The Bodies We Inhabit

Herb Montgomery | August 26, 2022

To listen to this week’s eSight as a podcast episode click here.


I love the emphasis in the end of this passage. It’s not that “they” will be blessed. It’s that “you” will be blessed. The text defines that blessing as an extrinsic, extra bestowal of blessing at what Luke’s readers understood in their worldview as a future “resurrection of the righteous.” What I would rather have us understand is that there is an intrinsic blessing and value that people of varying experiences can bring to a community.


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched . . .

When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, Give this person your seat. Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Then Jesus said to his host, When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14:1, 7-14)

In Roman culture, people in the upper classes usually followed a meal with philosophical discussion and debate. The meal that Luke’s gospel describes in this week’s passage involves debate about some of Luke’s ethical favorites: humility and the inclusion of the marginalized, specifically people living in poverty or people with disabilities. These were groups that the historical Jesus had compassion on, and the author of Luke’s gospel is emphasizing them as the objects of compassion too.

This passage doesn’t introduce anything new about Jewish wisdom, but the ethic had deep roots in the Hebrew sacred texts:

Do not exalt yourself in the kings presence, and do not claim a place among his great men; it is better for him to say to you, Come up here,” than for him to humiliate you before his nobles. (Proverbs 25:6-7)

If they make you master of the feast, do not exalt yourself; be among them as one of their number. Take care of them first and then sit down; when you have fulfilled all your duties, take your place, so that you may be merry along with them and receive a wreath for your excellent leadership. (Sirach 32:1-2)

When pride comes, then comes disgrace; but wisdom is with the humble. (Proverbs 11:2)

For you [YHWH] deliver a humble people, but the haughty eyes you bring down. (Psalms 18:27)

This theme is found across the different version of the Jesus story we have today:

For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. (Matthew 23:12)

For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. (Luke 18:14b)

I do need to revisit something I wrote last week about the Jesus story’s shortcomings regarding people who live with disabilities. Nothing is ever simple, and the Jesus story is complex. While I believe that what I wrote is generally true, I see an exception in this week’s passage. Here in Luke, Jesus does not bringing change to the person with the disability but rather calling for change in the privileged people around that person. Jesus calls them to change their attitudes and include people with disabilities. He is calling for change in how people with disabilities are treated.

Last month’s recommended reading at Renewed Heart Ministries was Nancy L. Eiesland’s ecclesiastically challenging and deeply thought-provoking book The Disabled God: Toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability. If you did not get a chance to read it last month, I still recommend getting a copy and going through it.

Among many other valuable insights, Eisland identifies three traditional theological barriers for people with disabilities within the Christian tradition:

These three themes—sin and disability conflation, virtuous suffering, and segregationist charity—illustrate the theological obstacles encountered by people with disabilities who see inclusion and justice with the Christian community. (The Disabled God, p. 74)

Let me explain. When people conflate sin and disability, they make disabilities a synonym for sinfulness or shortcomings. In all four of the canonical gospels, the gospel authors both subvert and strengthen that connection (i.e. blindness, Matthew 15:5; inability to be mobile, John 5; deafness, Matthew 13:15). As we’ve discussed, there are also elements in the gospels that can be interpreted as teaching inherent virtue in suffering, and when applied to people with disabilities, that means teaching they were chosen for disability to fulfill some heroic, good, divine purpose (see John 9:3). Finally, what Eiesland names as “segregationist charity” means keeping people with disabilities at arms’ length while calling for charity and withholding full inclusion and accessible justice from them (see John 19:36; Exodus 12:46; and Leviticus 21:16-23). Some faith traditions prevent disabled people from participating in fully ordained ministry.

It cannot be denied that the biblical record and Christian theology have often been dangerous for persons with disabilities. Nor can the prejudice, hostility, and suspicion toward people with disabilities be dismissed as relics of an unenlightened past. Today many interpretations of biblical passages and Christian theologies continue to reinforce negative stereotypes, support social and environmental segregation, and mask the lived realities of people with disabilities. In recent decades, while the problematic nature of the bible record with regard to women has become generally acknowledged, the degrading depictions of people with disabilities are often ignored or, worse, seen as fundamentally accurate to our experience. An uncritical use of the Bible to address the concerns of people with disabilities perpetuates marginalization and discrimination in the name of religion.” (The Disabled God, p. 74-75)

As Jesus followers, we can and must do better.

