18 January 2008


The icon is that of Christ Pantocrator of St. Catherine's Monastery at Mt. Sinai. One of the first things noticed is how Christ appears to be "two-faced." Some have said this demonstrates the two natures of Christ (human and divine), and some speak of protective and judgmental sides. I've tended to think of the image as having a disfigured face: "Jesus the stroke victim."

In chapter 17 of his autobiography, A Broad Place, Jürgen Moltmann speaks of the disabled. "The sight of disabled people easily upsets the mental equilibrium of the non-disabled, and they shrink back. They do not see the disabled person but only the disability. The result is the 'leper syndrome,' to use the phrase of scientific studies. People who are 'different' are not welcome, but are generally merely put up with, and that destroys their self-confidence." Some believe that the apostle Paul suffered from a physical disfigurement. In Galatians 4:13-14, he says, "You know that it was because of a physical infirmity that I first announced the gospel to you; though my condition put you to the test, you did not scorn or despise me, but welcomed me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus."

Moltmann goes on, "The moment we talk about 'disabilities' we are taking as our standard the perfect, the capable, and the beautiful. But that leads us astray. Isn't every disability an endowment of its own kind, too, and one which must be respected? In the community of Jesus, aren't 'disabilities' also 'charismata' of the Holy Spirit? When Paul talks about the gifts of the Spirit, he doesn't just name capabilities but the lack of them as well. Not just powers but also weaknesses (2 Cor. 4.7)...When I later entered into discussion with representatives of the Pentecostal movement, they found this idea surprising, but it immediately convinced the people who had children with disabilities."

I'm reminded of a professor at the Assemblies of God college I attended (before I went to an American Baptist seminary and became a Presbyterian minister!). He wrote to the headquarters and inquired about Sunday school material for his autistic son. The reply he received was that they had none. Maybe he was one of those Pentecostal pioneers who saw past the "power" and saw "weaknesses" as charismata (benefits, gifts) of the Spirit.

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