12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us,
12:2 looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
12:3 Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.
Today’s devotional entry is collaborative, based on a conversation between myself and Louis Jones about Lent, Hebrews 12:1-3, and connections to disability and ableism. Mr. Jones gave his permission for his quotations and ideas to be included, which I have edited and structured for this written piece. He approved the completed piece.
Bethany: When you read this Hebrews passage, and think about disability and ableism, what does it make you think about?
Louis: The first thing that came to mind was how people with disabilities are treated, because I’ve experienced that. The issue is our society and how it looks at so-called disabled people – there’s enough individuals in power that don’t look at what people have to offer. It’s a systemic issue.
B: For sure, absolutely. It’s so deeply wrong. Let’s talk about how you’re noticing that in the text – looking at the first verse, Hebrews 12:1, what does it bring up for you?
L: [Referring to laying aside “every weight and the sin that clings so closely] A lot of this stuff that’s keeping people back, we’re supposed to come together and get rid of it. Things like: where we put our time, our division, putting money and finances over community and humans.
We let other powers influence our lives, and we don’t regulate them… Time is what’s going to be counted. …We can be too materialistic, hungry for power, and spend our time in the wrong ways.
B: Definitely. And even though we are invited to think about this all the time, Lent in particular is a season where we can examine that in ourselves and repent, and change directions to make sure we are truly following the way of Jesus.
L: Yes. And if you follow in someone’s footsteps, you end up where they’re at – you experience the similar things, you’re going to experience a lot of similar issues. And if you don’t come across those issues, you’re not really following, you’re doing something wrong and you’re not following.
B: You mean like those parts in this scripture where it talks about Jesus experiencing the cross, shame, and hostility?
L: Right. Jesus fought with officials and religious people, who controlled everything. If you’re following Jesus, you’ll definitely have people who don’t like you.
Say you have a grand master or guru or something who lived an excellent, huge life. And let’s say he walked a certain trail up a mountain to get to the top. Well, if you’re going to follow him, then you’re going to follow his footsteps and take that same trail. And let’s say that on his trail he fell into a big mess of quicksand and he died. Then what happens to you if you follow him?
B: Then you also are going to fall into that quicksand and die.
L: Right. But everyone wants to be comfortable.
B: And yet, we realize – as it says in this text too – that Jesus experienced hostility. So, if we’re following the way of Jesus, we are going to encounter hostility too.
L: In some of my records with the state and whatnot, it gives me certain labels and diagnoses that make people overlook me. The same that happened to Einstein in the beginning. A lot of people with disabilities have a lot of genius ideas – the main pioneers have been people with so-called disabilities. But today a lot of people dismiss people whose brains may work differently. That is hostility.
B: If you were going to give a message from this text specifically to disabled people, or to people who (as you say) are labeled disabled by other people, what would you want them to know?
L: When I look at the mess I’ve gone through, it’s all about how you look through that black diamond, and which angle you look through. It’s taught me a lot about empathy and what’s really important. And what’s really important is people, and I only learned that because of what I went through and because I survived.
I would want people with disabilities to know that the greatest people who ever lived have gone through hardships. And, just because someone tells you you’re this or you’re that, there’s a good chance it’s not true. Only the Creator will know. Look within yourself and focus and rely on the gifts that the Creator has given you. If you judge yourself by what other people think of you, you’ll get nowhere…. To be great is to be unique, which you are.
B: And what would you want to make sure nondisabled people get out of this text?
L: That they need “lay aside weight” like preconceived judgements, looking at someone and thinking they are stupid. They need to consider that these are unfounded thoughts if they haven’t even talked to the person or gotten to know them. And to lay aside sins – how they treat each other, how they act out on these thoughts/emotions that they may think about disabled people. I would tell them not to judge the book by its cover. Also, that it’s a race against time do it quickly; be much more careful and considerate with pushing aside people, and put aside your pride.
Consider your walk of life and if you say you follow Jesus, look at what you’re going through, and ask yourself: does it line up? It’s never too late. If you’re around a lot of people who need help, and you’re really helping, it’s not going to be easy. It’s time to ask yourself: what do you value?
Louis Jones is a thinker and artist living in Altadena, CA. He spends much of his time getting to know people in his neighborhood, and diligently researching and discussing topics like philosophy, religion, the environment, and the Bible. He is passionate about helping people by sharing information he learns. He describes his visual art as coming from his relationship with the Creator and the “spiritual sight” that comes through that connection. Over 50 of his images have been copyrighted with the U.S. Copyright Office. He recently took a job with a security company and is enjoying this new opportunity.
Bethany McKinney Fox is founding pastor of Beloved Everybody Church, an ability-inclusive church in Los Angeles where people with and without intellectual, developmental, and other disabilities, as well as neurodiverse folks, lead and participate together. She is director of spiritual formation for Cyclical LA, a church starting network. She earned her PhD in Christian Ethics at Fuller Seminary, MDiv at Columbia Theological Seminary, and BA in Philosophy with a minor in Russian Literature from UCLA. Her recent book Disability and the Way of Jesus: Holistic Healing in the Gospels and the Church (IVP Academic, 2019) examines how Jesus’ healing in the Gospels, too often used in ways that wound people with disabilities, might point a way toward real healing and mutual thriving. She is ordained in the Presbyterian Church (USA). When she’s not making music with her violinist husband, they’re exploring L.A., cooking fun food, or engaging with Gozo, their dog.