I am troubled by language in scripture that likens physical disabilities with mental or moral failings. One example of this problematic wording occurs in a recent reading from the Gospel, John 9:39 "Jesus said, 'I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.'" Unfortunately, this verse associates the physical characteristic of lacking sight with sin, particularly the moral deficiency of refusing to accept Jesus as the “son of man.”
The verse quoted above comes at the end of a long story recounting how Jesus restored sight to a blind man. The quote is directed at religious authorities, and as such, is not about physical disability. Yet, the language of physical disability is used to describe disbelief in “the son of man.” In my opinion, a more accurate interpretation of this verse would replace references to blind with words that indicate willful ignorance or disbelief.
In my experience, equating a person’s physical ability with strength of faith, or lack thereof, leads to negative judgement. When I was 12 or 13, a youth minister informed me that I lacked faith because I hadn’t asked Jesus to “heal” me. At that time, I didn’t have the confidence to disagree with a person in authority so I stayed silent until she was finished. If I had a time machine, I would go back and tell her that we are all made in God’s image. Furthermore, I’m sure that he, or she, doesn’t make mistakes.
I feel that scripture contains many instances in which blindness, and other physical disabilities are used as metaphors for undesirable moral states. I think that such language is as unwelcoming as being confronted by an inaccessible church building, or being unable to participate in the service due to the lack of materials in an alternative format. I hope that the conversations that the community is having regarding combating racism, sexism, homophobia, etc, can be broadened to include a consideration of ableist language in scripture.