December 19, 2007

Autism in God’s Economy: Those in Power over Those with Autism

Pilate, Pharisee, Jesus.

For those who hold positions of authority over those with autism and autistic families, Matthew 25 is a wake up call as loud as a siren. I want to take care to re-emphasize this again, it is not empty metaphor. It means the difference between heaven and hell. It is the litmus test of our salvation. It is one of a very small number of questions on our final exam, and getting one answer wrong is enough to fail the test.

If you have taken responsibility for any part of the life of someone with autism, or even if that responsibility has been thrust upon you, take this time to measure yourself. Have you lived up to the responsibilities that you have been given to the innocent and vulnerable lives that Jesus has chosen to represent Him for the purposes of His judgment in his absence?

This is one of the last questions any of us wants to spend much time considering, because if we think long enough about it, we will stumble onto something that we just don’t want to remember that we did or didn’t do. For many, taking any time to ask this question is too upsetting, and some who begin this won’t read this past the first paragraph. But you have made it this far, so decide whether or not you believe Socrates to be right when he said that, “An unexamined life is not worth living,” and take the next step.

If you have decided to examine your life in light of Matthew 25 then, congratulations, you have cleared a hurdle that few people do.

So… if you hold power over an autistic person have you fed, clothed, housed, visited, comforted, educated, and healed them?

If you have power over a family with an autistic child, have you mourned and rejoiced with them? Have you made sure they had everything they need to raise that child to the best of their ability?

Have you advocated for them?

Proverbs 31 was written by King Lemuel. He was not a King of Israel, but believed to be either Egyptian or Babylonian. In it God gives us instructions on how to live, and how to lead. These instructions apply to anyone who considers himself a part of the Judeo-Christian tradition, and are more stringently applied to those in leadership. The higher up in leadership you go, the more strictly you will be judged on this command.

Open your mouth for the mute,
For the rights of all the unfortunate.
Open your mouth, judge righteously,
And defend the rights of the afflicted and needy.

These verses are meant to apply to the voiceless in society, but they literally and specifically apply to autistic people. People who are literally mute and cannot advocate for themselves, they are afflicted with physical illness and developmental delay, and are needy. “Special Needs” means that they REQUIRE more than the rest of us do in order to get along in this world. In the U.S. and elsewhere, they are given legal rights that the rest of us don’t have.

If you are in a position to dispense services and justice to someone with autism or to their families, do you open your mouth for them, or do you give them the shaft? Because, from your position, there is no middle ground. In this fallen, worldly economy, either you advocate for them, or they will get the shaft.

There was no middle ground for Pontius Pilate. He was the man who had to make the decision as to the life or death of Jesus. Pilate knew that He was not guilty; he knew that Jesus’ rights were being violated, but he did not want to deal with the political pressure being put on him by those who wanted Jesus dead, so he just went with the flow.

If you are in authority over someone with autism, and you just do what is easy, you will end up failing them, because doing the right thing in the life of an autistic person usually difficult in this worldly economy.

They take up too much time and resources and you don’t get a lot for your money, right? The cost-benefit analysis on these people and their families is wholly unfavorable so wouldn’t your resources be better spent elsewhere?

Unless, of course, you love them.

Unless seeing them make an inch of progress thrills you. If him saying a new word, hugging his mom, eating a new food, asking for something, making a friend, going to prom, getting a job, or living on his own brings tears to your eyes and makes your heart burst; if you believe it was worth all the grief and energy it took to bring it to fruition and you can’t wait to be a part of a miracle in another disabled person’s life, then you have the heart of Jesus! You are following the leadership model of Christ.

You live in God’s economy!

Are you a parent that is not living up to your responsibilities to your child? Are you a teacher who just wants the mainstreamed autistic kid out of your class so you can teach the way you want to teach? Are you the head of the PTA that does not want your normal child to have to deal with that needy one? Are you popular middle management who blamed your mistake on the weird guy in the IT department because you knew you could get away with it? Are you the school superintendent who forces families to spend their limited resources on lawyers to sue you for the services that the law says it is their right to have? Are you the head of a government health agency who is not making public all you know about the causes and treatments of autism?

Are you Jimmy?

If you are, be afraid.

