One of the most challenging experiences in life is observing our parents’ decline with age. Our hearts break when someone who was once vibrant and strong is now confined to a wheelchair or doesn’t remember who we are. My mom is in her 90’s and needs constant care. From a human perspective, it’s easy to think that her condition points to a ruined life with no purpose. But is this a correct assessment?
We tend to determine a person’s worth based on their contributions to society. For example, in early 2020, when doctors in Italy had to choose whom to treat because the hospitals were overwhelmed, age was a major criterion in their decision. They were acting on the belief that younger patients had more to offer society (I’m not condemning them, just making a point. They faced a horrible situation).
Age, of course, isn’t the only determining factor in gauging a person’s value. Illnesses and disabilities of all kinds influence our assessment – basically, anytime someone can’t produce the way we think they should.
Thank goodness we don’t have the final word in evaluating human life. God is the only one who can – by virtue of being our Creator – and he sees things completely differently than we do.
You may remember the passage in the Bible when, after the resurrection, Jesus asked Peter three times, “do you love me?” He then told Peter that “when you’re young, you can dress and go as you please, but in old age, someone else will dress you and lead you where you don’t want to go.” John adds that he said this to show how Peter would die and glorify God. (1)
Tradition tells us that Peter was crucified, but are Jesus’ words limited to that particular event? Jesus described what happens in old age: a condition of complete dependence. Even though most people don’t end up crucified like Peter – thank goodness! – we all become helpless and reliant on others if we live long enough. And some circumstances like accidents or illnesses can cause this to happen sooner.
Why do I mention this? Because this passage points to the fact that, regardless of our condition, we can still bring glory to God. I don’t think that Jesus’ words are limited to martyrdom but can apply to other situations of helplessness. Being in a wheelchair, living in a nursing home, or having any other limitations doesn’t take away from our purpose in life. God’s splendor and majesty can shine through everyone.
Jesus went on to tell Peter, “Follow me.” The disciple reacted in a very human way. Pointing to John, he asked, “what about him?” Peter apparently wasn’t thrilled with this prophecy concerning his future. Jesus answered by basically saying, “it’s none of your business.”
Don’t we behave a lot like Peter? We compare ourselves to others or want what they have. And yet Jesus calls us to follow him. He has his purposes for each one of us, and our worth never changes in his eyes. As long as we’re serving him, we can reflect God’s glory to others. Nothing, not even old age or disability, can change that.
(1) John 21:15-22