Through the Roof
Seventh after Epiphany - Year B
February 19, 2006
Seventh after Epiphany - Year B
February 19, 2006
Let us pray: O God, may these words help us to hear and understand your word. Guide them and use them. Amen.
In our gospel passage this morning we heard another in the string of stories of healing that is told in Markís account of the life of Jesus. Whenever we read from one of the four gospels we must always keep two things in mind at the same time. On one hand, the gospel is a recounting of the life of Jesus. On the other hand, it is a story told from the perspective of hindsight, written for a community some decades after Jesusí time on earth, and with an intended purpose that goes beyond a simple retelling of the life story of a remarkable person.
So, while most people, myself included, read the gospel stories with a mind to what it tells us about Jesus, we must always also remember that it tells us a great deal about the author and the audience that the author was addressing. In fact, a case could be made that this is the most important consideration whenever we read from any of the gospel records. Rather than reading the stories for what they tell us about Jesus, it is far more instructive to read the stories for what they tell us about the communities of followers of Jesus that grew up in the time after Jesus life on earth. What purpose were the authors of the gospels trying to serve by telling the story of Jesus? What spin were they trying to put on the story to help followers come to certain conclusions about the meaning and purpose of Jesus for their own religious and community life?
In this world of spin and attempts to engage in media manipulation, with the most clear example still perhaps a bit fresh in our minds, namely a federal election campaign, I hope my statements that the gospels are but earlier attempts in the same game do not sound like cynical disregard for them. Any author, biographers included, writes a story from a particular perspective, and writes to put forward a particular point of view, if not to convince the reader of that position. In fact I find this literary method the most interesting and informative method of engaging in biblical criticism. As proponents of the method suggest, at least with literary criticism, there is very little other information needed - the story itself has within it the information that can be used to determine what the writer intended.
With that in mind, and with a comment that I read from a look at last weekís gospel passage, I want to consider for a moment the intent of Markís gospel, at least with respect to the portions weíve been reading over the past few weeks, a series of healings sought and experienced by people who come to Jesus.
The comment stated that Mark was intent on highlighting confrontation with the religious authorities, as the story progresses towards a confrontation between these religious authorities and Jesus - who claims to be acting and healing on behalf of God, a claim that threatens the power of those same religious authorities. The same thing happens in todayís reading. We heard that some scribes were questioning the right that Jesus claimed to tell the paralytic man that his sins were forgiven. There was a set protocol for doing this according to the religious practice of the time, and a simple declaration by Jesus that sins were forgiven was an affront to the established religious traditions. You donít have to follow the line of thinking too far before you realise that such an action could seriously threaten the religious establishment. The possibility of having power and influence threatened is one that often draws out the strongest and least desirable consequences among human beings.
There is another thing to note in these stories of healing. The crowds that are drawn to Jesus are getting larger. A couple of weeks ago we heard that Jesus tried to find a quiet place to gather his thoughts, and with that in mind he got up in the wee hours of the morning to go away, only to be sought out by his disciple friends and brought back to meet people who were there for healing and to hear him speak. In todayís reading the pressing crowds seemed to have reached their peak. Jesus was in a house with so many people in and around it that the entrances were all inaccessible. As we heard, some people found that the only route to Jesus was to make a hole in the roof.
So, here we are with two parts of the story to consider. Jesus is drawing crowds and his words and actions are threatening the religious establishment. It is not a big leap to connect the two dots. Jesusí words obviously had some appeal to people who were not motivated by the practices established to mediate between God and human beings. The gathering crowds were therefore a threat to the people who had the responsibility to maintain those same traditions.
Given that Markís words were written at least four decades and perhaps as many as seven decades after the events that he is describing, it is important to ask whether he is addressing a situation more current to his own time. If the story of Jesus is important to tell as a way of adding information to a current situation, then surely we can extrapolate that method to our own time. There are always some things that do not translate very well at all, but there are also many things about past and present situations that make the leap across the situations very well.
As I suggested last week, we have a lot more information available to us in our present time about the issues related to physical health. Stories of healing have to be interpreted in a metaphorical way - and that can be done very effectively. If you want to read more about a very helpful way to do this, I would suggest the work of Christian scripture scholar Walter Wink. He has done some good work on the healing stories in the gospels.
In our day and age, religious authority does not carry the same weight that it did in previous times. In the times that are described in Markís gospel, religious authority was the same as social authority and in part the same as political authority. So, when Jesusí actions - and Mark particularly emphasises the actions of Jesus more than the words of Jesus - when Jesusí actions confront that authority, it was effectively the same as a political threat and a challenging of the social system of the day. Given that, what can we take from the stories told by Mark about our own time? While challenging religious authority is not such a huge issue in our day and age - there seem to be multiple instances of this happening practically every day - challenges to the political and social establishment are certainly as much a sign of our own times as they were of any other.
Jesusí actions and Markís description of them are an invitation to us to consider the way that our own understandings need to be challenged. What about the status quo is hindering us from seeing more clearly? What about our established traditions, religious, political and social, is preventing us from knowing and following Godís way?
A metaphor that has pursued me this week as I considered this passage and itsí message both for the people in Markís community and for us today was the idea of having the roof blown off. The friends who brought their friend to Jesus for healing in a sense did just that. Mark describes the event as having blown the roof off established religious practices and traditions. My faith suggests that Jesus is ever inviting us to do just that. His message and example of what it means and what it takes to be a follower of Godís way is one that invites us to blow the roof off our own expectations and understandings so that new insights and new perspectives can inform us. As Iíve said before, as soon as you can put God in a box, itís not God. Amen.