A Tribute to Paralympians September 02 2016

Part of BCF’S blog series: “Society, Selflessness, and the Scriptures"

The last two blogs have had an Olympian theme.  But it is easy to overlook another related international event, the Paralympic Games.  The Games will be held in Rio from September 7-18.  Like the Olympics, the Paralympics is multi-sport event, but  involving athletes with a range of  disabilities.  The event has grown from a small competition of British  World War II  disabled veterans in wheelchairs in  1948  to become one of the largest international sporting events.  It is really a time to acknowledge, cheer for, and have a greater appreciation of those who excel in sport, even with these limitations.  

Long before the Paralympics, Jesus was teaching how to give honor to those in society who were disabled, ignored, or otherwise perceived to be of low status.  Jesus cared for the sick, lame, and blind, and He compassionately healed many of them.  He welcomed the children.  He exhorted us to “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind” to our gatherings (Luke 14:13). In other words, we are to be on the lookout for those who are ordinarily overlooked.  This is in the context of the biblical principle found in Luke 14:11 in which Jesus said “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” He also told us that when we demonstrate love to those who are in difficulties, “…to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them,  you did it to Me” (Matthew 25:40).

We see this compassion even in places in the Old Testament.  In 2 Samuel 9, David took in and cared for Mephibosheth, the disabled son of Jonathan, after Jonathan had been killed in battle. In verse 7, David is quoted as saying to Mephibosheth, ‘Do not fear, for I will surely show kindness to you for the sake of your father Jonathan, and will restore to you all the land of your grandfather Saul, and you shall eat at my table regularly.’”  

When I was growing up, my mom was the head of  the business school in the largest rehabilitation center in Virginia.  People were taken to this center after traumatic car accidents, diving accidents, or when battling serious diseases such as multiple sclerosis.  The center helped people with missing limbs, debilitating spinal injuries, and a variety of other impediments.    The staff sought to help all of these individuals and their families figure out how they could be integrated back into everyday life.  

Our family had the privilege of trying to help them out.  We volunteered for haircuts in the barber training center – free ones from the novice barbers and 25-50 cents for the more experienced ones.  “Flat tops” were extra.  When a piece of furniture or an appliance needed fixing, we would try to take it there first.  It was a community bound together by the common bond of working through unexpected physical trials that had come into their lives.  

One of my mom’s best friends at the center was a lady with multiple sclerosis.  Looking back on it, I never remember her  complaining of her illness.  She always wore a smile on her face.  There are others we have known in the church community that have been severely disabled and yet have made a point of not feeling sorry for themselves, but instead have reminded us how faithful a God we have.

These are inspiring people.  One of the reasons they are inspiring is that they remind us of the blessing of having things that we often take for granted – working hands and feet, eyes that can see, organs that function properly. They are real-life examples of “power being perfected in weakness,” the idea Paul spoke of in 2 Corinthians 12:9 when faced with his own challenges, the “thorn in the flesh.”  

Many of the spouses, parents, and children of the disabled are inspiring as well, as we see the love, help, and encouragement they give to their family member.  At the same time, we recognize that this is not easy.  There are many struggles, difficult moments, and temptations to give up.  They need our prayers, and at times, extra assistance.  As we observe or participate with them, we have the privilege of learning about sacrificial love, the ultimate demonstration of which was Christ going to the cross.

So if you see the Paralympians on TV, remember what they probably went through to get there, and what they will continue to face when the Games are over.  Let the event remind us to be on the lookout for the overlooked, to be thankful for the limbs that we have, and to see in our circumstances, as difficult as they may be, an opportunity to show the difference Christ can make in our lives.  And go Paralympians!  We thank you for this reminder.  

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Steve Smith