When I think of Palm Sunday I think of Praveen, a young man paralyzed in both legs by polio. Without a wheelchair, Praveen grew up suffering the humiliation of having to crawl like a dog on the muddy, dirt roads of his village. He couldn’t participate in the activities of his classmates or neighborhood friends and was always relegated to the sidelines of life.
Praveen came to Equip Asia angry at God. He believed God had cursed him with disability and he could not understand why. “See how God has created you and how God has created me,” Praveen said. “He is a God of partiality! If he loves me like you say why has he punished me this way? Why has he made me suffer?”
I’m sure many of those with disabilities in Israel two thousand years ago felt similar anger towards God. John 9:1-3 alludes to a popular notion in those days that is common even today in India: people with disabilities suffer either for the sins of their forefathers or sins they themselves committed in a past life.
Likewise, the net result of this belief in first century Israel was probably the same as it is in India today: a world hostile to people with disabilities where there is rampant discrimination, streets and buildings full of barriers, poverty and unemployed and a life of humiliating dependence on others with the cruel, daily reminders of the “curse” of disability. The only hope for those with disabilities in Israel at the time was the coming of the Messiah.
In the midst of this desperate situation a man named Jesus arrived on the scene. His words about mercy and justice and his miraculous healing power indicated he was the Anointed One! The One who will bring “freedom to the captives” as the prophets of old had declared. The One who will lift the curse and relieve the suffering of his people.
I imagine the Praveens of Israel: the blind, the deaf, those crippled by polio or cerebral palsy were there in the crowd that day Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. As they saw him pass by I imagine they were overwhelmed by emotions. Their freedom and the freedom of the other “cursed” people cheering around them–the poor, the orphaned, the widows–seemed imminent. Hope had arrived in this man, Jesus.
But Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem on a donkey foreshadowed a world-transforming strategy that was very different from the military domination the crowds expected. In the days that followed this strategy unfolded to the “cursed” of Israel in ways I would imagine were very similar to the way it unfolded to Praveen.
Praveen encountered the Messiah through one of His Ambassadors, our team member named Anand. Anand did not bring immediate resolution to Praveen’s disability through healing, though certainly the Holy Spirit could have used Anand in that way. But instead the Holy Spirit used Anand by helping Praveen understand that his disability was not a curse but was, in fact, something to be used for God’s glory if Praveen would allow it. Praveen learned that someday healing would come and he would be given a new body. But for now the Holy Spirit wanted to use him just was he was.
The Spirit of God worked so powerfully in that conversation between Anand and Praveen that he began to weep. All the years of bitterness and anger Praveen had stored up inside towards God and others flowed out of him through his tears. From
that day on wards he committed himself, just as he was, to becoming a faithful disciple of Jesus the Messiah.
In the end, had it not been for his disability, Praveen realized he would not have encountered Jesus so powerfully, if at all.
And Anand would not have met Praveen had he not been sent according to Jesus’ world transforming strategy that unfolded in the days following His triumphal entry.
Palm Sunday reminds us how life-changing an encounter with Jesus can be…but it’s not always what we expect.
It also reminds us of Jesus’ strategy for transforming the world…through Holy Spirit empowered Ambassadors. Your gift helps us send Ambassadors like Anand to facilitate an encounter between the Praveens of South Asia and Jesus. We need your partnership and prayer to send our Ambassadors to the marginalized and disabled all across the Indian subcontinent. Please donate here.
Tim Swauger, President
UPDATE ON PRAVEEN: Since his first encounter with Jesus Praveen has not stopped sharing about his faith. He’s a regular at our youth camps and shares how God brought him out of despair to experience true joy! Some in his village were not happy with his new found faith and began persecuting him. In spite of this, he started a budding house church that is beginning to grow. He was also able to obtain a job as a computer instructor at his village elementary school thanks to the computer skills he learned at our center.