Body Parts

Friday, October 11, 2013 — Week of Proper 22, Year One

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office:

Psalms 140, 142 (morning) // 141, 143:1-11(12) (evening)

2 Kings 23:36-24:17

1 Corinthians 12:12-26

Matthew 9:27-34

Does the body need all of its parts? Our readings from the New Testament seem to assume so. Paul writes about the body’s need for each part—ear, eye, hand, food, nose, and even the “less honorable” parts (!). In the gospel, Jesus restores the eyesight of two blind men, and he empowers a mute person to speak. It’s easy to read these passages and think that the ultimate image of God’s desire for humanity is a body with fully-functioning parts.

But where is the good news in passages like these for those of us with physical and mental disabilities, for amputees, or even for people with an aching back? While some Bible passages reflect the patriarchal, ethnocentric, or heterosexist assumptions of their time, these readings seem to adopt the prejudice of ableism. In an ableist culture, people’s bodies are socially valued and included only when they are free from physical limitations.

Our first reading has a very different vision of a free and capable body . . . or the loss of that body’s wholeness and freedom. This passage tells the story of the Babylonian captivity, when King Nebuchadnezzar and his men besieged Jerusalem, took the royal family prisoner, raided the royal treasures, and cut all of the temple gold into pieces. The Scripture tells us that Nebuchadenezzar “carried away all Jerusalem, all the officials, all the warriors, ten thousand captives, all the artisans and the smiths.”

Well . . . not exactly “all Jerusalem.” The Babylonians made judgments about who was of value, and they brought “all the men of valor” as captives to Babylon. Who was left behind?: “the poorest people of the land.” In other words, the Babylonians said to the poor what the eye says to the hand in Paul’s letter: “I have no need of you.”

Such is our own Babylonian captivity. Our society tells people in so many ways, “I have no need of you.” We separate the people who appear capable—the powerful, the strong, and the skilled—from the people who seem to be of no use—the poor, the weak, and the uneducated or untrained. The Babylonians left the poor behind in a crumbling Jerusalem. We consign dispensable people to prisons, to inferior schools, to the doorstep of spaces and opportunities that are inaccessible to people with physical limitations.

Yet the highest value for God’s people is not to have bodies and minds that are capable and valuable by worldly standards. Rather, God’s people are whole when they build communities that incorporate all of their members. What if we lived today highly conscious of the ways that our social habits and our institutions say, “I have no need of you”?

Then, we could seek to fulfill our common humanity by incorporating others as indispensable members of our communities.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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