God sees it all, even the thing that you think that no one knows. Even the thing you think you got away with. He looks into your heart and knows what motivated you to do it. There is no way to put this nicely… for you, Matthew 25 is a death sentence.

And God does not accept excuses. “But I did the best I could under the circumstances. I was under tremendous pressure. I just didn’t have enough resources to go around. I had to make a judgment call.” does not fly.

You either did the right thing in the life of The Least of These, not matter what it cost you, or you didn’t.

Leaders who go with the flow and lead the way Pilate did have a grim fate awaiting them.

But there are those who face an even worse fate.

When Jesus walked on this earth, there were very few people who had anything to fear from Him. He healed the sick, dined with the humble, taught the unlearned, and forgave the adulterous. But Jesus was not kind to everyone.

Jesus excoriated the Pharisees.

These were men who didn’t just hold social, political and legal authority, these where men who held God’s Authority. They were entrusted with God’s Word and God’s Power and told to use it to serve God’s people.

But instead they used it to serve themselves.

They traded on God’s Authority to serve their fame, their fortune, their desire for control, their ease, their appetites and their pride. They had signed up to carry out the command to “Open their mouths for the mute”, but instead of advocating for the powerless, they ignored their needs and even stole from them.

And the consequences for them were dire. Matthew 23 is the passage of scripture where Jesus lays out most clearly their offenses and the consequences. It ends with Jesus placing the blood of all the martyrs, going back to the first murder of Able by Cain, on their heads. 2 Peter 2 discusses false teachers who claim to serve God, but serve themselves. It tells us that they earn a worse hell than the one they would have gotten if they had never known God at all. The bible is filled with frightening warnings to ministers tread very lightly in the exercise of their duties.

If you are a pastor or priest reading this, it may be one of the most important moments in your life. Taking time to think about how you have treated the most vulnerable lives that God has entrusted to your care, is imperative to the rest of your life here, and to the next life.

If you are a pastor who has ignored or taken advantage of the most vulnerable of God’s sheep, the crippled lambs, then don’t just be afraid of God.

Be terrified.

In your ordination, you took on the mantle of Jesus and told Him that you would be His hands in this world. That you would walk in his steps, speak his words, heal the way he healed, love the way he loved, and sacrifice yourself for the least of these, the way that He sacrificed Himself for the Least of these. You have told God that you will die for his children. Die to your wants, needs and desires. Die to your flesh.

You have committed to consider ALL things in your life loss for the sake of knowing Jesus and doing his will. Your money, your career, your popularity, your reputation, your pride in your accomplishments, everything.

And the proof of your fulfillment of that commitment is what you do in the lives of the Least of These.

In the flock that God has entrusted to you who are “The Least of These.” Do you even know?

It does not matter if you shepherd a church of twenty or twenty thousand. You have taken responsibility for, and will give an account for every single life in it.

Do you have autistic families that you are to be serving? Are you serving them? When is the last time you talked to them? What do they need right now? What are they struggling with? Do you even know?

Couples with an autistic child face an estimated 80% divorce rate. Teens with Asperger‘s Syndrome are a higher risk for suicide. Did you know that?

Here is a test for you.

Go get a piece of paper, right now, and draw a line down the center. First, on the left side, write down the names of the ten most wealthy, powerful, influential, popular people in your care. Next, on the right, list the names of the ten Least of These in your care.

Which list was harder for you to write? Which took longer? Did you have to stop and look up names? Who do you know more about? Make those notes on the page. Which people to you spend more time talking to or thinking about? Which do you spend more money on reaching? Which of these people do you hold the most affection for?

Are you oriented toward the poor like Jesus?

In this exercise, you have just told yourself whose economy you live in. If there are more words on the left side of the paper, be afraid; be terrified, you live in the world’s economy and you just might be a goat.

If there are more words on the right side of the page, if you are loving and defending the least of these, mourning and celebrating with them, then you are likely a sheep who has been given the heart of Jesus Himself.

So how do you pass this leadership test?

Are you a Pilate, who just goes with the flow and does what he wants?

Are you a Pharisees, who trades on the power in the name of Jesus to serve himself?


Are you a Jesus, who serves and defends the autistic, even if it costs you your whole life?

Next: For All of Us Who Have Failed in Our Duty

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