Simon, the shepherd featured in the pilot episode of The Chosen, uses a crutch because he has difficulty walking. He is shown to be questioning various religious beliefs of the day and eager to learn more from the Torah. Similar to many faithful people who experience disabilities today, his ideas are dismissed by religious leaders. In fact, he is rejected from the synagogue because of his wounds. Unfortunately, many people continue to face rejection from faith communities on account of physical, cognitive, emotional or mental wounds or differences. A bit of irony in this episode is that at the moment Simon is rejected from the temple a scroll is being read. Specifically, the verses of Isaiah pertaining to feeble knees being strengthened and the lame leaping like deer.
The Chosen pilot episode conveys the truth that the presence of wounds or a disability does not preclude gaining godly wisdom. Rejection from a religious establishment or faith community does not preclude you from becoming close with Jesus. In fact, such hardships might just put you in the right place at the right time for a much more intimate encounter with the Lord.
In the case of Simon, The Chosen shepherd who had difficulty walking, it was precisely his rejection from the temple that led to his direct encounter with Mary and Joseph on their way through Bethlehem. Whether or not the shepherd suspected that the couple he encountered would soon be mother and father to the Messiah is unknown. In any case, he shows kindness to the expectant mother by offering her some of his water to drink.
I resist the idea of my cerebral palsy going away when I meet Jesus because I don’t think it is necessarily a sign of brokenness that will be cured in heaven. Yet I was deeply moved when the crutch and foot brace of this shepherd fell away as he ran to meet baby Jesus. I relate because although I am not sure whether I will run toward Jesus using my legs in heaven or if I will travel toward Him full throttle in my power wheelchair, I do know that I will move toward Him as quickly as possible.
It may have been Joseph’s familiarity with this particular shepherd that made him choose to place baby Jesus in his arms, as opposed to the other shepherds who were there. He also offers Simon a bit of Jesus’ swaddling cloth to bandage his wounds. I get goosebumps just thinking about this scenario. Few mothers have trusted me to hold their infants on account of their babies being especially vulnerable and my hands and arms not exactly being dependable or strong. On the occasions that I have been trusted with such responsibilities, I have felt so honoured, and so close to the babies over the long term, not just physically but emotionally and spiritually as well. I long to experience that kind of closeness with Jesus someday.
Previously, I believed Jesus to be The Good Shepherd indeed because he gave up his life to save his sheep. However, if I am honest, I believed Jesus to be The Good Shepherd more so because he is supernaturally capable. I was blessed by the parallel between baby Jesus who would grow into The Good Shepherd, and Simon, the shepherd who was evidently ‘good’ regardless of his physical challenges. I was surprised if not convicted by the shepherds’ reactions. “I must go! People must know… People must know!”
Imagining myself in a similar position, I would want to hold onto Jesus as long as possible; make the moment last as long as I could and revel in his glory. I would also want to sneer at my fellow shepherds who had degraded and disrespected me for so long. Simon, The Chosen shepherd, does none of that: he leaves as quickly as he came to share the good news with others. This reminds me that I am not meant to be in Jesus’ presence strictly for the purpose of being in his presence, it is meant to fill me up with good news that I can share with others.
The disability community is a very diverse group with different strengths and challenges. In an effort to be politically correct many media sources include token representations of people with disabilities on their programs. In contrast, The Chosen presents a variety of characters with a wide range of abilities and disabilities. An upcoming blog post on this Disability and Faith Forum, will consider some of the personal and communal impacts of portraying positive theology of disability through this excellent series.