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Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Is 43:18-19, 21-22, 24b-25; 2 Cor 1:18-22; Mk 2:1-12

February 19, 2012

A recent development in biblical studies involves recasting "disability as a complex mode of interpreting human difference, not unlike gender, race, or sexuality" (Avalos, Melcher, Schipper, 4). In conversation with the growing body of scholarship in Disability Studies, these perspectives bring new questions to texts, challenging interpretations that often reflect "illness and bodily difference" as indicative of "moral failing, a punishment for generational waywardness from Christian teachings, violent tests of divine affliction, and non-disabled charity opportunities" (Mitchell and Snyder,183).

Among the texts that receive increased attention are the miraculous healings in the gospels. This week's narrative in Mark about the unnamed "paralytic" and four anonymous friends invite such new questions in light of these emerging areas of academic inquiry arising from the experiences of interpreters who themselves identify as "disabled" and/or have been labeled as such by others. Some of these insights may be a source of discomfort to those among us considered able-bodied because they often critique assumptions that evaluate ableness/disability out of paradigms of impairment or pathology. The pastoral implications of perceiving disabilities through these lenses are evident in the ways that conditions which impact the senses, health or mobility are used as metaphors for lack of faith or moral laxity. For example how often are the terms "blind" or "deaf" unreflectively employed in preaching and teaching to imply a failure to comprehend God's Word or to respond to injustices that defile the Reign of God? Disability Studies scholars remind biblical interpreters that "disability" is an intricate part of a complex matrix of individual and social identity. Whether intentionally or not, metaphors communicate exclusion and inclusion.

 

This gospel also raises questions about the role of such miracles in supporting positions that seek to erase difference. Disability scholars and university professors David Mitchell and Sharon Snyder challenge all to consider "the acceptance of disabled people can no longer be predicated on the perverse interests that underwrite fantasies of erasure, cure, or elimination of bodily difference. Such longings for human similitude ultimately avoid rather than engage the necessity of providing provisions for our meaningful inclusion in social life" (183). This resistance to be excluded or rendered invisible also is evident in the late theologian Nancy Eiesland's groundbreaking book The Disabled God: Toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability. Is it only possible to be a fully active participant in church or society, if one meets normative criteria of "ableness"? While our Christian tradition teaches that all are created in the divine image, do our interpretations of sacred texts betray an option for physical and mental "wholeness" as hidden criteria for the imago Dei?

 

Curiously, Mark's account of this creative means of gaining access never explicitly states that the paralytic and friends were looking for a healing. It seems that they sought access so they could join the crowd eager to be a part of Jesus' preaching event at home. From an alternate angle, Jesus' initial response, "Child, your sins are forgiven," may be an affirmation of the full humanity of the paralytic. In other words, Jesus affirms that like everyone else in the crowd, and indeed, like all who are made in God's image, this one too was capable of both sin and grace.

 

By Carmen Nanko-Fernandez, Associate Professor of Pastoral Ministry and Director Ecumenical Doctor of Ministry

Hector Avalos, Sarah J. Melcher, and Jeremy Schipper, eds. "This Abled Body: Rethinking Disabilities in Biblical Studies" (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2007).
David Mitchell, Sharon Snyder. "'Jesus Thrown Everything Off Balance': Disability and Redemption in Biblical Literature," in This Abled Body, 173-183.

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