How rich and deep are the Gospel stories! One of my favorites is usually known as “Jesus heals the paralytic” in Mark 2:1-12 and Luke 5:17-26. Recently a new friend, Heather Herschap, has uncovered a layer of meaning in that story for me. She told me, “For years this story rubbed me the wrong way…” You see, Heather is a woman of faith who is also a woman with cerebral palsy. She is a recent graduate of George W. Truett Seminary, and has traveled to India three times, as she answers God’s call to serve people with disabilities.
Heather did not need to take up her mat and go home. She took off in her wheelchair to serve God. Heather continued her commentary on the healing story, “…but then I heard a sermon from the perspective of the friends and their decision to cut a hole in the roof so they could bring the paralyzed man to Jesus. Then it became more of a story on creativity and expressions of faith.”
As I’ve explored this story through the lens of ministry with people with disabilities, I now think of it as “Through the Roof – Friends, Jesus, and Surprises.” As adults we usually hear this story from the end, “Jesus said, ‘I will prove to you, then, that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.’ So he said to the paralyzed man, ‘I tell you, get up, pick up your mat, and go home!’” Yes, the story is about Jesus’ authority. But there are other layers as well. People with disabilities, their families, and their congregations may find this story speaking at another level.
It’s a story about four people who wanted their friend to meet Jesus. One person alone would have been overwhelmed by the logistics and obstacles. But they worked together to bring someone from the margins into Jesus’ presence.
In our congregational life, we need to form partnerships – people with disabilities, their families, congregational leaders, volunteers – all listening to one another and valuing creative solutions to obstacles.
It’s a surprising story: Have you ever wondered how the homeowners felt about the hole in their roof? Congregations who are reminded of barriers to accessibility may resent the disruption of their physical space. But in this summer of the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, congregations need to think beyond ramps to other barriers – barriers of attitudes and practices.
And it’s a story about Jesus’ response to the faith of these friends. First, Jesus looked beyond the disability to the person – “Your sins are forgiven.” Then he healed the man, returning him to his community as a whole person. Heather Herschap experiences the wholeness of life in Christ and enriches the community of faith with her gifts.
Congregations may hear in this story a calling to look to those who are outside the faith community or living on the margins, and then choose to work in partnership to make space for all to experience the presence of Christ. Let’s go Through the Roof!
Learn more about Heather’s story and her ministry: http://heartofheather.com/
Evelyn Worth McMullen (DEdMin ’12) has 33 years of experience in educational ministry. She is director of a new nonprofit, Bright Threads Ministries, in Lakeland, FL. http://brightthreadsministries.org/
The Center for Lifelong Learning is in the early stages of planning for an event tentatively slotted for late spring 2016 that will address how to better incorporate the gifts of children and youth with disabilities into congregational worship and spiritual formation/education ministries.