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Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 4, 2024

Today’s Invitation

Today we invite you to explore Job’s suffering and the healing story in Mark through the lens of disability theology; engage Catholic thought on the human Christ, and the reality of ableism in our churches; and embody a better understanding of disability with the help of St. Martín De Porres, the first Black saint to be canonized from the Americas, who embodied the ethic of disability Justice, and Mary Lou Williams’s Black Christ of the Andes.


Commentary by Marcus Hyde

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time


Reading 1

Job 7:1-4, 6-7

Is not a person’s life in this world nothing but drudgery?
Are our days here not like those of a hired hand?
Like a laborer vainly longing for shade
or a hired hand waiting for meager wages,
so I am assigned months of futility;
my only possessions are nights of misery.
When I go to bed I wonder, “How long before I get up?”
— but the night drags on, as I toss and turn.
My days pass as swiftly as a weaver’s shuttle,
and they come to an end without hope.
YHWH, remember that my life is just a breath,
and I will never experience joy again.

Responsorial Psalm

Psalm 147

Response: God heals the brokenhearted.

Praise God, who is good, / sing praise to Our God, who is gracious.
It is fitting to praise God.
God rebuilds Jerusalem, / gathers the exiles of Israel.
R: God heals the brokenhearted.

God heals the brokenhearted / and binds up all their wounds.
God knows the number of the stars / and calls them each by name.
R: God heals the brokenhearted.

Great is Our God and mighty in power, / there is no limit to God’s wisdom. Our God sustains the
lowly / and casts the wicked to the ground.
R: God heals the broken-hearted.

Reading 2

1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23

Not that I do boast about preaching the Gospel;
I am under compulsion and have no choice.
I am ruined if I do not preach the Gospel!
If I do it willingly, I have my reward;
if unwillingly, I am nonetheless entrusted with a charge.
What then is my reward?
It is simply this: that when preaching, I offer the Gospel free of charge
and do not assert the authority the Gospel gives me.
Although I am not bound to anyone,
I put myself into the service of all
so as to win over as many as possible.
To the weak I became weak to win the weak.
I have become all things to all people,
that I might save at least some of them.
In fact, I do all that I do for the sake of the Gospel
in the hope of having a share in its blessing.

Gospel

Mark 1:29-39

Upon leaving the synagogue,
Jesus entered Simon’s and Andrew’s house with James and John.
Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever,  and immediately they told Jesus about her.
Jesus went over to her, took her by the hand and helped her up, and the fever left her.
Then she went about her work.
After sunset, as evening drew on, they brought to Jesus all who were ill and possessed by demons.
Everyone in the town crowded around the door.
Jesus healed many who were sick with different diseases, and cast out many demons.
But Jesus would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew who he was.
Rising early the next morning, Jesus went off to a lonely place in the desert and prayed there.
Simon and some companions managed to find Jesus and said to him,
“Everybody is looking for you!”
Jesus said to them,
“Let us move on to the neighboring villages so that I may proclaim the Good News there also.
That is what I have come to do.”
So Jesus went into their synagogues proclaiming the Good News and expelling demons
throughout the whole of Galilee.


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.

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Miraculous healings through the lens of disability justice


Today, February fourth, is the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time and the Birthday of Rosa Parks (1913-2005), the infamous NAACP organizer and activist who stood up to a set of illegitimate barriers imposed on Black people in the United States by sitting down and refusing to move from the “Whites Only” section of a public bus. Although certainly not the first to defy racist Jim Crow Laws, her protest helped galvanize the Civil Rights Movement and eventually led to the desegregation of public facilities across the country. Disability rights activists took inspiration from Parks (who was also disabled by chronic bursitis), as well as the Civil Rights and Black Power movements of the 1960s, when they fought for legislation to end discrimination against people with disabilities. Both the fight to enforce anti-discrimination regulations from the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the fight to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) included cross-racial organizing, civil disobedience and arrests, and the ADA itself was modeled after the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 of Parks’s era. 

Today, as we read the book of Job, and a miraculous healing story from Mark, we look at the meaning of disability, barriers, physical embodiment and suffering through the lens of Disability Justice. 

