Reviewed by Amy Julia Becker
Eyes to See
Through his exegetical work, Parsons aptly demonstrates Luke's subversive message, that "those who are physically 'defective' by the prevailing cultural standards are in no way excluded from the body of the new Abrahamic community." Parsons' analysis of these particular pericopes, bolstered by his historical research, provides helpful tools for students of the ancient world in general and of Luke's writings in particular. Nevertheless, the book has limitations from both an exegetical and theological point of view.
Parsons suggests that more of Luke/Acts can be read with physiognomy in mind. He states, "For the Lukan Jesus, one's moral character is not determined by the color, shape, size, or limitations of one's body. This fact explains why Luke does not give physical descriptions of other characters in his works (Jesus, the disciples, John the Baptist, the Pharisees, etc.), since to do so would reinforce the same connection between outer appearance and inner character that he elsewhere struggles to break." And yet, without any rationale given as to why he selected these four stories and no others, the reader is left to wonder whether these are the only stories that fit Parsons' model, or whether they actually highlight a much broader trend throughout Luke's writings. What about the other healing stories in Luke? Are these four the only examples of subversion of the physiognomic consciousness? What is the significance of these four stories in the larger context of early Christianity? Did these subversive episodes change any cultural norms?
Parsons seems to sense the limitations of his study, and in the epilogue he comments, "I hope the preceding chapters have laid a foundation that invites such illuminating reflection and exposition beyond what I have done, whether in relation to disability studies, theological reflection, or homiletical exposition." Parsons' study demonstrates one way in which Jesus' message invited his community to see differently, but it is up to the reader to make the leap from Jesus' time to our own.
As an educated, upper-middle-class, white American woman, I have not always had the eyes to see those who are different from me, be that a difference of race or class or educational opportunity. In the years since our daughter was born, I have started to notice language, and assumptions, and the way people generalize about Down syndrome. I have started to recognize my own blindness, and the blindness that extends throughout the educated elite, throughout the church. We don't call it physiognomy anymore, but we still need the help of the Spirit to see past physical appearance and the judgments that come with it. By God's grace, I hope I will learn to see all people as the brothers in that monastery in South Carolina seemed to do, as Jesus did—as precious human beings, with great value, and much to teach me.
Amy Julia Becker is a student at Princeton Theological Seminary.
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