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Episode Summary

“Wrestling with oneself, with one’s past, with one’s relationships, with God … These stories push us to use disability to think about the human condition more broadly.” Longstanding narratives about disability shaped our emotional responses, our caregiving responses, and our social commentary, and our treatment of the disabled. But what if we saw disability as the site of divine revelation about God’s kingdom and our place in it? As an expression of power and wisdom and agency, rather than a merely a source of suffering and lack and ignorance. Calli Micale (Palmer Theological Seminary) joins Evan Rosa to discuss how disability reframes our humanity in the Bible. They reflect on three passages: starting in the Old Testament—in Genesis 32—with the story of Jacob wrestling with the Angel, and walking away with much more than a limp and a new name. Continuing with the Gospel, John 9, the story of the Man Born Blind, famous for at least two reasons: the utter stupidity of the disciples to assume “Rabbi, who sinned that this man was born blind?” and the utter visceral of having Jesus make mud with his spit and rub it in the man’s eyes. And finally The Gospel of Mark, chapter 5, the story of the bleeding woman—a story of reaching out in desperate faith, an act of incredible agency and audacity, to touch the edge of Jesus’s garment and be healed. Whether its intellectual disability or physical disability, and regardless of how its acquired, disability plays a role in what we might call God’s subversive kingdom. God’s upside-down-ness (or, maybe we should say human upside-down-ness). The least of these in the eyes of human society are chosen by God to communicate the good news of shalom and justice and salvation—that even those who are already “whole” can be saved. This episode was made possible in part by the generous support of the Tyndale House Foundation. For more information, visit tyndale.foundation.

Episode Notes

“Wrestling with oneself, with one’s past, with one’s relationships, with God … These stories push us to use disability to think about the human condition more broadly.”

Longstanding narratives about disability shaped our emotional responses, our caregiving responses, and our social commentary, and our treatment of the disabled. But what if we saw disability as the site of divine revelation about God’s kingdom and our place in it? As an expression of power and wisdom and agency, rather than a merely a source of suffering and lack and ignorance.

Calli Micale (Palmer Theological Seminary) joins Evan Rosa to discuss how disability reframes our humanity in the Bible. They reflect on three passages: starting in the Old Testament—in Genesis 32—with the story of Jacob wrestling with the Angel, and walking away with much more than a limp and a new name. Continuing with the Gospel, John 9, the story of the Man Born Blind, famous for at least two reasons: the utter stupidity of the disciples to assume “Rabbi, who sinned that this man was born blind?” and the utter visceral of having Jesus make mud with his spit and rub it in the man’s eyes. And finally The Gospel of Mark, chapter 5, the story of the bleeding woman—a story of reaching out in desperate faith, an act of incredible agency and audacity, to touch the edge of Jesus’s garment and be healed.

Whether its intellectual disability or physical disability, and regardless of how its acquired, disability plays a role in what we might call God’s subversive kingdom. God’s upside-down-ness (or, maybe we should say human upside-down-ness). The least of these in the eyes of human society are chosen by God to communicate the good news of shalom and justice and salvation—that even those who are already “whole” can be saved.

This episode was made possible in part by the generous support of the Tyndale House Foundation. For more information, visit tyndale.foundation.

Show Notes

  • Artwork: “Untitled (The Bleeding Woman)”, Unknown, Fresco, 4th Century AD, Catacombs of Marcellinus and Peter, Rome, Italy
  • Artwork: “The Healing of the Man Born Blind”, Duccio, 1311, Tempera on wood, National Gallery, London
  • Artwork: “Vision of the Sermon (Jacob Wrestling with the Angel)”, Paul Gauguin, 1888, Oil on canvas, Scottish National Gallery
  • Genesis 32:22-32 (see below for full text)
  • “Wrestling with oneself, with one’s past, with one’s relationships, with God”
  • Disability as a plot device: exploit
  • Elaborate disguise of Jacob’s impersonization of Esau
  • Each of us wrestles with our identity
  • “No one can see God and live”
  • Jacob’s limp: a narrative and metaphorical significance
  • Is disability a sign of or consequence of one’s sinfulness?
  • Is disability a divine punishment?
  • Subverting our understanding of disability
  • “Disability extends beyond Jacob’s physical form and continues to influence the the community—how they relate with their tradition and their practices.”
  • “The memory of the struggle with God and the intimate presence of God in the wrestling in the body, and then is preserved in memory of the body.”
  • Is being struck on the hip socket a blessing to Jacob?
  • The wounds of martyrs as battle wounds
  • Disability becomes inextricable from histories of violence
  • Is it Jesus that strikes and maims Jacob’s hip?
  • John 9: The Man Blind from Birth
  • Jesus rejects the assumption that disability is a punishment for sin.
  • “Dumb and blind”
  • Disability as the site of divine revelation
  • Jesus spitting in the mud is kind of gross. It takes a lot of spit to make that much mud.
  • Vulnerable and visceral moment of pasting dirty mud
  • The question of Jesus’s sin (for breaking Sabbath law) is now in play
  • An extended metaphor about where knowledge and wisdom apply.
  • Mark 5: The Hemorrhaging Woman
  • Agency and Power
  • Mutual caregiving within disabled communities
  • “These stories push us to use disability to think about the human condition more broadly.”

