the lillies of the field
The Paradox of Disability: Responses to Jean Vanier and L’Arche Communities from Theology and the Sciences
Hans S. Reinders, editor. William B. Erdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI / Cambridge, U.K., 2010. 183 pp.
This book is a series of articles by participants in the Humble Approach Initiative sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation, who gathered at a conference in Trosly-Breiul, France in March 2007, hosted by the L’Arche community there, exploring the subject of what one can learn from persons with disabilities.
Hans S. Reinders contributed the article “Watch the Lillies of the Field: Theological Reflections on Profound Disability and Time.”
Reinders notes that persons with profound disability live in the eternal here and now: no past or future, no plans or projects. Western culture defines meaning and purpose according to human agency, admiring the self-made man. But those with profound disability do not fill empty time with projects; they live in God’s time, receiving life and living in the divine economy according to the providence of God, like the lillies of the field. According to the human economy, as it is conventionally understood, success is defined by the increase of wealth, and there is a tendency to compare our success in this regard with those around us, and worry when we suffer in comparison. But in vain do we worry, for in vain we we seek to secure our own existence, to be our own providence. When we do this we create a space, a distance between our self-imagined personal “providence” and the true providence of God. We move away, apart from dwelling in His loving care when we prefer to secure ourselves.
As Jesus said, “Seek first God’s Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things are yours as well.” (St. Matthew 6:33) Our days are God’s gift; living in God’s time is necessarily characterized by a lack, or releasing, of control, for as the Lord Jesus also said, He is coming at an unexpected hour. (St. Luke 12:35-40)
Like the lillies of the field, persons with profound disability silently, eloquently teach the rest of us about trust, and living in God’s time. In this, they function as a sign.
As St. Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians, chapter twelve. those who are weaker are indeed necessary members of the body of Christ. We need this sign.
Of course Orthodox Christians believe in synergy, in which human beings of their own free will cooperate with God’s grace. St. Paul speaks of “faith working through love” in his letter to the Galatians. Those of us who can apply our faith in works of love must do so.
But as Reinders observes, those who do not have the wherewithall to do this are a sign to the rest of us Who He Is Who creates, sustains, and provides for our existence, our life, our activities. Isn’t it all too easy to start taking the credit for our accomplishments?
And persons with profound disability are more than signs for us; they are made in God’s image and loved by Him for who they are. “As you did it to the least of these, you did it to me.”
But as the chief of sinners, I get the feeling that the real “least of these” is the one has been given very, very much and for the most part squanders it. People with lesser abilities are the “least of these” only according to a conventional human point of view. For according to the Lord Jesus Christ, the poor widow who gave her last penny was the greatest philanthropist of all.
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