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(Read this series from its beginning here.)
In our reading this week, Jesus uses his actions of justice and liberation to validate his ministry to the imprisoned John:
“The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.”
Each of these, except for leprosy, is from the book of Isaiah:
“Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,
and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
and streams in the desert.” (Isaiah 35:5-16)
“In that day the deaf will hear the words of the scroll,
and out of gloom and darkness
the eyes of the blind will see.
Once more the humble will rejoice in the LORD;
the needy will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 29:18-19)
“But your dead will live, LORD;
their bodies will rise—
let those who dwell in the dust
wake up and shout for joy—
your dew is like the dew of the morning;
the earth will give birth to her dead.” (Isaiah 26:19)
“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners.” (Isaiah 61:1)
It’s my opinion that the gospel writers add leprosy to this list because its concrete personal suffering and social effects were an appropriate metaphor at the time for Roman Imperialism’s destructive effects on rural communities. (For more on this, read our October eSight, Trading Individualism for Community.)
But the list is complicated. Folks without the ability to see, or hear, or have difficulty moving have their disability listed alongside leprosy and death and that is another example of the ableism in these ancient stories. We can glean much from the gospels while also being honest about how our stories have harmed those with different experiences from the stories’ authors. The gospel stories were written from the perspective of non-disabled people and have harmed people with disabilities. (For more on this, see The Disabled God: Toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability by Nancy L Eiesland. This volume was on Renewed Heart Ministries’ recommended reading list in 2022.)
Today, we can acknowledge how the ableism in our gospels stories has born harmful fruit, and in the spirit of our Jesus story, do better.
One item in this list that does resonate with me deeply this year is the last phrase, which sums up Jesus’ message as good news to the poor.
We’ll discuss this, next.
(Read Part 3)