Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Today, we invite you to explore disability, healing, and cure in the Jesus narratives with the help of scholar Kathy Black; engage Catholic Social Teaching, Dignity of the Human Person, disability theology, and “the Christian cure agenda;” and embody disability liberation with the help of “Meditation on the Body of God” by Bekah Anderson, MDiv., activist Imani Barbarin, and The Disability Theology Discussion Group.
Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Israelites came to the desert of Sinai and pitched camp.
While Israel was encamped there in front of the mountain,
Moses went up to YHWH,
and the Most High called him from the mountain, saying,
“Say this to the house of Leah and Rachel and Jacob,
declare this to the daughters and sons of Israel,
‘You yourselves have seen what I did with the Egyptians,
how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.
From this you know that now,
if you obey my voice and hold fast to my Covenant,
you will be my very own,
dearer to me than all other people,
though all the earth is mine.
I will count you a priestly people, a consecrated nation.’
Those are the words you are to speak
to the daughters and sons of Israel.”
Response: We are God’s people and the sheep of God’s pasture.
Make a joyful noise to God, / all the lands!
Serve God with gladness! / Come into God’s presence with singing!
R: We are God’s people and the sheep of God’s pasture.
Know that Our God is good!
The Most High made us, and we belong to this Creator;
We are God’s people / and the sheep of God’s pasture.
R: We are God’s people and the sheep of God’s pasture.
For Our God is good; / God’s steadfast love endures forever,
And God’s faithfulness to all generations.
R: We are God’s people and the sheep of God’s pasture.
At the appointed time, when we were still powerless,
Christ died for us godless people.
It is not easy to die even for a good person
— though of course for someone really worthy,
there might be someone prepared to die —
but the proof of God’s love is that Christ died for us
even while we were still sinners.
Now that we have been justified by Christ’s blood,
it is all the more certain that we will be saved by Christ from God’s wrath.
For if we were reconciled to God by Christ’s death while we were God’s enemies,
how much more certain that we who have been reconciled will be saved by Christ’s life!
Not only that, we go so far as to make God our boast
through our Savior Jesus Christ,
through whom we have now received reconciliation.
Editor’s Note: Several healing miracles of Jesus are recounted in the Gospel of Matthew immediately before this passage assigned for the 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A). One of these miracles – that of the woman with the hemorrhage (Matthew 9:20-22) – is assigned to the Monday of the 14th Week in Ordinary Time, meaning most Catholics won’t hear it. Our commentator has expanded her reflection below on the readings to include this miracle.
At the sight of the crowds,
Jesus’ heart was moved with pity
because they were distressed and dejected,
like sheep without a shepherd.
Jesus said to the disciples,
“The harvest is bountiful but the laborers are few.
Beg the overseer of the harvest
to send laborers out to gather the harvest.”
Jesus summoned the Twelve,
and gave them authority to expel unclean spirits
and to heal sickness and diseases of all kinds.
These are the names of the twelve apostles:
the first were Simon, nicknamed Peter — that is, “Rock” —
and his brother Andrew;
then James, begot of Zebedee, and his brother John;
Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas; Matthew, the tax collector;
James, begot of Alphaeus; Thaddeus; Simon the Zealot;
and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus.
These twelve Jesus sent out after giving them the following instructions:
“Do not visit Gentile regions, and do not enter a Samaritan town.
Go instead to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
As you go, make this proclamation:
‘The reign of heaven has drawn near.’
“Heal those who are sick, raise the dead,
cure leprosy, expel demons.
You received freely — now freely give.”
The Inclusive Lectionary © 2022 FutureChurch. All rights reserved.
The inclusive language psalms:
Leach, Maureen, O.S.F. and Schreck, Nancy, O.S.F., Psalms Anew: A Non-sexist Edition
(Dubuque, IA: The Sisters of St. Francis, 1984).
Used with permission.
Addressing “Cure agenda”
Editor’s Note: Several healing miracles of Jesus are recounted in the Gospel of Matthew immediately before passage assigned for the 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A). One of these miracles – that of the woman with the hemorrhage (Matthew 9:20-22) – is assigned to the Monday of the 14th Week in Ordinary Time, meaning most Catholics won’t hear it. Our commentator has expanded her reflection on the readings to include this miracle.
Cure miracles abound in our Gospel narratives. In our Christian Testament, we are told that Jesus heals people who are blind and D/deaf, people who cannot speak or walk, people who are chronically ill or Mad, and others who are sick and disabled. For countless Christians, Jesus’s cure miracles are foundational to his ministry, and foundational to their understanding of who Jesus is and what he came to do. While many find comfort in these stories of Jesus’s curing ministry, disabled people frequently find these stories uncomfortable at best and painful at worst. Interpretations of these cure passages frequently associate disability with sin or lack of faith, and associate the curing or eradication of disability with God’s will, perfection, and faithfulness. For disabled people who can’t or don’t want to be cured, who are and will remain disabled, it can be hard to find a home in Jesus’s ministry and in our Christian narratives without becoming an object for cure, a metaphor for the nondisabled, or a reminder of sin and faithlessness. Thankfully, Dr. Kathy Black, a disability-focused Bible scholar, provides us with a disability-inclusive take on many of these cure passages. In A Healing Homiletic: Preaching and Disability, Kathy Black explores Gospel stories of Jesus curing disabled people, reviews common interpretations, and offers a hermeneutic, or an approach to preaching on the passage, that is welcoming, affirming, and inclusive of disabled people who are not, and have no interest in being, cured.