I include myself in this. I, too, have conflated disability and sin, promoted the virtues of suffering, and withheld full inclusion in the past.

Our reading this week gives us the opportunity to interpret a gospel story in a life-giving way, one that calls for full accessibility and inclusion.

“When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed.”

I love the emphasis in the end of this passage. It’s not that “they” will be blessed. It’s that “you” will be blessed. The text defines that blessing as an extrinsic, extra bestowal of blessing at what Luke’s readers understood in their worldview as a future “resurrection of the righteous.”

What I would rather have us understand is that there is an intrinsic blessing and value that people of varying experiences can bring to a community. When a person has a body that is in some way different or disabled in some way in their society, their inclusion and accessibility would bring an inherent blessing to their community. I do not romanticize a person’s disability. Their disability doesn’t mysteriously infuse them with value, but it doesn’t negate or lessen their value either.

Not all bodies are the same. Not all bodies develop the same way. And no body escapes those events that change our bodies. But every body is valuable; every person has something to bring to the table. When we exclude certain people because of their bodies, our communities are the worse off for it. Not only do those excluded suffer loss from being excluded, but the communities that exclude them also suffer loss because of their absence.

This week, rather than focusing on a future extrinsic “repayment” or reward for including those society often labels as “less than” today, may we all begin so see the value of people, regardless of our differences, and especially when those differences relate to the kinds of bodies we’re each living in. There should be a place at the table for all for all of us, where all of us can bring to our communities what we have to offer, where every one of us gains the blessing of both giving and receiving. The intrinsic value of every person calls us as Jesus followers, especially, to ensure an attitude of inclusion and concrete means of accessibility as well.

I believe this is possible and the spirit of our most cherished Jesus stories calls us to it. To the degree that our communities are accessible to people whose bodies are different or disabled, to that same degree we will intrinsically experience either blessing or loss.

HeartGroup Application

1. Share something that spoke to you from this week’s eSight/Podcast episode with your HeartGroup.

2. Share an experience where your awareness of the intrinsic value of people who were different from yourself was broadened or deepened. Discuss with your group.

3.  What can you do this week, big or small, to continue setting in motion the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone?

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

Right where you are, keep living in love, choosing compassion, taking action, and working toward justice.

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week



Begin each day being inspired toward love, compassion, action, and justice.

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Our Collective Thriving

sunrise

Herb Montgomery | August 19, 2022

To listen to this week’s eSight as a podcast episode click here.


The stories this week point us to prioritizing the needs of people to thrive. Survival isn’t enough. We are worth more than that. We are also worth more than a few people in society thriving while the rest of us simply survive (or don’t even do that.) This week’s story also calls us to attend to things that enable all of us to thrive together without anyone being marginalized.


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.

Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”

The Lord answered him, You hypocrites! Doesnt each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”

When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing. (Luke 13:10-17)

This week, let’s begin by intentionally rejecting antisemitic interpretations of this week’s reading. This passage isn’t a Christianity-versus-Judaism argument against the Sabbath. It represents an argument within Judaism and among Jewish people about what constitutes valid Sabbath observance and what actions violate the Sabbath. Remember, Jesus was an observant Jew remember (see Luke 4:16). It’s telling that this passage ends with all the Jewish people agreeing with Jesus’ interpretation of how Sabbath observance should meet people’s needs. This story is not anti-Jewish, nor is it anti-Sabbath.

In Luke’s Jesus story, there is a social debate on what permissible actions on the Sabbath should prioritize. Judaism has always justified temporarily setting aside Sabbath restrictions for any condition that was life-threatening. So whatever people needed to survive was always permitted on the Sabbath.

