Peace be with you!
Life is a journey. Each community experiences a different journey along the road to equal rights and equal opportunities. African-Americans and individuals from the Middle East have to fight racial profiling. People with physical disabilities have to fight for barriers, such as stairs, to be removed. People with psychosocial and/or physical disabilities have to fight against negative connotations others have regarding their disabilities. The Civil Rights movement—past and present—is a fight for individuals, regardless of race, age, gender, disability, sexual orientation, etc., to have equal opportunities to live their lives according to their abilities and choices.
For people with disabilities, the journey of life seems to take a broken road. We enter establishments through back entrances and are often stuck in back corners, out of the way and out of sight. Even after the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), not all buildings are accessible or easy to maneuver in a wheelchair or a walker,[i] which makes people with disabilities feel unwelcome and not worthy to be present. Accessibility means removing barriers that prevent someone in a wheelchair from accessing your building (permanent or temporary) and providing access; for example, you might provide a ramp or an elevator as an alternative to stairs, and you might add braille to signage.
Accessibility affects individuals psychosocially, and the lack of it can negatively affect a person’s self-esteem and self-worth. If a person cannot physically enter a building or an event, she can feel unwanted or unable to do an activity. The lack of accessibility can prevent a person from being active in a community, such as a church, small shops, a town, or transportation. A person who is housebound is excluded from the community— even neighbors—and can suffer from depression and anxiety. Furthermore, a community’s attitude towards the disabled is part of accessibility. If a community does not welcome someone with disabilities, then she is not likely to feel comfortable asking for help and will probably not come back.
In Luke 4:1-13, Jesus is led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil (Luke 4:1-2) after being baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River (Luke 3:21-22). In ancient times, the wilderness represented a transition between being captives of an oppressor and entrance into the Promised Land. The book of Exodus and other Old Testament books give us a lineage journey from Egypt or Babylon to the Promised Land. In other books and in today’s world, we get glimpses of the Promised Land as we wander the wilderness. For the disabled community, the Promised Land would be an inclusive community where physical and psychosocial barriers are removed. No one would be excluded for having a disability; the community would find ways to include everyone based on their abilities and their choices. The continued fight for the ADA represents the wilderness people with disabilities as a community wander in.
The devil tests Jesus three times, while he is in the wilderness for forty days and nights. In the first temptation, the devil says, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread” (Luke 4:3 NRSV). This temptation appeals to Jesus’s and our basic needs in order to survive in the world. We need food, clothes, shelter, and security to live. For the disabled community, the first temptation speaks to individuals’ personal needs and desires. People with physical and psychosocial disabilities rely on others to assist them with basic needs, such as eating, dressing, and other personal care needs. There is a temptation to give up and fall into a depression and suicidal thoughts for individuals with disabilities who rely on others, because they feel like burdens to their friends, family members, and others. Another temptation for an individual who needs personal care is to settle for a personal caregiver who is reliable but just does the bare minimum and does not encourage or allow them to be active in the community. The personal caregiver may make decisions regarding the person’s schedule, impose their own agenda, or rush the person while still acting as a friend, hoping to leave early or do what they want.
Jesus answers the devil, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone’” (Luke 4:4 NRSV). Jesus recalls when Moses reminded the Israelites that God provided them with manna after testing in the wilderness with being hunger; it helped them understand they could not live on just bread (Deuteronomy 8:3).[ii] People cannot survive on food alone; they need to live in community with others and support one another. Rather than settling on a reliable but so-so personal caregiver, an individual who needs personal care needs to find someone who will do what they are instructed to do and encourage their client to live life to its fullest. People who have disabilities have dreams and goals, just like anyone else. A personal caregiver should enable their client to live according to their own wishes, even if they do not agree with them, and to work towards their own dreams and goals. Also, the personal caregiver should enable the individual with a disability to be out and a part of the community to the best of their ability.
The second temptation appeals to our need for power and authority. The devil shows Jesus the whole world and says, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will be all be yours” (Luke 4:5-7 NRSV). People with disabilities so desperately want to be in charge of their own lives and to have power over others. For people with disabilities, being able to make their own decisions is a luxury, to a degree. Even if an individual is able to make their own decisions and can live independently with the aid of government funding, they are restricted by how many hours they can have personal caregivers, how much money they have in the bank in order to stay on Medicare or Medicaid, and more. Even if an individual is able to make their own decisions and can live independently without the aid of government funding, there are limitations as to where they can live due to needing a fully accessible apartment or house and due to when their personal caregivers are available to help them. There is a temptation to live with family members or friends who are home most of the day and rely on them to provide their personal care. Another temptation is to hide money in bank accounts under a family member’s name to get ahead. Another temptation is when the person needing care overuses their personal caregivers by having them do things they can do themselves. These temptations make people with disabilities face difficult decisions and blur the lines between right and wrong.
