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Disabled But Not Excluded

by Carmen 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.

This reflection was originally published at

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Author information Carmen Nanko-Fernández

Associate Professor of Pastoral Ministry
Director of the Ecumenical Doctor of Ministry Program
Director of the Certificate in Pastoral Studies

M.A., D.Min., Catholic University of America

Carmen Nanko-Fernández is a Catholic pastoral theologian with extensive experience in ministry, teaching, and administration. Her scholarship reflects an appreciation for contextual and postcolonial theologies and has focused on areas of US Hispanic/Latino/a theologies, Catholic social teaching, interreligious and intercultural relations, youth, and on the intersections between faith and popular culture with particular attention to béisbol.

Nanko-Fernández was the 2008-09 President of the Academy of Catholic Hispanic Theologicans of the United States (ACHTUS), co-editor of the New Theology Review, convener of the Latino/a section of the Catholic Theological Society of America (CTSA), co-chair of the Committee on Underrepresented Ethnic and Racial Groups (CUERG) of the CTSA, and co-chair of the Latino/a Religion, Culture, and Society section of the American Academy of Religion (AAR).

Her publications include the chapters "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 (Orlando O. Espín, ed. 2009), “Language, Community and Identity,” in Handbook of Latina/o Theologies, "(Edwin Aponte and Miguel de la Torre, eds. 2006), and "Justice Crosses the Border: The Preferential Option for the Poor in the United States," in A Reader in Latina Feminist Theology: Religion and Justice (María Pilar Aquino et al, eds. 2002).  Among her  journal articles are “Locating the Daily: Lo cotidiano as a Locus for Exploring Christian--Jewish Relations latinamente,” Apuntes  (2009); “We Are Not Your Diversity, We Are the Church! Ecclesiological Reflections from the Marginalized Many,” Perspectivas: Occasional Papers [Fall 2006]; “¡Cuidado!  The Church Who Cares and Pastoral Hostility” in New Theology Review (2006); “The World Series in Ordinary Time,” in Preach (2005). 

She has published a number of articles in the Journal of Hispanic / Latino Theology  [] including “Theologizing en Espanglish: The Imago Dei in the Vernacular” (2008), and “Elbows on the Table: Ethics of Doing Theology/ A U.S.  Hispanic Perspective” (2003).  Nanko-Fernández has also authored several theological perspective pieces on Sunday readings for Lectionary Homiletics in print and online as well as for year A of the Feasting on the Word series.

Affiliations: National Advisory Committee, Center of the Study of Latino/a Catholicism, University of San Diego.

Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion, Member of the leadership team for the Latina/o Faculty Colloquy [2008-2009]

Books written by and featuring Carmen Nanko-Fernández

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