A few years back, there was a report in the news coming out of a significant European country announcing with great excitement that they had all but eradicated the genetic disorder Trisomy 21 in their country. Was this a major cure being announced, which would have benefits across the world for people who live with this condition? Well, no. Trisomy 21 – a condition of having an extra chromosome – is more commonly known to us as Down Syndrome, and there is no way of curing it. What this country was actually announcing – a country which is very regularly looked to as progressive and enlightened – was that no babies had been born that year with Down Syndrome. Why? Because all pre-born down syndrome babies conceived in that country had been successfully screened out and aborted.
You may have noticed in your social feeds this past week that there was a bit of a spike in stories about down syndrome people. I think this may have been because of the Paralympics, where a number of down syndrome athletes are competing. It seems such a very weird reality that, on the one hand, we champion, treasure and honour such disabled persons for their achievements, and on the other hand – as a society – we subtly pressure families to bring about their demise in the womb.
A friend of mine, whose 19-year-old down’s daughter is presently very exposed to contracting coronavirus, is appalled by this awful contradiction. She’s not at all sentimental about the deep challenges faced by her daughter’s life; she lives with it every day. But she is fierce, perhaps as only a mother can be, in her defence of the decision she and her husband made to have their child, and to be now immersed in her complicated, messy and beautiful life. Because of her condition, their daughter will never get to the Paralympics, she will not find the love of a partner, she will always need 24/7 care. But she has her life to live, and therefore, her love to give and to be given.
We can be lulled into seeing the miraculous cures of Jesus as simply miracles and supernatural wonders. But what we need to do is to ask the question as to why Jesus did these things. It was not to impress or to show off his supernatural powers. Remember all that Jesus did and said leads to and is defined by the humiliation of his death on a cross. “He saved others,” people mocked from the foot of that cross, “let him save himself.” Jesus did not heal to impress; he healed to give life over death.
All that Jesus did – that the blind may see, the deaf hear, the mute speak – was done to show that life and love is stronger than death and surrender. In God, life will find a way, and in his Son love will overcome. When the crowds said, “He has done all things well … he makes the deaf hear and the mute speak,” they were giving voice to the Lord who had come among them to witness to the grace of each person’s life, by pouring out the kind of love that would uphold them.
We, in turn, are called to walk this same way, truth and life; first by receiving it, and then by giving it. As St James, that bluntest of apostles, put it, “do not try to combine faith in Jesus Christ, our glorified Lord, with the making of distinctions between classes of people.” All people – from womb to tomb – share equally in the life that God gives, and all are invited to be givers of life by the love we give. “Courage! Do not be afraid.”
Proclaim: Office for Mission Renewal26 November 2021