In this week’s reading, we encounter a condition that is not life-threatening but that the story paints as preventing the woman from thriving. (I’ll address the ableism about this in a moment.) This story is one of the healing stories in Luke’s gospel that creates a tension of priorities, pitting people’s needs for thriving and not simply surviving against the demands of Sabbath observance. This theme recurs across the canonical Jesus stories (compare Luke 14:1-6; Mark 3:1-6; John 5:1-9; and John 9:1-7).

Economic and Labor Justice

Consider the Sabbath commandment we read in Exodus:

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.

Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.

For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:8-11)

Inherent in the original Sabbath institution was an element of economic and labor justice for workers. Today I would argue that one day is not enough to ensure laborers, workers, or employees are not being exploited. I wasn’t alive in the time of Exodus, but I would guess that it was only a start back then too.

Also notice that the Sabbath commandment in Exodus does not put the onus on children, slaves, animals or vulnerable immigrants to refuse to work for those subjugating them. This would only place undue stress on them, adding moral implications to something which they had no choice about.

No, the commandment is rather addressed to parents, masters, and livestock owners. To apply this to our context: the Sabbath commandment does not tell employees not to work for their employers on the Sabbath. The commandment tells employers not to exploit their employees and not make their employees work on every day of the week. If someone is working on the Sabbath, the person responsible is their employer who demands that labor be done, not the employee faced with the choice between observing a Sabbath or putting food on their family’s table.

As the gospel of Mark reminds us, “The Sabbath was made for people. People weren’t made for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27-28).

This is a deeply Jewish theme of contrasting people’s strict religious observances with their actions about others’ concrete justice needs. We encounter this contrast of values and priorities all the way back in the prophetic justice tradition of the Hebrew scriptures:

“The multitude of your sacrifices—

what are they to me?” says the LORD.

“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,

of rams and the fat of fattened animals;

I have no pleasure

in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.

When you come to appear before me,

who has asked this of you,

this trampling of my courts?

Stop bringing meaningless offerings!

Your incense is detestable to me.

New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—

I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.

Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals

I hate with all my being.

They have become a burden to me;

I am weary of bearing them.

When you spread out your hands in prayer,

I hide my eyes from you;

even when you offer many prayers,

I am not listening.

Your hands are full of blood!

Wash and make yourselves clean.

Take your evil deeds out of my sight;

stop doing wrong.

Learn to do right; seek justice.

Defend the oppressed.

Take up the cause of the fatherless;

plead the case of the widow. (Isaiah 1:11-17, emphasis added)

Today, I think this still tracks. We still see in our communities some of us who can be very intentional about our observances within our religion while we ignore the social justice concerns of others. Christians can sometimes be among the worst offenders in this.

But the last thing to note this week is that this is an ableist story.

The intention of the Jesus story is to portray a Jesus who sought to liberate people from suffering, whatever the form of that suffering. I’m thankful for this. We must also understand our own ableism: it includes the presumption that all disabled people want to be cured. They don’t. Some people who live with disabilities see their disability as part of the variety within humanity’s potential, not as something “wrong” with them that needs to be “fixed.” This can be very difficult to get folks without disabilities to understand. As the colloquialism states, fish don’t know they’re wet. People who aren’t disabled often don’t perceive the assumptions that their own experiences cause them to make about people with disabilities.

Consider that the gospels’ solution is never to change the society that people who are living with disabilities are living in so that they do not experience discrimination, marginalization, or exclusion. The gospels’ solution is always instead to transform the disabled person, to align or harmonize them with their society so that the social, religious, political and economic stigmas attached to their disability are no longer present. The action restores the person with a disability to their community rather than calling the community itself to change and either challenging or rejecting the stigma.

Some will challenge my critique here, and that’s okay. But the question we have to ask in each story is where is change taking place? Is the person with the disability being transformed or is the society those people live in being changed? In some of the stories an argument could be made for both, but in every story the person with the disability experiences a change to remove the stigma applied to them.