In her overview of the healing we encounter in today’s Gospel, the healing of the person we usually refer to as the “hemorrhaging woman,” Black suggests that we understand this woman, who we are told has been sick for 12 years, as having a chronic illness, probably relating to menstruation. This would have made her, her family, and all she touched “unclean” and “impure,” leading to cultural isolation and exclusion. Traditionally, interpretations of this passage focus on the faith of the woman as instrumental in her healing process — our text tells us that Jesus even told the woman, “Your faith has saved you” — but Black cautions us against messages that imply or make explicit that prayer or faith can be a suitable replacement for medical treatment. Additionally, messages implying that disabled people can be “saved” or cured if only they have enough faith or pray hard enough imply that disabled people who are not cured do not have enough faith or strong enough prayer. This can lead to assumptions that disabled people who continue to be disabled are sinful, faithless, or otherwise bad or immoral. Instead of repeating these messages, Black wonders if we could understand the woman coming to Jesus in “sheer desperation” after 12 years of poverty, pain, and alienation.
Black suggests that the most shocking aspect of the interaction between Jesus and this woman is not the woman’s illness ending, but rather Jesus engaging her in conversation and even calling her “daughter,” even as she is “unaccompanied in public… ‘unclean,’ and…has clearly broken every rule in the book.” Black writes, “By [conversing with the woman], Jesus turns upside down not only the accepted concepts of honor and status, but also what is deemed appropriate and inappropriate, acceptable and unacceptable behavior.” Black connects Jesus’s countercultural engagement with this disabled woman to our own responsibility to transform the ways society treats those on the margins, especially in relation to people of different genders, different cultures, and different sexual orientations. She tells us, “Jesus did not abide by the conventional rules,” and offers Jesus’s actions in this passage as a model that can help us as we work to change the “rules” that exclude so many and instead create a more inclusive and just world for all.
Kathy Black is Gerald H. Kennedy Professor of Homiletics and Liturgics at the Claremont School of Theology. An ordained elder in The United Methodist Church, Dr. Black has served as college chaplain, associate pastor and the founding pastor of a deaf church. Her research and teaching interests center on feminist liturgy, multicultural worship, emergent worship styles, comparative ritual practices, Liturgical Art, and ministry with persons with disabilities.
Commentary by Allison Connelly-Vetter
Engage Catholic Social Teaching
Catholic Social Teaching (CST) has everything to do with disability, inclusion, and transforming our culture. In regards to disability, I think especially of CST’s emphasis on the Dignity of the Human Person, which requires us to understand human beings in their fullness, as their full, current selves, and not as we want them to be. This ties in to what we touched on in the “Explore” section above: a phenomenon that many Christian disability theologians have coined “the Christian cure agenda,” or the Christian obsession with cure.
Black disabled activist Imani Barbarin, on social media as @CrutchesAndSpice, writes of how strangers frequently stop her in public to pray that she would be cured – once, this happened to her 12 separate times in one day. These unwanted prayers also often involve non consensual and unsolicited touch — again, from total strangers — such as a laying on of hands or touching an impaired body part. This happens all the time: Rev. Matthew Arguin, a Christian minister with Cerebral Palsy, describes an experience with a stranger in a mall who aggressively asserted that sufficient belief in Jesus would cure his need for a wheelchair. It’s safe to assume that pretty much any disabled person you know has experienced some manifestation of this “cure agenda” at one point or another in their disability journey.
While the “cure agenda” requires us to understand disabled people as temporary, sinful, or prayer objects, Catholic Social Teaching and the Dignity of the Human Person require us to understand disabled people as full, whole, and good. As a field, disability theology grapples with this question of cure on a regular basis, and theologians have a variety of perspectives. As explored above, many disability theologians view the work of Jesus as a radical inclusion into full communion with the community.
In today’s world, Jesus’s “cure” could be installing an elevator in the church building, or hiring an ASL interpreter for Sunday Mass. Other theologians think it’s important to focus on the harm that these narratives have done, to understand them as “products of their time.” Frequently, these theologians focus on ways that our religious institutions are complicit in ableism, or discrimination against disabled people, helping to create a world in which disabled people are disenfranchised and harmed. Still other disability theologians understand these cure miracles as instances in which Jesus satisfied a medical need pro-bono, regardless of “pre-existing conditions,” an ancient parallel to universal healthcare. Regardless of how we interpret these texts, it is important to understand that insisting on cure for disabled people can not only be harmful, it can perpetuate the very oppression that Catholic Social Teaching calls us to oppose.
