Better to enter into life maimed or crippled
than to be thrown with two hands or feet into endless fire!
– Matthew 18:8
With these words, Jesus forever dignified those who suffer with disabilities, handicaps, or challenges. To modern ear, these words which advocate for the value of the disabled are familiar. Many modern groups speak for the rights of the most vulnerable among us. However, this was not always the way society thought. Jesus lived in the First Century, a time when many religions were idolatrous and superstitious. What modern people call “mythology” was seen as true religions by the ancient peoples. Part of these mythic religions, often, was a worship of the perfect physical form. This was extended to the belief that one could not enter into paradise or heaven if the body was not intact. To mutilate a body was to deny its entry into the religion’s “heaven”. This was the reason for the outrage during the Trojan War, when Achilles dragged Hector’s defeated and lifeless body in front of the gates of Troy. In antiquity, battles that were moving toward a stalemate were sometimes settled by champions; the famous of David and Goliath is such a battle. Therefore, Hector’s defeat was part of the ethos of ancient war. The dragging of the body was not part of this ethos. This was an insult and endangered Hector’s entry into the realm of the dead. Therefore, in light of this mythic worldview, Jesus words were revolutionary. Jesus presented a paradise into which entry was not based on perfect physical form.
Today, we hear of academics and medical professionals suggesting the euthanizing of disabled babies. Such proposals go against the teachings of Jesus Christ and ignore the intrinsic dignity given to all humans. This intrinsic dignity is illustrated no less than twice in the Creation account. We were made in the “image and likeness” of God (Genesis 1:27). The dignity of life, all life, is bestowed when God breathes life into the physical form and this life-filled form becomes a human person, a living soul (Genesis 2:7).
Yes, the physical body is important. It houses the soul and is the “temple of the Holy Spirit”. But, if a door is broken on a house- does one destroy the entire building? Absolutely not! Does one throw away an entire harvest because of one bad stalk? No! Does a physical limitation cause one’s intrinsic dignity to be diminished? Heavens, No!
To end a life, when it is only beginning, because of a disability is blasphemy of the highest order. It ignores the unseen potential that is housed within the tiny form and makes a value judgment that should remain the province of God. It assumes authority over life, the life of others. Logic, algorithms, and probabilities can not measure the potential of the spirit given to man. Jesus understood this when he opened Heaven to all, regardless of physical imperfections. Life is filled with challenges, and it is in this crucible that the mettle of the spirit, given by God, is tested and brought to its ultimate potential.