Our readings begin with the disconcerting book of Job, where the protagonist laments his existence, and compares it to slavery (7:2). Job is the first book of “writings” (In Hebrew: Ketuvim), or “wisdom” books, of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament (In the Jewish tradition, known as the Tanakh). Job tells a story about a righteous man who God allows to be stripped of his wealth, family, and physical health. It is set in the Patriarchal Age, the chapters in the Bible that focus on the biblical patriarchs, and Job’s authorship is often attributed to Moses (who, according to tradition, authored the Torah) (see Rowley, H H., 1970, Job, 21-23). Job also draws on what was a much older folktale, foundational to the formation of Judaism, about a man contemplating the meaning of unjust suffering. The prophet Ezekiel includes Job in a list, alongside Noah and Daniel, of archetypal heroes of righteousness (Ezekiel 14:14-20). Many commentators, however, such as L.G. Perdue in Wisdom in Revolt: Metaphorical Theology in the Book of Job (1991) suggest that the story was likely added to and compiled in its current format around the time that Ezekiel and Daniel were written – two prophetic writings that contemplate the meaning of collective suffering – namely, the exile of the Jewish community and their political subjugation by the Babylonians (75-6). The book provides no simple answers to the meaning of suffering.

Job includes one of the few instances in scripture where the character of Satan (In Hebrew, יריב השטן, literally, “adversary”) is represented. “The Adversary” here convinces God to allow Job to be tested (1:6-12), but the story ascribes blame to God for having brought “evil” upon Job (42:11). Job’s friends famously accuse him of having done something to cause his own suffering (e.g., 15:4, 20:5). This story is perhaps best understood as a polemic against this widespread belief of divine retribution that Job’s friends articulate – that human suffering is attributable to wrongdoing. (e.g., 18:5; See The Social Context of the Book of Job, 764). As Job reminds his friends in today’s reading, suffering is the universal condition for all people: “Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery?” (7:1). 

South African theologian Pieter van der Zwan notes that the physical body plays an outsized role in this story compared to the rest of the Tanakh (2022, 2). Although the Hebrew word, חלה [to be sick, ill], never occurs in the book, Job’s body is portrayed negatively, as being afflicted by some unknown illness that has made his skin grow black and fall apart, and caused his body to burn with a fever (30:30: see also 19:17 describing his breath). These specific ailments would probably exclude Job from the religious community according to the laws in Leviticus 13-14. Further, when Job defends himself from his accusers, he explains that as a righteous person, he expressed explicit empathy and sacrificial charity to other disabled people – “I was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame” (29:15). As Zwan notes, these acts resonate with his own plight and undermine the discriminatory restrictions imposed on disabled people in Leviticus 21:18 – No man who has any defect may come near: no man who is blind or lame, disfigured or deformed.” Zwan suggests that by ascribing illness, deformity, and solidarity with other disabled people to the righteous man of Job, the story, 

“has a transgressive and yet liberating subtext, subverting the idealised body of his status quo. This subtle and veiled critique . . . can be interpreted from a psychoanalytic perspective on physical disability and illness, where the symptoms and alleged imperfections of the body quietly cry out against social and cultural injustice of which they are the projections and mirrors when the context has silenced a concern for the body because of a lack of compassion as it is in the situation of Job.”

There’s a similar critique of exclusionary religious laws embedded in today’s Gospel reading. To read this passage as a simple story of Jesus healing individual people would be to miss Mark’s purpose in sharing this story, and would require us to ignore the way in which biblical readers in the first century would have understood physical ailments. For context, it is helpful to consider two different modern anthropological approaches to understanding the social meaning of sickness. Theologian John Pilch describes in his book Healing in Mark (1985) that there is a different anthropological approach between disease and illness, disease being a biologically centered view and illness being a sociocultural perspective. In the time of Mark’s Gospel, only illness was able to be perceived. Thus, all healing stories did not necessarily include a biological healing, but definitely included a social and collective healing of illness (142, 149).  

