But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols? For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. (1 Corinthians 8:9-12 NASB)
For a long time I have wanted to add to the preferential option for the poor a similar divine concern for the broken-hearted. “The Lord is near to the broken hearted, and saves all those who are crushed in spirit,” writes the psalmist. And likewise also the weary (Isaiah 40:31 and Matthew 11:28, for example), and children, and outcasts… So in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians today, I was drawn to the emphasis on the weaker brothers and sisters in Christ. These are (like us) those for whom Christ died. Not only that, but these brothers and sisters are “the least” to which Christ refers and with whom he identifies: whatever we do them, we do to Christ himself.
Passages like this always call to my mind people with intellectual disabilities. This is in part because I have a daughter with Down Syndrome, and I realized long ago that I was no closer to God because I knew some theology that she doesn’t. And it is in part because of the general disregard for people with such disabilities in contemporary culture. Last month, Richard Dawkins suggested that it is immoral to allow a baby with Down Syndrome to be born. (This infuriates and saddens me, but I won’t dwell on it here.) What we do to those with intellectual disabilities–who might very well fall into the category of “lacking knowledge” in Paul’s letter–we do to Christ himself.
The whole orientation of our Christian practice ought to favor the weak, the downtrodden, the poor, the refugee, the mentally disabled–those for who Christ died. I know I often forget that–I think about writing my books and get caught up in the stresses and strains of my daily life. I forget that in my daughter, in my children, in all those around me who most need Christ’s care, strength, and protection, I have not just those for whom Christ died, but Christ himself.