Lastly, it feels important to note here that being conscious and inclusive of disability and thoughtful about cure is important at all times for preaching, ministry, and community life because disabled folks are already in your community or congregation, whether you know it or not. One in every four adults in the United States experience disability at some point in their life, so if your ministry involves more than four people – including coworkers! – you more than likely are in ministry and community with disabled people.
A Contemplative Exercise
“Meditation on the Body of God,” by Bekah Anderson, MDiv (Adapted for length):
Imagine the body of God.
Imagine it with all the genders and races and physical descriptions of the world. God is male and female and both and neither and all. God is black and brown and olive and tan. And God has every ability, and every disability in the world.
God walks, God limps, God rolls, God crawls. God gets where God needs to be, gets to us, however God can.
God’s mind works with the speed – and sometimes the randomness – of ADHD. God feels pain with the depths of depression, and energy like an episode of mania. God hears voices: the voices of all people and all living things. God has no one way of solving problems. Sometimes God moves from step to step with the most analytic of minds. Sometimes God makes great intuitive leaps that cannot be explained. Sometimes God gets stuck in a loop because the present, whether good or bad, is the time where God lives.
God paints with their feet and reads with their hands. God can dance by swaying and shuffling, and sing by making noises that are not words, but express emotions that words cannot.
God is too busy reaching out to us to be concerned that they cannot see. God is too busy feeling the rhythms of music in their bones to worry about what it sounds like. God is too busy loving, loving with all God’s arrhythmic heart to be anything but grateful for the body they have.
Is it any wonder that we have trouble grasping God, when God’s body does not move the way we expect a body to move? Is it any wonder we have trouble understanding God when God speaks with the slurred words of Cerebral Palsy? Is it any wonder that we cannot comprehend God, who bears the chronic pain of the suffering of the world?
How can we come closer to this being beyond our comprehension, this bodymind that meets none of our expectations?
When we pray that all of this may be so; when we pray to love all bodies and minds; when we pray to be both broken and whole at once: we are praying to be more like God.
Imani Barbarin is a Black disability rights and inclusion activist and speaker who uses her digital and social media platforms to create conversations engaging the disability community. Born with cerebral palsy, Imani often writes, speaks, and shares from her perspective as a disabled Black woman. She can be found blogging at CrutchesAndSpice.com, on Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok as @CrutchesAndSpice, and she hosts the podcast Crutches and Spice.
Barbarin’s writing and social media provide a window for the non-disabled into disabled life while forming community among disabled people. As a Black woman, she demands that white disabled people take racism and anti-Blackness more seriously. In the last few years she has created over a dozen trending hashtags including #PatientsAreNotFaking, #ThingsDisabledPeopleKnow, #AbledsAreWeird, and more. These hashtags allow disabled folks the opportunity to share their perspectives and force the world to take notice.
She describes herself with these words: “I use my skills to advocate for the representation, inclusion and empowerment of disabled people at the intersections of race and feminism both in the United States and globally. Familiar with the ways in which stereotypes and preconceived notions isolate disabled people and dictate the ways in which we interact with the world, I seek to break every single one of them.” Imani is from the Philadelphia area and holds a Masters in Global Communications from the American University of Paris. She currently serves as the Communications Director for a nonprofit in Pennsylvania.
The Disability Theology Discussion Group is a space for disabled, neurodivergent, Mad, mentally ill, chronically ill folks to share and grow spiritually and to explore theological resources in disabled community. The group is gathered and guided by Allison Connelly-Vetter (she/her) and Bekah Anderson (she/her), who are both disabled queer Christian women with Master of Divinity degrees from Union Theological Seminary. Group members come from theologically and denominationally diverse backgrounds including Catholic, Protestant, Quaker, Pagan, agnostic/a-religious, and everything in between. The Disability Theology Discussion Group is LGBTQ+ and polyamory inclusive and is open to those who can affirm LGBTQ and polyamorous identities. The group gathers monthly for about an hour and a half, although this group runs on crip time, which understands that disabled people often interact with time differently than nondisabled people do.
Gatherings include a grounding/centering meditation; a check-in/sharing time; a discussion (often in breakout rooms) on a book chapter, poem, song, art piece, or video; and a closing prayer with time for intercessions/intentions. The Disability Theology Discussion Group meets via Zoom because members live in many different parts of the country, and meets at different times each month to accommodate the wide range of schedules, time zones, and needs.
More than anything, the Disability Theology Discussion Group is deeply committed to the JOYFUL and holy practice of accessibility for all gatherings. Group members have diverse disabilities and needs, and are dedicated to doing everything possible to meet the needs and include to the fullest way possible each person who joins the space.
To connect with the Disability Theology Discussion Group, email DisabilityTheologyDiscussion@gmail.com.
Image description: Against a deep blue background is an image of Jesus in a wheelchair, a book in one hand with the other raised, surrounded by golden stars. He wears a teal and orange robe. Around him, also surrounded by golden stars are people with disabilities protesting, speaking, and living.