We who live/work in the disability world sometimes laugh about how people often assume that a person with one disability has them all. For example, because Jerry uses a power wheelchair he must also be hard of hearing so they shout at him, others assume he cannot think or talk so they ask me what he wants. This is not unique to us, you’ll hear similar stories from anyone who has a disability or special need.
While reading Luke chapter 1 last week I saw this phenomenon in the Bible which neither Jerry or I had ever noticed before. Here’s how it goes:
Zechariah scoffed and was struck mute when he was told by the angel Gabriel that his wife Elizabeth (who was well advanced in years) would bear a son. He was told that he would remain mute until his son was born.
I’ve looked this passage up in multiple versions and notes of the Bible and all tell me he was “only” mute – not deaf. Nine months later when his son was born and Elizabeth named him John the people nearby thought he should be named after his father and began to make gestures to him to confirm the name. When Zechariah wrote “His name shall be called John” he was able to talk again.
This story illustrates the words in Ecclesiastes that there is nothing new under the sun. We think that it is a current world issue that people treat a person with a disability as having all of them. Here , just a few months before the birth of Jesus and the people were treating Zechariah as if he were deaf, though he was not. It made me smile and snicker.
Upon further thought it also made me see another similarity to today. Zechariah became mute before his wife became pregnant; roughly he was silent for nine months. Scripture tells us the people learned as soon as he came out of the temple that day that he could not speak. I have to think that perhaps they didn’t engage much with him once he became “disabled” or they would have figured out he could hear and would have verbally asked rather than gesture to him about the name.
As we move into the new year I have a challenge for you:
Is there someone you know who has a disability or special need with whom you could invest some time to get to know? Not only might you make their day/week or year – you may also find they have a whole lot more to add to the community and you’ll be richer for it. Don’t get hung up on communicating “the right way” or with the “right words” when you meet someone. Let them see your heart and get to know them. It appears Zechariah extended a great deal of grace to those who treated him as if her were deaf. Others will too!