Jesus was always “hanging out” with the wrong crowd.
In fact, Jesus generally offended people because His behavior did not match their expectations of how ministry “ought” to proceed. They thought the Messiah would associate with the high and mighty and lead a vast army to deliver Israel from the Romans. Instead, Jesus associated with the low and powerless and led a ragamuffin bunch of sinners and outcasts to deliver souls from Satan.
Not that He hadn’t clearly announced His intentions. Quoting Isaiah and applying the prophecy to Himself, Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19).
And when they comprehended that His ministry actually would follow this pattern, they sought to kill Him. Just as they were offended that Jesus hung out with the wrong crowd, so today many reject the reality that Jesus wants His church to recruit from, care for, and minister with the same bunch.
Jesus targeted the disabled. Moved with compassion by the needs of the multitudes, Jesus intentionally focused on those who were distressed, diseased, disabled, despised, and disenfranchised. He returned sight to the blind who themselves would extend light. He restored lame limbs and the newly-abled built belief in others. He resurrected dead bodies and created new born believers who, themselves, shared everlasting life. In loosing their physical pain and suffering, Jesus bound people with mighty cords of love to His own loving heart.
Jesus did not heal every person. Not every prayer was answered. Not every cripple walked. Even though Scripture describes Jesus healing one lame man at the pool of Bethesda, there is no record of every sick person leaving that place restored. Jesus must have passed by the crippled beggar at the temple’s Gate Beautiful on numerous occasions without stopping. Only weeks after Christ’s ascension was the begger contacted by the church.
And His selection process follows no logical pattern. For example, if I were designing heaven’s system for answering prayer requests, I would surely respect the desires of the Apostle Paul who was informed not only that his thorn would not be removed, but that he should stop praying for deliverance and depend solely upon God’s all-sufficient grace.
Jesus expects His followers to continue His own works. “Reaching out to the disabled community is part of evangelism,” says Dr. Rosa T. Banks, Associate Secretary and Human Relations Director for North America’s Adventist Church, and chair of the Commission for People with Disabilities. The commission has defined seven types of disabilities that must be accommodated by congregations: cognitive, hearing, hidden (i.e. chronic, inflammatory, and debilitating diseases), mobility, psychiatric, speech, and visual. Further, many disabled members do not attend church, so ministry must be conducted with them in their homes. Members must be sensitized to both the needs and the opportunities to welcome persons with disabilities and to utilize their capabilities in service. Disability Commission member, Catherine Burks, says “Accessibility doesn’t just mean ramps and physical aids. Those with disabilities need to be encouraged to use their spiritual gifts. Each time you do that, you lose more and more fear. Some change is not easy, but change can be for the better. Usually the change involves a struggle, but the struggle promotes development.” Try inviting the disabled of your own congregation to share their insights and to voice their opinions in how the church might minister more effectively. You could establish a local disability commission.
Jesus anticipates even greater works from the church. In fact, He promises the Holy Spirit’s power to energize and accompany the church in performing the same mighty works that He accomplished. As you labor to effectively reach those who are disabled and to include them in all facets of church life and programming, God’s blessing will accompany your efforts and His power will guarantee your success.
Jesus judges our treatment of the disabled. In the sobering reality of judgment, both the saved and the lost ask Jesus the same question. “When did we see You hungry, thirsty, naked, or in prison.” Neither group recognized that their ministry to or rejection of “the least of Jesus’ brethren” was ministry to or rejection of Jesus, Himself.
Imagine that! In heaven’s eyes, the wrong crowd just might be the right crowd!
James A. Cress
General Conference Ministerial Association Secretary