This is one shortcoming of the Jesus stories that Jesus followers must acknowledge and it doesn’t mean these stories have no value. What it does mean is that we can still highly value the Jesus story and note where we could do better today. The ethical spirit of Jesus that we love so much also sets us on a trajectory toward telling more life-giving stories that don’t marginalize anyone, including people who live with disabilities.

The stories this week point us to prioritizing the needs of people to thrive. Survival isn’t enough. We are worth more than that. We are also worth more than a few people in society thriving while the rest of us simply survive (or don’t even do that.) This week’s story also calls us to attend to things that enable all of us to thrive together without anyone being marginalized.

HeartGroup Application

1. Share something that spoke to you from this week’s eSight/Podcast episode with your HeartGroup.

2. Share an experience where you were faced with a conflict between concrete physical needs and honoring religious observances or practice. Discuss with your group.

3.  What can you do this week, big or small, to continue setting in motion the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone?

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

Right where you are, keep living in love, choosing compassion, taking action, and working toward justice.

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week



Begin each day being inspired toward love, compassion, action, and justice.

Go to renewedheartministries.com and click “sign up.”

Free Sign-Up at:

https://renewedheartministries.com/Contact-forms?form=EmailSignUp

Challenging Exclusion

Herb Montgomery | June 21, 2019

Picture of board game pieces with one being excluded.
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

It’s not enough to simply offer a gospel that only offers divine forgiveness of sins. A gospel that is faithful to the Jesus story must include people forgiving people. It must include a redistribution of power and resources so that everyone has what they need not simply to survive but also to thrive. It must include reparations alongside reconciliation. It must include access and inclusion where the vulnerable have been excluded. A gospel that is faithful to the Jesus story must include material, holistic liberation.


“Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on.” (Mark 2:4)

In the worldview of the gospel authors and their intended audience, healing was normal. Whereas most healing stories in that era tended to bolster the way society was organized, the healing stories in the gospels challenged, subverted, and even threatened the status quo.

One such resistance/healing story is found very early in the gospel of Mark:

“A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’ Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, ‘Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, ‘Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.’ So he said to the man, ‘I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.’ He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this!’” (Mark 2:1-12)

Message of Inclusion

The first thing we bump into in this story is a lack of room. The crowd could have made room for the paralyzed man to get through. They could have practiced a preferential option for the one with the disability. Yet they didn’t. They were each focused on making sure there was a place for themselves, even if it came at the expense of someone else. 

I used to fly a lot. Those two options—a preferential option for others or making a place for oneself—always played out during the boarding practice. Before airlines started overselling flights, there was enough room for everyone. The plane was going to leave at the same time for everyone and seats were even already assigned. Yet you could see passengers who only thought of themselves from a concourse away. 

Saving ourselves at others’ expense has a long evolutionary history for humans. Yet I contend that our salvation as a race lies not in what works for some at the expense of others but in what makes our world safe, just, and compassionate for all. We will survive together or we will perish together. What once worked for the survival of some, will not ensure the survival of us all in the context of global climate break down. 

I also want to address the gospel author’s use of a person with a disability. In the culture of the gospel writers, there were religious teachings that explained disabilities as the result of sin, either one’s own or one’s parents (see John 9:1-2). This teaching added a basis for further exclusion in a world that already left those with disabilities on the margins. But in Mark’s story, Jesus rejects that teaching and declares that this paralytic has been forgiven. Jesus does not offer the man a plan or program: do this and your sins will be forgiven. Jesus declares that this man already was forgiven. 

His teaching challenged those who believed that those with disabilities were being punished for some sin. It challenged them to view this man as their equal regardless of his ability. Jesus here juxtaposes disability and the culture’s definition of right standing, and calls people  to rethink.

Similarly, one could challenge non-affirming Christians’ definition of what’s normative in relation to the LGBTQ community. Last week, Renewed Heart Ministries posted a meme for Pride Month juxtaposing LGBTQ identity and LGBTQ people’s being in the image of God. This deeply challenges Christian cis-heterosexism.

Again, though, Jesus does not offer the man a plan or program to follow. Jesus declared that this man already was forgiven, and so challenges many Christian stories that teach a God who must be moved by some action on our part first.

