As the father of two sons with autism, and as a man who studies scripture, I can’t help but wonder: Could Jesus and the prophets have been autistic?
As depicted in the Bible, Jesus and the prophets exhibit some autistic tendencies, including child-like innocence, occasional indifference to social norms despite potential consequences, and an affinity for numbers. One particularly strong characteristic Jesus and the Prophets share can be found in people with Asperger’s—a specific form of autism. That characteristic is, being brutally honest despite the social costs.
I don’t make this comparison to identify weaknesses in our Godly heroes, but to testify to qualities I’ve come to admire in my sons. Their unfiltered innocence and candor are behaviors Jesus himself admired in children. He told us that unless you become like a little child, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven. (Matthew 18:3). And, indeed, both of my sons are fearless truth tellers, despite society’s discomfort with that. Their faith tells them God likes that. The prophet Jeremiah found strength in that knowledge despite the societal costs it brought. This is from Sunday’s first reading from Jeremiah (Jer 20:8-13):
The word of the LORD has brought me reproach and derision all day long. I say I will not mention him, I will no longer speak in his name. But then it is as if fire is burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding back, I cannot! Yes, I hear the whisperings of many: “Terror on every side! Denounce! Let us denounce him!” All those who were my friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine. … But the LORD is with me, like a mighty champion.
As for that affinity for numbers, the excerpt from Paul’s letter to the Romans that we read this Sunday (Rom 5:12-15) sounds like he gave a lot of thought to the one-to-many ratio of unfairness that people with autism face as they make their way through life. A different sense of proportion is at work—none of this one-for-one fairness the world craves. People like my sons tend to set an example for achieving lofty goals while facing long odds—just as Jesus set for himself the extraordinary goal of saving billions of lives:
For if by the transgression of the one the many died, how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ overflow for the many.
Someone with autism rarely shows the kind of artifice and sophistication “normal” people lacquer all over themselves to impress others. My sons wear their true identities like their skin—on the outside, for all to see. There’s a Christ-like fearlessness in this. Jesus exposes this tendency in Sunday’s gospel reading (Mt 10:26-33) as he speaks to the 12 underdogs he chose to spread his example.
“Fear no one. Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known. What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.”
Could Jesus have been autistic? If so, he inherited his otherworldly sense of proportion from his heavenly Father—who sees great value in the most humble of life’s unnoticed details:
“Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin?” Jesus continues. “Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
When I grow up I hope to approach the worth my sons have accrued. The authenticity they exemplify is the key to God’s Kingdom.