Every major healing episode in Mark begins from this perspective. In the symbolic order of ancient Judaism, illness was always associated with impurity or sin, and thus required that the sick be excluded from religious community and the body politic. Jesus later defies this order by declaring a leper “whole” (1:41) and offering another leper social fellowship (14:3) – both actions that transgress the exclusionary regulations outlined in Leviticus 13:2-14:57. In other Gospels written after Mark, Jesus gives his disciples authority to cast out demons and “cure every disease and every illness” (Matthew 10:1; Luke 9:1-2). Healing throughout all of these episodes is never merely about restoring some physical function of an impaired individual, but about restoring a person to social participation and religious inclusion. (see Acts 3:1-10). But while healings are always symbolic, they are never impersonal. Thus, Mark depicts Jesus here as beginning his public ministry by offering care to a woman, Simon’s mother in law, within the intimacy of her home. (1:29-31). 

Commentary by Marcus Hyde


Marcus Hyde came to Catholicism through the Catholic Worker Movement. Catholic Workers fed him when he was homeless, gave him a copy of their paper, prayed with him, let him wash some dishes, and invited him to round table discussions “for the clarification of thought.” He eventually realized that the Catholic Church, with all its faults and warts, was still the church of the poor, and thus, where God dwells. After much foot-dragging, he converted. He now works as a public defender in New York City and rants often about theology and prison abolition.
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Engage Catholic Social Teaching

Disability Justice

The Second Vatican Council affirmed in its document Gaudium et spes (1965), “The Son of God…worked with human hands; he thought with a human mind. He acted with a human will, and with a human heart he loved. Born of the Virgin Mary, he has truly been made one of us, like us all things except sin” (no. 22). 

Disabled people make up the largest minority group in every country, comprising at least 50 million people in the United States alone according to the U.S. Department of Labor (this number is expectedly low because it relies on government regulatory standards, not lived realities).  Moreover, because disabilities can either be static or progressive, congenital or acquired, most people will experience some form of disability during their lifetimes. If God is fully human, then, does that mean God is also disabled? 

Nancy L. Eiesland, author of The Disabled God (1994), explains that the disabled community is not defined merely by impairments that disabled people have, but also, necessarily, by their relationships to others and to systems of power: “people with disabilities are distinguished not because of our shared physical, psychological, or emotional traits, but because ‘temporarily able-bodied’ persons single us out for different treatment…persons with disabilities constitute a minority group, shaped primarily by exclusion” (24). Disabled writer and activist Talila L. Lewis, is even more explicit, offering a comprehensive working definition of ableism which brings clarification to the political and social meaning of disability: 

“Able·ism – /ˈābəˌliz(ə)m/ noun: A system of assigning value to people’s bodies and minds based on societally constructed ideas of normalcy, productivity, desirability, intelligence, excellence, and fitness. These constructed ideas are deeply rooted in eugenics, anti-Blackness, misogyny, colonialism, imperialism, and capitalism. This systemic oppression leads to people and society determining people’s value based on their culture, age, language, appearance, religion, birth or living place, ‘health/wellness,’ and/or their ability to satisfactorily re/produce, ‘excel’ and ‘behave.’ You do not have to be disabled to experience ableism. (Definition updated January 2022).

Nancy L. Eiesland writes that, 

“In many denominations, discrimination against people with disabilities continues to be condoned. Churches lobbied for and received blanket exemption from the social standards of civil rights instituted by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Many religious bodies have continued to think of and act as if access for people with disabilities is a matter of benevolence and goodwill, rather than a prerequisite for equality and the foundation on which the church as a model of justice must rest. Yet the issue of physical disability has confronted the church perhaps most significantly as a theological challenge” (67).

The disabling theologies of most Christian traditions, Eiesland explains, have equated disabilities with sin – from codes of religious purity, to individualizing interpretations of Jesus’s healing ministry, the implicit theological assumption has equated “perfect” bodies with “wholeness” of the spirit. (see Leviticus 17-26; Hebrews 9:14). Disability is thus treated as tragically “marring the divine image in humans” (Eiesland, 71). In the same vein, physical afflictions become elevated to virtuous suffering when, and only when, they can be spoken of as trials of obedience. Eiesland refers to these teachings as a “subtle, but particularly dangerous theology” because they leave people with disabilities with only a few options: miraculous healing, heroic suffering, or exclusion (72). 