Holistic Liberation

Just like in any work of affirmation or liberation, there will always be pushback by those who feel threatened by such inclusivity and equity. The objection in Mark’s story is “only God can forgive sins.” Jesus doesn’t respond by stating that he is divine. The gospel writers instead identify Jesus with a “a human being” or the “son of man.” This language is from the Maccabean era Jewish resistance literature.

“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man.” (Daniel 7.13, NIV, emphasis added.) 

“As I continued to watch this night vision of mine, I suddenly saw one like a human being . . .” (Daniel 7.13, CEB, emphasis added.)

The “human being” in Daniel 7 was a symbol of liberation from oppressive empires and putting the world to right. 

Forgiveness in Mark’s story is also a human act. It’s not something left only to a god or cosmic being that leaves us off the hook. Forgiveness as something we should practice as humans was part of Jesus’s message. Yet I don’t believe Jesus taught reconciliation without reparation and liberation. Jesus message of forgiveness was primarily aimed at wealthy, elite creditors and called them to “forgive” the debts of their poor debtors. Jesus’ message of forgiveness included a deep economic implication. It was a call for debt forgiveness, the Jewish Jubilee. (See A Prayer for Debts Cancelled)

Jesus’ gospel included material liberation. And not only was the man with the disability told he had already been forgiven, but the story also includes him being liberated from his inability to walk. Honestly, I don’t like this story as I read it from our vantage point today. It can be too easily coopted to make people with disabilities feel less than those without. I’m thankful that the story author challenged the crowd’s bias against this man before he removes the group’s actual reason for marginalizing him. Otherwise the marginalized would be simply kept marginalized.

If the gospel writer had written the story differently, the solution to marginalized women would be to make women men.

The solution to marginalized Black, brown and other people of color would be to  make them White. 

The solution to marginalized LGBTQ people would be make them straight and/or cisgender. (Conversion therapy is harmful and is outlawed in 18 states, Maine and Colorado being the latest to ban such practices.)

Rather than using various disabilities as metaphors for social evils (as the gospels do), we can do better and name specific social evils instead.

Being gay is not a social evil.

Being a woman is not a social evil.

Being non-white is not a social evil.

Being a migrant is not a social evil.

Being disabled is not a social evil.

How the social system treats these folks is a social evil.

Poverty is a social evil.

Keeping people uneducated is a social evil. 

Keeping people indebted is a social evil.

Keeping people without adequate access to health care is a social evil.

And that is what I believe Mark’s story is trying to teach. In holistic liberation, everyone receives what they need. When we apply this to people with disabilities, we arrive at the lesson of removing the barriers that keep people with disabilities excluded. We are to remove the barriers that keep people with disabilities from accessing what they need to thrive.

Actual social evils are what we as followers of Jesus must work against today. This story doesn’t stop at forgiveness. We can’t afford to either. It’s not enough to simply offer a gospel that only offers divine forgiveness of sins. A gospel that is faithful to the Jesus story must include people forgiving people. It must include a redistribution of power and resources so that everyone has what they need not simply to survive but also to thrive. It must include reparations alongside reconciliation. It must include access and inclusion where the vulnerable have been excluded. A gospel that is faithful to the Jesus story must include material, holistic liberation.

This story calls us to work toward an inclusive, just, safe society for everyone.

“Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on.” (Mark 2:4)

HeartGroup Application

  1. What are some of the ways you either experience or witness others experiencing discrimination and exclusion, either in your faith community or our larger society today?
  2. Make a list of practices your HeartGroup can engage that express inclusion, justice, and create a safe space for those mentioned in number 1.
  3. Pick something from the list and put it into action this week.

Thanks for checking in with us. I’m so glad you’re here. 

Wherever you are today, keep living in love. Choose compassion, justice and action. Till the only world that remains is a world where love and justice reigns.  

I love each of you, dearly.

I’ll see you next week.


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Contact us here and just write “HeartGroup” in the “details” box and we’ll get you started!