March 2022: No Cure Necessary [Disabling Lent]

Today, we’re continuing our Lenten series titled “Disabling Lent,” an exploration of disability justice, anti-ableism, and God’s image through the whole and holy lives of disabled people. And in particular, I want to contrast two events recorded in the Gospel commonly attributed to John. 

Neither of these stories are inherently about disabled people, but I think there’s still an important message about disability here.

In John 4, Jesus asks a lone Samaritan woman at a well for some water, and she draws some up for him, though it was taboo in their setting for a Jewish man to ask a Samaritan woman for water. She was seen as “beneath him” in the social hierarchy of their time.

He then tells the woman that he knows who she is and the circumstances of exclusion that brought her to the well at that hot, lonely time of day. She had been ostracized by her community and treated poorly by the long list of men to whom she’d been married. In a patriarchal society, she had limits to her choices, and much had been chosen for her.

But Jesus knew all this – knew all the pain she bore, knew that she was taking a risk to trust a strange man like him and a Jewish man, at that. 

And John 4:28-29 goes on to say: The woman put down her water jar and went into the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who has told me everything I’ve done! Could this man be the Christ?” They left the city and were on their way to see Jesus.

Many Samaritans in that city believed in Jesus because of the woman’s word when she testified, “He told me everything I’ve ever done.” 

John 4:39-48 goes on to say:

Many Samaritans in that city believed in Jesus because of the woman’s word when she testified, “He told me everything I’ve ever done.” So when the Samaritans came to Jesus, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. Many more believed because of his word, and they said to the woman, “We no longer believe because of what you said, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this one is truly the savior of the world.”

After two days Jesus left for Galilee. (Jesus himself had testified that prophets have no honor in their own country.) When he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him because they had seen all the things he had done in Jerusalem during the festival, for they also had been at the festival.

He returned to Cana in Galilee where he had turned the water into wine. In Capernaum there was a certain royal official whose son was sick. When he heard that Jesus was coming from Judea to Galilee, he went out to meet him and asked Jesus if he would come and heal his son, for his son was about to die. Jesus said to him, “Unless you see miraculous signs and wonders, you won’t believe.”

The Message translation puts it this way. Jesus put him off: “Unless you people are dazzled by a miracle, you refuse to believe.” But the court official wouldn’t be put off. “Come down! It’s life or death for my son.” Jesus simply replied, “Go home. Your son lives.”

The Gospel of John goes on to say that this man and his household then came to believe in the way of Jesus.

One after the other, we get two stories of how people came to follow Jesus. In the first, a woman with little social status tells her community, “This man knows who I am.” And many came to believe.

In the second, Jesus healed a child at his father’s request. And that child’s family came to believe.

And between the two stories, Jesus seems to be saying: being cured is not a requirement for faith.

Jesus did not fix the woman’s isolation. He did not punish those who excluded or mistreated her. He understood her – really understood her. And in a world (hers and ours) where real understanding is so, so rare, what a faith-affirming gift that is.

Scripture has many stories of cures and healing. In some of these stories, Jesus heals people from illness. In other stories, Jesus asks a person with a disability if they want things in their life to be different, and in many cases, they say yes, and Jesus responds accordingly to their wishes.

Again, neither of the two stories we considered today are inherently about disabled people in the Bible. But I think, when considered together, they give us a lot to think about: is God a dispenser of healing? What if God doesn’t heal, like in the case of Lazarus, for whom Jesus wept? Why did Jesus respond with such exasperation when the royal official asked him to heal his son? 

This is not the only story of healing where Jesus issues a warning about our connection between healing and faith. As he does elsewhere, Jesus says this time: “Unless you people are dazzled by a miracle, you refuse to believe.” 

Maybe, he’s saying, belief in God is less like belief in a magician, and more like belief in a friend or a teacher or a partner.

Author and creative writing instructor Heather Lanier, who wrote for Unbound’s Disability Theology Lenten devotional, explains that Jesus even became secretive about his healing ministry. She says:

“Perhaps Jesus saw that the signs were misdirecting people. God’s glory as looking to them like human glory, like bulging biceps flexed on top of an award podium, like ableism. We cannot expect God’s work, and God’s glory, to look like human work and human glory. This is why I think Jesus is often insisting people keep mum that he healed. Healing is not the point. Don’t get distracted.”

There’s a temptation here to be binary about all this: for the message to be warped. What I don’t want to say is that healing didn’t matter to Jesus, or that his kin-dom was only a spiritual realm, or that our bodies are less important to God than our spirits. I don’t think any of that is true.

I think the message that’s sewn between these two stories is really a two-part question:

Part one: how would it transform your life, your faith, to know that God knows you, knows everything about you, knows the ways in which you don’t conform, along with your deepest regrets and pain and the causes of your isolation… and what if God loves you in the midst of all that?

And part two: how would it transform the world if the world knew that such a love was alive in you?


I want to bring in some related wisdom from Nancy Eiesland, the groundbreaking Christian disability theologian. She says:

“Jesus Christ, the disabled God, is not a suffering servant or a conquering lord. Rather, this contextualization of Jesus enables that ‘the Christ understood as the stranger, the outcast, the hungry, the weak, the poor, [and I would add person with disabilities], makes the traditional male Christ less significant. […]”

“Jesus Christ the disabled God is not a romanticized notion of “overcomer” God. Instead, here is God as survivor. […] The image of survivor here evoked is that of a simple, unself-pitying, honest body, for whom the limits of power are palpable but not tragic. The disabled God embodies the ability to see clearly the complexity and the “mixed blessing” of life and bodies, without living in despair. This revelation is of a God for us who celebrates joy and experiences pain not separately in time or space, but simultaneously.”


I am a neurodivergent person. Like almost 3% of people around the world, I live with ADHD. ADHD is largely a hereditary disorder. And though I was born with it and it has had an impact on every facet of my life, I was only diagnosed as an adult when the coping mechanisms I developed over a lifetime no longer worked to mask the difficulties I had.

For much of my life, I focused on how I’d fix myself. The questions at the front of my mind were: “what is wrong with my brain, and how do I conform?” 

But I’m learning from neurodivergent friends and experts, from disability advocates, and from trial and error in my own life, to spend less time attempting to fix myself in order to earn love and more time attempting to solve the problems that I encounter in a world not built for neurodivergent people.

And I am learning – or trying to learn – that God is not preoccupied with fixing us. What we have instead is the presence of God, the wisdom of those who came before us, and the company of those who pave the way today. 

What we have is God’s presence, God’s being-with. A God who, as Nancy Eiesland put it, “celebrates joy and experiences pain not separately in time or space, but simultaneously.”

Lent is a season of being with, not of fixing. We keep retelling this story every year, not because we think it’s going to end differently sometime, but because we know how it ends. Jesus is born, and Jesus lives.

Jesus will go to the garden. And he will ask for things to be different. Jesus will pray and be in the presence of God, and things will not change; Jesus will undergo the trial ahead of him.

But that is a story for another time.

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