Disabled Mummies: Why we Need our Ramps

Some years ago, churches and other public buildings were required to fit ramps and lifts to comply with legislation for disability equality. Victorian churches, in particular, are well-supplied with steps and stairs. At the time, it made me a little cross that we were having to spend money on such things; this is the blind arrogance of the able-bodied. One day, I might myself benefit from these adjustments. We should rejoice that people unable to walk or see can attend our meetings; the churches should have made such alterations freely rather than being prodded by the state.

At the time of Jesus, the disabled were disdained. Practically, they were not able to live independently and often could not support themselves financially, requiring them to beg. The religious authorities, particularly the Pharisees, attributed disability to sin, not unlike Hindus in modern India. This is exemplified in John 9, when, having passed a man blind from birth, the disciples ask Jesus:

“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

Later on, the Pharisees confirm this prejudice by concluding his interrogation with:

“You were completely born in sins, and are you teaching us?” And they cast him out.

In Durham’s Oriental Museum is a mummy bearing the world’s first-known prosthetic limb from around 200BC. She was a woman in her fifties who was born without a hand. Later in life, she was provided with a wooden substitute. Her bones show signs of malnutrition, indicating a humble background, and yet she was embalmed as a mummy when she died, a preserve of the wealthy. Recent theories suggest that her disability rendered her sacred in the eyes of her community and they duly installed her as a priestess. 

 

Disabled people are neither better nor worse, more sinful or pious than anyone else. Churches should make every effort to accommodate their needs that they might hear the gospel of grace. Jesus answered the disciples’ impertinent question with:

 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him. 

Whatever the state of your body and the level of its functionality, live your life that God might be glorified. I would suggest that these disabled folk whom Jesus encountered gave God far more glory for their healings than did the Pharisees with their rituals. The Egyptians may have taken their theology of disability a little too far, but they were quite right in understanding that it was no barrier to spiritual life.