A theology of disability: part 2
I have read some wonderful blogs, here and here, and articles in the last few hours, after posting on disability. In 2 Maccabees, the sons looked forward to a resurrection in which the limbs that were hacked off in death, would be restored. They would be restored to wholeness, which was for them, the way they had lived.
But in Leviticus 21, we can read what the law said with respect to people who live with different kinds of disabilities or impairments,
16 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 17 Speak to Aaron and say: No one of your offspring throughout their generations who has a blemish may approach to offer the food of his God. 18 For no one who has a blemish shall draw near, one who is blind or lame, or one who has a mutilated face or a limb too long, 19 or one who has a broken foot or a broken hand, 20 or a hunchback, or a dwarf, or a man with a blemish in his eyes or an itching disease or scabs or crushed testicles. 21 No descendant of Aaron the priest who has a blemish shall come near to offer the Lord’s offerings by fire; since he has a blemish, he shall not come near to offer the food of his God. 22 He may eat the food of his God, of the most holy as well as of the holy. 23 But he shall not come near the curtain or approach the altar, because he has a blemish, that he may not profane my sanctuaries; for I am the Lord; I sanctify them.
It’s pretty all encompassing. No foreigners, no women, and no one who has any physical blemish. How do people deal with this passage? There is an interesting, and very touching little ebook by John Piper. I highly recommend it in all seriousness, as the story is compelling. But I was disturbed by the way this passage in Leviticus was handled. John Knight, the father of a profoundly disabled child recounts this from a conference,
In the afternoon session there was a panel dis- cussion, and someone asked, “What do we do with the hard texts in the Bible?” And a Jewish rabbi very quickly grabbed that and said, “Oh, you mean like in Leviticus? Well, we just ignore those passages. We know better now.” And I was thunder- struck by that. I didn’t have a response, because I was struggling with Leviticus, but I knew that answer couldn’t be right. And so that started me on the path of discovery. page 46
Okay, so what’s in Leviticus then? God’s perfect foreknowledge, perfect power, and perfect holiness—there’s that little phrase in there, “But he may eat” (Leviticus 21:22). It’s embedded right in there as a little clause. There it is. There’s your birthright. If I give you 80 years, there’s a season that you might have to live with this, but your birthright is secure. Nobody can take your birthright away from you. You are mine.
And it was five or six years after hearing that rabbi speak, I was sitting in the Roseville library just meditating over this and tears are rolling down my face at that thought. The birthright is secure. Nobody can take that away. An uncle can’t say, “Oh, you can’t eat because of your disability or your short arm or any- thing else.” No, I can eat. It’s a promise. It’s embedded in the very words that some want to take out. The protection is right there. page 48
He also discusses the fact that physical blemishes in this passage represent moral blemish, and this is a foreshadow of a perfect, sinless Jesus. page 48
I cannot help but feel that if someone thinks that this passage has some significance for us today, they must believe that there are two classes of Christians, those who offer sacrifices, or serve in the temple, as well as eat; and those who may only eat. I can’t see it any other way. If we think this passage has some application to today, does it not completely overturn the priesthood of all believers? Are we not all of us of the same status? Surely there are no longer any foreigners, any lesser sexed, any lesser abled, with regards to our standing in the community. Of course, we are not all going to be leaders, but we shouldn’t we all be eligible depending on our gifts and abilities.
I can see how a profoundly disabled child might not ever become a worship leader or pastor. True enough. But what about a hunchback? Are we going to let this somehow represent to us moral blemish, and fall back into the myth of Richard III, that he was an evil king because of his hunchback? The entire business boggles my mind.
Would it not be better to just ignore these passages, just as we ignore the command to burn the daughter of a priest if she is a prostitute? (It turns out my great aunt was a prostitute, but a few pictures of her remain in the family albums.) Shouldn’t we take all of Leviticus 20 and 21, and perhaps the rest of it, and simply admit that they should be ignored, or at least, only used to gain insight into the historical past. I realize that this does not seem like a theologically sophisticated response, but I am very grateful that I am not obliged to live my life with theological sophistication.