Jesus as You’ve Never Thought of Him Before (Ros' Blog)
I had an interesting conversation the other day, which gave me a new perspective on a familiar Bible story. Someone had mentioned the fact that Zacchaeus was a noticeably small person, and speculated as to whether he might have had some condition such as achondroplasia.
Someone else chipped in that actually, the relevant Bible verse (Luke 19.3) tells us that Zacchaeus had climbed a tree to see Jesus because he was a small man, and that in fact it was unclear from this wording whether it was Zacchaeus or Jesus who was the small man. He suggested that perhaps Jesus was sufficiently short to get lost in a large gathering, and so Zacchaeus had climbed the tree so as to be able to get a bird’s eye view into the middle of the crowd.
I’m not convinced, but it’s an interesting perspective. It underlines for me the fact that we easily make assumptions about people. Why wouldn’t Jesus be a short person? For example, if I told you that our chair of trustees is a highly qualified computer scientist with a PhD, what kind of mental image would you have of him? I wonder if the picture in your mind included the possibility that he has been blind from a young age?
The trouble is that in our culture, someone’s disability or impairment is seen as the most striking thing about them. “Oh,” we say, “He’s a double amputee”, and only add as an afterthought, “He’s a football coach.” (Yes, that really is the case with one of my friends.)
I once took part in some research into the coping strategies developed by parents of children with multiple disabilities. The researcher began every interview by saying, “Tell me about your child”, and she noted in the resulting book that parents told her all sorts of fascinating characteristics of their child before they even thought of mentioning the child’s disability.
We do this with absolutely everybody else (including Jesus, who may or may not have been short!) so why is it that so many don’t do it when they speak about disabled people? It’s as if disabled people have to be defined by what they can’t do.
Suppose I told you that I failed four of my O levels, that I’m no good at maths, I can’t draw to save my life, that I find reading maps very challenging, that I have to get someone else to tell me what to do when instructions come as diagrams because I can’t interpret them, that there are at least 6,905 languages that I don’t speak or read, that I have almost no sporting ability, can’t play the violin or the saxophone, have no understanding of computer coding, am not good at one-to-one social interactions, have forgotten how to play chess, have never been skiing, never run a mile, never learned to crochet, and that my only attempt at decorating ended with burgundy paint splashed onto a beige carpet. I’m sure by now you must be wondering what Through the Roof were thinking of, employing such a useless person.
That’s because this negative description of me gives you no idea of the languages I do speak, the instruments I can play, the work I’ve accomplished, the books I’ve published, the one sport I am rather good at (sailing!) or the three wonderful children I’ve raised. And yet people do this all the time with disabled people.
Thankfully, God never sees us in this way. His word tells us that we are accepted in the Beloved (Ephesians 1.6), complete in Him (Colossians 2.10), more than conquerors (Romans 8.37) and that we can do everything through Him strengthening us (Philippians 4.13). So let’s stop defining ourselves and one another by what we can’t do, and let’s instead seize on those gifts and talents which God has given us, and rejoice in them, just as God rejoices over us (Zephaniah 3.17).