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Disabled But Not Excluded

by Carmen M. Nanko-Fernández | February 16, 2012

Scripture Reflection for the seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (February 19, 2012)

Scripture Readings:
Isaiah 43:18-19, 21-22, 24b-25
Psalm 41
2 Corinthians 1:18-22
Mark 2:1-12

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.


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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Author information Carmen M. Nanko-Fernández

Professor of Hispanic Theology and Ministry and Director of the Hispanic Theology and Ministry Program
M.A., D.Min., The Catholic University of America

Carmen Nanko-Fernández is a Latin@ theologian with extensive experience in teaching, ministry and administration. She is a past President of the Academy of Catholic Hispanic Theologians of the United States (ACHTUS) and in 2012 received their Virgilio Elizondo Award for “distinguished achievement in theology.”

Her publications include the book Theologizing en Espanglish: Context, Community and Ministry (Orbis Books, 2010); several chapters in anthologies and numerous articles in theological and pastoral journals. Among the book chapters are: “Ordinary Theologies, Extraordinary Circumstances: Baseball at the Intersections of Faith and Popular Culture,” in Recovering 9/11 in New York, R. Fanuzzi & M. Wolfe, eds. (Cambridge Scholars Press, 2014); co-authored with Jean-Pierre Ruiz, “Dialogues in the Margins: The Biblia De Alba and the Future of Catholic-Jewish Understanding,” in Toward the Future: Essays on Catholic-Jewish Relations in Memory of Rabbi León Klenicki, C. Deutsch et al., eds. (Paulist Press, 2013); “Alternately Documented Theologies: Mapping Border, Exile and Diaspora,” in Religion and Politics in America's Borderlands, S. Azaransky, ed. (Lexington Books, 2013); “Creation: A Cosmo-politan Perspective” in In Our Own Voices: Latino/a  Renditions of Theology, B. Valentin, ed. (Orbis, 2010); “¡Despierta Iglesia! Reconfiguring Theologies of Ministry Latinamente” in Ministries in the Church, (ConciliumSeries (2010/1), S. Ross et al., eds. (SCM, 2010); "From Pájaro to Paraclete: Retrieving the Spirit of God in the Company of Mary,” in Building Bridges, Doing Justice: Constructing a Latino/a Ecumenical Theology, O. Espín, ed. (Orbis 2009); “Language, Community and Identity,” in Handbook of Latina/o Theologies, E. Aponte & M. de la Torre, eds. (Chalice Press, 2006); “Justice Crosses the Border: The Preferential Option for the Poor in the United States, ” in A Reader in Latina Feminist Theology: Religion and Justice, M. Aquino et al., eds. (University of Texas Press, 2002) and in translation in Glaube an der Grenze, Die US-amerikanische Latino-Theologie,R. Fornet-Betancourt, ed. (Herder, 2002); “Ordinary Theologies, Extraordinary Circumstances: Baseball at the Intersections of Faith and Popular Culture,” in Recovering 9/11 in New York, Robert Fanuzzi and Michael Wolfe, editors. Newcastle, UK: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2014, 68-87; "Lo Cotidiano as Locus Theologicus,” in The Wiley Blackwell Companion to Latino/a Theology, Orlando O. Espín, editor. Oxford, England: Wiley-Blackwell, 2015.

Nanko-Fernández’s scholarship reflects an appreciation for contextual and postcolonial theologies and focuses on areas of Latin@ theologies, Catholic social teaching, interreligious, ecumenical and intercultural relations, im/migration and the intersections between faith and popular culture with particular attention to béisbol. She has presented in a variety of academic and pastoral venues including the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.

Her editorial work includes service on the boards of the Feasting on the Gospels book series (Westminster John Knox), the Journal of Hispanic / Latino Theology, Horizons and asa pastco-editor of the New Theology Review. Nanko-Fernández was the convener of the Latin@ section of the Catholic Theological Society of America (CTSA), co-chair of the Committee on Underrepresented Ethnic and Racial Groups (CUERG) of the CTSA, co-chair of the Latino/a Religion, Culture, and Society section of the American Academy of Religion (AAR), longtime Treasurer of ACHTUS and a member of the leadership team for the Latina/o Faculty Colloquy sponsored by the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion (2008-2009). In March 2011 she was featured in an interview "Spanglish Lessons: Diversity and Theology," in U.S. Catholic She was editorial reviewer for Diálogo (DePaul University), a Latin@ theology submission (2012).

Currently Nanko-Fernández is researching and writing another book, ¡El Santo! Baseball and the Canonization of Roberto Clemente, which is under contract with the Sport and Religion series of Mercer University Press. With Gary Riebe-Estrella she is co-editor of the forthcoming Fortress Press book series Disruptive Cartographers: Remapping Theology Latinamente.

Books written by and featuring Carmen Nanko-Fernández

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