Kingdom Policy for the Disabled
How does the gospel speak to disability within the church? What place do the disabled have in the kingdom of God? These themes are stunningly displayed in the grace-filled story of redemption in 2 Samuel 9. This chapter and the interaction between David and Mephibosheth gives a snapshot of the kingdom policy for the disabled.
The King’s Search for the Disabled
King David is on the search for any of the house of Saul to whom he can show kindness for the sake of Jonathan. Notice in verse 1 that David’s search is motivated by kindness. He is not driven by an altruistic motive but by the lovingkindness pledged in covenant to his friend Jonathan. His commitment is to show kindness to those who would be considered his enemies, to those who could possibly usurp his throne. His search turns up disabled Mephibosheth, whose name means “bearer of shame,” in the city of Lodebar, which means “nothing.” There is not much to commend Mephibosheth to David. He bore the shame of his father’s house, was exiled and banished, and was lame in both his feet. David could have ignored him and left him in Lodebar, but instead he commands that Mephibosheth be brought into his presence.
What a powerful picture for the church regarding the disabled. Our commitment to the disabled comes not merely from an altruistic motive alone — to help those who cannot help themselves — but is driven by the lovingkindness of a twofold covenant commitment — the commitment of the entire church to raise its children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and the covenant commitment of King Jesus towards His Church. This lovingkindness searches for the least in the kingdom who are sometimes forgotten and brings them into the presence of the King. The gospel in these verses speaks to people with a vast array of disabilities — mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual. The gospel speaks to those who have nothing to commend of themselves. The covenant mercy of King Jesus that is to be reflected by the church seeks and finds the disabled and brings them into His presence. If you know that compelling kindness, should you not be concerned about the disabled in the church as well?
The King’s Reception of the Disabled
Lame Mephibosheth hobbles into the presence of King David. He stands there as the object of shame with nothing to offer the king except his lameness. He sprawls on the floor of the royal hall in abject misery, no doubt thinking this was the end of his earthly existence. But David says in verse 7, “Fear not, for I will surely show thee kindness.” Those two words, “Fear not,” are the best words that Mephibosheth will ever hear. They speak peace to his troubled heart and existence. And the words that follow are like rain for a parched soul, “Surely I will shew thee kindness.” He expected to die but was restored to favor with the king. He expected anger but received heaven-sent kindness.
The gospel speaks that same powerful message to those who are disabled, to those who have been marginalized from society and even from the church. All too often they have cowered in fear and shame because their disability has prevented them from participating in the regular means of grace. Those with disabilities, even if they have extremely limited understanding, belong to the least of the kingdom. They, too, need the “fear not” of King Jesus. They too, need the kindness of King Jesus for their souls. The gospel does not hinder such from the King’s presence but invites them into His glorious presence, mitigating their fears and speaking kindness to their souls.
The King’s Provision for the Disabled
How does King David provide for Mephibosheth? He restores to him his father’s inheritance. That would have been unheard of in those times and yet that is exactly what happens in verse 7: “And I will restore thee all the land of Saul thy father: and thou shalt eat bread at my table continually.” And in addition to the inheritance, he promises future provision for disabled Mephibosheth. David’s kindness holds nothing back from this disabled man; he ministers to his entire person.
The kindness of King Jesus holds nothing back for the disabled in our midst. Over the last decades, the church has begun to see its role in the institutionalization and the marginalization of the disabled. We need to ask: Have we deprived the disabled of their rightful inheritance in the gospel? All too often, this type of thinking still influences some within the church: the disabled are better off where others can take care of them. We would rather have churches filled with people who have it all together than deal with those who challenge us with their disabilities. But our challenge should be to reach them with the gospel and restore to them what is rightfully theirs in the covenant of grace controlled by the kindness of King Jesus. This is challenging because it means the church has to warmly receive those who might make noise and initially make us feel awkward within the worship service. It means that we will have to expend energy on teaching one-on-one to bring the gospel to disabled children and adults. It means that the church as the body of Christ must demonstrate the heart of Christ its Head to those who are disabled. These children, whom God has entrusted to their parents and to the church, are as valuable and worthy of the gospel as the children who have no visible disabilities. They, too, are created in the image of God and are heirs of the kingdom of God (Form for the Administration of Baptism).
The King’s Adoption of the Disabled
And notice how David treats Mephibosheth. He does not simply put him in a solitary room away from the activity of the royal house. Mephibosheth is put at the very center of the royal household. David treats him as one of his own sons. In verse 13, this is stated emphatically, “So Mephibosheth dwelt in Jerusalem: for he did eat continually at the king’s table” (emphasis added). He sits at the king’s table with Solomon, with Adonijah, with Absalom, and with the royal household. He is not treated as an outcast but receives strength and sustenance from the king’s food and from the king’s fellowship. The King adopts Mephibosheth as his own, even though he cannot contribute much to the household. His presence speaks of intangible benefits. He is an emblem of the king’s kindness and grace
Here again is a powerful parallel for the place of the disabled in the kingdom of God. They are not merely to be put in a quiet room outside the life and activity of the kingdom. They are to be treated as sons and daughters of the King and seated in His presence. This means they come under the means of grace where the King speaks. This parallel speaks to the place that the disabled have at the table, even the Table of the Lord, when they are taught to discern the body and blood of the Lord. They, too, must receive strength and fellowship at the King’s Table. Some might be tempted to think that such disabled ones present no tangible benefits to the church, or that they are not worthy of the gospel. But the opposite is often true. Their very presence within the church body not only benefits the church, but speaks of the great kindness of King Jesus.
The King’s Healing of the Disabled
Mephibosheth was lame in both his feet, and we never read of his healing. But the gospel speaks of healing for the disabled. Mephibosheth was healed of his shame and restored from his banishment by David, and we trust that he lived with the hope of future healing in the fulfillment of the kingdom. That ought to be the great hope that the gospel offers to parents and family of those among us with disabilities, and to the churches who receive them in their midst, caring for them and nurturing them in the gospel. There is healing for their souls in this life. That is why we bring them to the King in prayer. That is why we bring them into the King’s presence to hear His voice of mercy and kindness. Are we not bound by our confessions to declare and publish the gospel with its promises and commands “to all nations and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of His good pleasure sends the gospel” (Canons of Dort, II.5)? This is what the church is called to so that the disabled also may have their hearts changed by the kindness of the sovereign King, whose delight is in the multitude of subjects, no matter what abilities or disabilities they have.
In the hope of the gospel, there is also the hope of future healing in the fullness of the kingdom of Christ. The resurrected Lord of life gives spiritual life to disabled children and delights to take in the disabled and heal them body and soul. This is demonstrated throughout Christ’s gospel ministry by His kindness in healing the souls and bodies of countless disabled (cf. Luke 13:10-17). Let us reflect the kind heart of King Jesus as we minister the gospel to the disabled. May this kingdom policy be ours as well.