Genesis 32

The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day is breaking.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go, unless you bless me.’ So he said to him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Jacob.’ Then the man said, ‘You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.’ Then Jacob asked him, ‘Please tell me your name.’ But he said, ‘Why is it that you ask my name?’ And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.’ The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the thigh muscle that is on the hip socket, because he struck Jacob on the hip socket at the thigh muscle.

John 9

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’

When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, ‘Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?’ Some were saying, ‘It is he.’ Others were saying, ‘No, but it is someone like him.’ He kept saying, ‘I am the man.’ But they kept asking him, ‘Then how were your eyes opened?’ He answered, ‘The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, “Go to Siloam and wash.” Then I went and washed and received my sight.’ They said to him, ‘Where is he?’ He said, ‘I do not know.’

They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, ‘He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.’ Some of the Pharisees said, ‘This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.’ But others said, ‘How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?’ And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, ‘What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.’ He said, ‘He is a prophet.’

The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, ‘Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?’ His parents answered, ‘We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.’ His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, ‘He is of age; ask him.’

So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, ‘Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.’ He answered, ‘I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.’ They said to him, ‘What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?’ He answered them, ‘I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?’ Then they reviled him, saying, ‘You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.’ The man answered, ‘Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.’ They answered him, ‘You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?’ And they drove him out.

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ He answered, ‘And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.’ He said, ‘Lord, I believe.’ And he worshipped him. Jesus said, ‘I came into this world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.’ Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see”, your sin remains.

Mark 5:25-34

See also Luke 8:43-48 and Matthew 9:20-22

Now there was a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak,  for she said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.’ Immediately her haemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.  Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ And his disciples said to him, ‘You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, “Who touched me?”’ He looked all round to see who had done it.  But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’

About Calli Micale

Calli Micale is Assistant Professor of Theology and Ethics and Director of the MDiv Program at Palmer Theological Seminary. She is a theologian with a particular interest in the ethical implications of theological talk for the whole of human life. Her research brings together the history of Christian thought with sustained attention to rhetoric as it grounds perceptions of the body and health in Western societies. She joined the Palmer Theological Seminary faculty in 2023 after earning a PhD from Yale University.

Writing and teaching correspond in Dr. Micale’s work to form students as faith leaders oriented towards gender, disability, and racial justice. She has published articles with the Journal of Disability and Religion and the Disability Studies Quarterly (forthcoming). Micale is currently working on a book manuscript, tentatively titled Crip Conversion: Narratives of Disability and Grace. The book analyzes the stories theologians tell about intellectual disability and argues that deploying intellectual disability as narrative metaphor allows one to come at the Protestant tradition from a helpful vantage point—such that the significance of sensation for the reception of grace comes to the fore.

As a candidate for ordination in the ELCA with 10+ years of preaching experience, Dr. Micale delights in the variety of ways her students take up theological resources for ministry and social justice action. In each course, she aims to take students beyond learning concepts by letting divergent beliefs shape and change their perspective on what really matters—their own intellectual and spiritual lives called to make a difference in the world

Production Notes

  • This podcast featured Calli Micale
  • Edited and Produced by Evan Rosa
  • Hosted by Evan Rosa
  • Production Assistance by Macie Bridge and Kaylen Yun
  • A Production of the Yale Center for Faith & Culture at Yale Divinity School https://faith.yale.edu/about
  • Support For the Life of the World podcast by giving to the Yale Center for Faith & Culture: https://faith.yale.edu/give
  • This episode was made possible in part by the generous support of the Tyndale House Foundation. For more information, visit tyndale.foundation.

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