10. Dr Louise Gosbell, Lecturer, Mary Andrews College, Sydney, Australia
Disability, Inclusion and Exclusion in the Gospel of John: An Exegetical Study of John 5:1-18 and John 9:1-41
While the gospel of John possesses only a small number of healing narratives, the gospel does include two significant healing accounts featuring people with physical and sensory disability: that of the man at the pool of Bethesda and the man born blind. While the healing narratives described in the synoptic gospels generally feature only a physical cure, these two accounts recall not only the healing proper, but also the healed person’s response to it. These two accounts also feature a significant parallelism: both accounts portray men with long-term, non-urgent impairments and who are both healed on the Sabbath at the instigation of Jesus himself. In many respects, it appears Craig Keener’s assessment of these healing accounts is correct in stating that together they demonstrate both a positive and negative paradigm of initial discipleship. And yet, the writer of the Fourth Gospel does more than this. In keeping with the imagery of dualism represented throughout the Fourth Gospel (e.g. light/dark, flesh/spirit, above/below, etc), the gospel writer uses these two accounts to represent an additional contrast: what it means to be included/excluded. While the gospel writer depicts the two men as socially marginalised as a result of their impairments, he also highlights that marginalisation does not result only from a physical/sensory deficit but can also occur as a result of one’s response to the gospel. While the healed man in John 5 is depicted as being restored to the temple and its cultic community, the formerly blind man, in contrast, is shown to be not only excluded but indeed ‘excommunicated’ from the synagogue and its community. In this respect, these two healing accounts offer an additional representation of dualism in the Fourth Gospel that has previously gone unnoticed. Assessing these accounts in terms of the dichotomy of included/excluded rather than disabled/able-bodied assists with liberating these stories from the traditional view that spiritual wholeness (holiness?) is the natural bi-product of physical wholeness in the canonical gospels.