the church. I have never seen this as the first line of a book on ecclesiology. (Vanier, 2008 p74)

Provocative words, huh? Jean Vanier is the founder of the L’Arche community, in which people with and without disabilities live together in long term voluntary shared households. The community’s objective is to live out the commitment to the personhood of the other; Vanier (p69) describes this commitment as tranlating the idea ‘I am glad you exist’ into physical presence with people with disabilities.

Leonardo da Vinci's 'Vitruvian Man'

Similarly, this passage has led McNair (2008) to declare that if we don’t understand what our brothers and sisters with disabilities offer the church, then that’s a mark of our immaturity in the faith. The object of Christian maturity is interdependence — not independence. In order to fully love our brothers and sisters with disabilities we need to both honour them and strive to submit ourselves to learn from and be served by them.

It is not sufficient for the church to be a place where people with disabilities are accepted, we’re called to be family to one another — a place of welcome, love and service; a place of friendship and hospitality (Reynolds 2008). Reinders (2008) suggests that we should regard one another as gifts given by a good God.

If Jesus takes on our human brokenness and vulnerability in his incarnation, then it is probably reasonable to expect that the body of Christ — the church — will corporately still exhibit a brokenness and non-self-sufficiency. And that this is what enables us to display the power and wisdom of God in our own (apparent) weakness and folly.

View the archive of previous posts in this series HERE.

Download a list of references HERE.

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