Let me give you a little background of what is going on in Luke 14. This story takes place on one of the final Sabbaths before Jesus is condemned to die on the cross. On this particular Sabbath Jesus is invited to a gathering at the home of a prominent Pharisee; one of the leaders of the local synagogue/church. Many other church leaders were probably there too. At this point Jesus and His disciples had broken at least seven different Sabbath laws which was something that really frustrated the church leadership. They wanted to catch Jesus in the act so they could convict Him of doing something wrong. In order to do this they secretly invited a man with a physical disability to this Sabbath gathering. They felt confident that Jesus, being the compassionate man that He was, would heal him. Healing on the Sabbath was illegal according to Pharisaical law. Jesus, however, was aware of their plan to trap Him and took the opportunity to teach the church leadership a vital lesson on God’s view of the Church and disabilities.
Take a look at verse 1, “One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. There in front of him was a man suffering from abnormal swelling. Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?’”(NIV)
Jesus’ response put the ball in their court. He knew that they could not say yes because it would be a violation of their own laws. He also knew that they could not say no because they would be viewed as heartless. So, they said nothing.
Jesus was determined to deliver a message to the church leadership about God’s view on the Church and disabilities. He wanted to make it clear about who belongs in the Church and who does not. Jesus reacts to their silence by embracing the man with the physical disability. Verse 4 says, “taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him on his way.”
Jesus does two things in this account that would have offended church leadership.
- Strike #1: In that culture, individuals with a disability were labeled as “unclean” and were not to be touched. Jesus did not have to touch this man to heal him. There are many accounts of Jesus healing people without touching them. Jesus was making a point by touching the man with the disability. The passage says that Jesus “took hold of him.” Other translations say that He “embraced him.” I love that! Jesus was making His point loud and clear in front of the church leadership.
- Strike #2: In doing this, Jesus broke the law by working on the Sabbath.
The first point that Jesus wants the church and all of us to learn is this… People with disabilities are to be embraced by the Church.
Right now “inclusion” is a buzz word in the disability community. Inclusion is a good thing, and don’t get me wrong, but if you follow Jesus’ example mere inclusion does not go far enough. You see, there is a difference between “inclusion” and “belonging.” The difference is that “To be included you simply need to be in the room. To belong you need to be loved and missed when you aren’t in the room” (John Swinton). Do you catch the difference? The church needs to lead the way and not just follow the directives of government. In order to do this we must embrace people with disabilities.
Ryan Wolfe is the Disability Ministry Pastor at First Christian Church in Canton, OH. Click to read Ryan’s full bio.