Eiesland challenges this theology by pointing to how God is presented as the embodied (incarnated) and the disabled Christ in the Gospel: 

“[A]t the resurrection, the disciples understood the person Jesus for who he really was… they saw not the suffering servant for whom the last and most important word was tragedy and sin, but the disabled God who embodied both impaired hands and feet and pierced side and the imago Dei. Paradoxically, in the very act commonly understood as the transcendence of physical life, God is revealed as tangible, bearing the representation of the body reshaped by injustice and sin into the fullness of the Godhead…Here is the resurrected Christ making good on the incarnational proclamation that God would be with us, embodied as we are, incorporating the fullness of human contingency and ordinary life into God… The disabled God is not only the One from heaven but the revelation of true personhood, underscoring the reality that full personhood is fully compatible with the experience of disability” (99-100).



Engage

A Contemplative Exercise


Today we invite you to contemplate on the Eucharist. Nancy L. Eiesland tells us that ableist theologies have often turned religious worship services into “rituals of degradation” for people who are disabled (92). The tragic irony, of course, is that Christians do not have an able-bodied God as their primal image in worship; rather, the disabled Christ offering grace through a ‘broken body’ is at the center of Christian piety, prayer, mission, and practice. As Eiesland suggests, Christ’s incarnation recognizes “that disability does not mean incomplete and that difference is not dangerous” (47). And Christ’s body broken in the Eucharist provides a powerful image of resistance to oppressive constructs of “normal” embodiment. Partaking in Christ’s body through the Eucharist is, to Eiesland, “a body practice” which “signifies solidarity and reconciliation: God among humankind, the temporarily able-bodied with people with disabilities and we ourselves with our own bodies” (116).



A Witness

St. Martín De Porres

St. Martín De Porres was a Peruvian lay brother of the Dominican Order, who was born to a formerly enslaved woman of African and Indigenous descent named Ana Velazquez, and a Spanish nobleman, Don Juan de Porras y de la Peña, who refused to recognize his child because he was born with his mother’s dark features. St. Martín was a gifted healer who challenged various types of ableism, including systemic racism, throughout his entire life – barriers imposed by Peruvian law, his own order, and the Church. 

As a young person, Martín apprenticed to become a barber and surgeon before seeking admission to the Dominicans of Holy Rosary Priory in Lima. However, as a child of an African and Indigenous mother, Martín was barred from becoming a full member of the order, and was initially forced to join as a “donado” – a volunteer or servant boy. Although not permitted to do so, Martín continued to practice barbering and healing and was credited with miraculous cures. After eight years of service, Martín’s prior, Juan de Lorenzana, decided to ignore the law and permit Martín to join as a member of the Third Order. Some Dominicans objected, referring to him with ableist slurs of “mulatto” and “illegitimate.” 

Tradition holds that Martín miraculously passed through locked doors on multiple occasions to care for sick brethren. And despite it violating the law, Martín cared for the African and Indigenous people outside of the convent. He disobeyed his own superior once by bringing a bleeding Indigenous person into the convent. When reprimanded, he told his superior, “I did not know that the precept of obedience took precedence over that of charity.” His superior relented and allowed him to follow his conscience in caring for the sick. On another occasion, when one of the brothers criticized Martín for giving his own bed up to an older person who was covered with ulcers, Martín told the brother, “Compassion, my dear Brother, is preferable to cleanliness.” 

A Community

Martin de Porres House of Hospitality

There is a wonderful interfaith community, Martin de Porres House of Hospitality, a soup kitchen and house of hospitality in San Francisco named after and dedicated to the anti-racist and anti-ableist work of St. Martín De Porres.



Art

Black Christ of the Andes

Image description: A black album cover with white outlines of hands reaching up from the bottom toward the title: “mary lou williams, Black Christ of the andes.”

Image description: A black album cover with white outlines of hands reaching up from the bottom toward the title: “mary lou williams, Black Christ of the andes.”

Mary Lou Williams was one of the most influential jazz musicians of all time. She was also a devoted convert to Catholicism who devoted her life to prayer and to caring for others in practical ways – she ran a hospitality house, for instance, for poor musicians and others struggling with substance use, sickness and disease. Williams would be the first person commissioned by the Vatican to compose a mass in the jazz idiom in 1969, but prior to this she had already released multiple musical meditations on the sacred life. Her first major religious composition was a cantata honoring St. Martín de Porres on her album, Black Christ of the Andes, released in 1964. 



Embody