Again, Jesus answers the devil, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him’” (Luke 4:8 NRSV). Jesus is echoing Moses’s reminder to the Israelites before they entered the Promised Land: to worship and serve only the Lord (Deuteronomy 6:13). Moses did not want the Israelites to forget who gave and led them to the Promised Land.[iii] People with disabilities sometimes need a reminder that God will provide for their needs. Whenever I lose a personal caregiver and need to hire a new one, I am always amazed as to how quickly God responds to the need—almost as though he has them waiting on the sidelines, waiting to be put into the game. God has also provided me with amazing family and friends who help me problem solve different issues so I can be more independent. For example, I have a difficult time opening pill bottles, and I find myself dropping pills all over. To solve this issue, my one personal caregiver keeps different pill organizers filled with different medicines, so I can take them as I need them, even if I am alone. God provides for people with and without disabilities by sending the right individuals to support them as needed. Sometimes all a person needs is a fresh pair of eyes to solve an issue.
The third and final temptation is when the devil asks Jesus to test God the Father. While standing on the pinnacle of the temple, the devil says, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone’” (Luke 4:9-11 NRSV). Individuals with and without disabilities fall into the trap of testing the Lord. Someone who is blind may say, “God, if you allow me to see, I will become a leader in your church.” Another person who is looking for a job may say, “God, provide me with a good paying career, so I can be better parent to my children.” The “if you do this, Lord, I will do [whatever “it” is]” statements set conditions on our faith in the Triune God. This temptation feeds off of our own desires for power and authority. The devil tries to make us think we can be in charge of everything and we need lavish things.
For last time, Jesus answers the devil, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’” (Luke 4:12 NRSV). Again, Jesus echoes Moses’s reminder to the Israelites: to not demand more than what they need from the Lord, like they did in Massah where they demanded that the Lord provide them with water until Moses struck a rock, causing it to produce water (Deuteronomy 6:16).[iv] God does not send us out into the world empty handed. In Deuteronomy 26:1-11, we are reminded of the many gifts God gives us throughout the years. Moses instructs the Israelites to give back to God what is his during the first harvest of the season, to thank him for what he provides us with (Deuteronomy 26:10). In the Lord’s Prayer, we give thanks for our daily bread, which includes much more than just bread—food and water, medical care, shelter, community and family, jobs, and [whatever “it” is] you need. God provides it all. We do not need to test or brag to the Lord for things that we think we need; he knows what we need before we realize it. People with and without disabilities need to trust the Lord will provide them with anything and everything they need. We do not have to give God a set of conditions for our love; he does it automatically. We can trust in the Lord with all of our hearts, even if the world says what we need is impossible, because anything is possible with God—the blind man will see, the paralyzed will walk, the mute will speak, and [whatever “it” is] will be possible.
Jesus counters the temptations not to prove he is above us but for our sake, so we may live in community with one another. Jesus refuses food in the wilderness but will feed five thousand people with just a small family’s meal. Jesus refuses power and authority over the whole world but will be called King of Kings at his crucifixion. Jesus refuses to test the Lord but will suffer and die on the cross for our sake and will be lifted up on the third day by God the Father. Jesus does it all for our sake—to fulfill out greatest need: to be in a relationship with God the Father.
As the disabled and broken community, all too often we fall for the devil’s temptations. We make the right decisions for the wrong reasons. We allow the devil to get into our heads. However, the good news is God provides a way for us to conquer the devil, despite our brokenness, through Jesus’s crucifixion, death, and resurrection. Through Jesus, God saves us from ourselves and makes us whole. As the Psalmist writes,
Because you have made the Lord your refuge, the Most High your dwelling place, no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent.
For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone. You will tread on the lion and the adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.
Those who love me, I will deliver; I will protect those who know my name. When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honor them. With long life I will satisfy them, and show them my salvation (Psalms 91:9–16 NRSV).
Even in our darkest hour, the Lord provides with security in knowing he will protect and defend us, and in our last hour he will lift us up and grant us entrance into his kingdom.
Thanks be to God!
Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for gifting us with your forgiveness, grace, and love. Continue to provide us with our daily bread. Be with us as we turn away from the devil’s temptations. Guide us through the wilderness to the Promised Land and a life that only you can grant us. Through Jesus Christ’s crucifixion, death, and resurrection, make our brokenness whole again. Amen.
- How are you disabled or broken?
- How does the devil try to tempt you?
- Where or what is your wilderness?
- Where and how do you see God’s promise or blessings in your wilderness? What gifts does the Lord bless you with?
[i] Private companies and buildings do not have to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standard. Public buildings built or modified before 1991 do not have comply, and buildings built or modified on or before March 15, 2012 do not have to comply with the 2010 ADA standards. For more information, go to access-board.gov.
[ii] Arland J. Hultgren, “Commentary on Luke 4:1-13,” Working Preacher, 2 February 2016, http://workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=508.