Author Arthur Powers spent decades contemplating this novella which is a poetic tribute to those with intellectual disabilities. In his “alternative Gospel”, he provides a riveting narrative which puts the reader into the point of view of an intellectually disabled young man named Jotham who encounters and follows Jesus in His earthly ministry. Life has been cruel to Jotham, his mother died, and his father and sister do not have the ability to love him as she did. He is depressed and confused until he finds Jesus, calls him Abba, and leaves home to follow Him.
Those with limited verbal ability experience the world as a series of sensations and emotions, and react rather decidedly when they are either repulsed or attracted to a person. My daughter Christina, who has Down's syndrome, makes up her mind instantly whether a person is trustworthy and I have found her judgment remarkable. These singular individuals see with their hearts, rather than their eyes and are less likely to be misled, as Judas was, by externals.
Even St Peter is less in tune with Christ than Jotham, who from the first minute he encounters Christ, and sees the light in Him and follows him wholeheartedly. Only Our Lady emanates the same type of light which Jotham sees in her Son, and he immediately bonds with her, as he senses the love of his mother in her and calls her Mama. Jotham merely wants to bask in this light, which he sees more clearly than all the other disciples because of his pure soul: his fierce devotion to Christ is unencumbered by ambition or fear of ridicule. “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.” Matt. 5:8.
At times this book brought me to tears as it unveiled the astonishing spiritual truth; that you do not need to employ your intellect to know Jesus, you only need to open your heart. Power’s simple tale reveals his profound understanding of the unique spiritual gifts the disabled offer the world. Jesus had people like Jotham and my daughter in mind when He said, “Unless you become like little children you shall not enter the Kingdom of God.” Matt. 18:3
The most moving part of “The Book of Jotham” is the account from Jotham’s perspective of Christ’s Passion and death. Powers is not content to leave Jotham as helpless observer as the other disciples were, but, because of his disability, he becomes an active participant in the salvific suffering of Christ. He suffers the same type of derision, abuse, and rejection Our Lord experiences and responds with the same forgiving love.
Providence College Theology Professor Dr. Paul Gondreau, whose disabled son Dominic was embraced by Pope Francis before the eyes of the world on Easter Sunday explains it this way:
“Christ’s resurrection from the Cross proclaims that the love he offers us, the love that we, in our turn, are to show others, is the REAL reason he endured the Cross in the first place. Our stony hearts are transformed into this Christ-like love, and thereby empowered to change hatred into love, only through the Cross. And no one shares in the Cross more intimately than the disabled. And so the disabled become our models and our inspiration.”
The Book of Jotham is exceptional Lenten reading, not only because it allows us to re-imagine the death and resurrection of Christ from the point of view of the disabled, but because that perspective is one which God, in His great love, has given us as a spiritual guide.