Breaking the Mould
From Wellington Cathedral of St Paul
Breaking the Mould: 19th February 2012: am: The Revd Dr Raymond Pelly
- Psalm 41
- Isaiah 43; 18 - 25
- 2 Corinthians 1: 18 - 22
- Mark 2: 1 - 12
‘Behold, I make all things new’. This nicely sums up Isaiah’s gospel: here in relation to exile, sin, drought – or anything whatsoever. ‘Behold, I make all things new’ – this is the kind of God that God is; how God remains true to Godself; why Isaiah talks ‘salvation’ & this in great outbursts of joy. ‘With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation’. Paul in 2 Corinthians is similar. God in Christ is not some tricky ambiguous ‘yes & no’, but rather, ‘in him it is always “yes”’. ‘For in Christ every one of God’s promises is a “yes”’. This little word ‘yes’ sums up (once again) how God is true (or faithful) to Godself – and it tells us why we can wholeheartedly respond to God with our ‘Amens’, this acclamation that means ‘yes’, ‘so be it’, ‘let it be so’ - & all to the glory of God. We can, in other words, always know what to expect from God, trust that, rely on it. In God there are no nasty surprises; or, as was once said, ‘God was in Christ, and in God there is no unchristlikeness at all’. (Michael Ramsey)
In the Gospel we see the ‘yes’ & newness of God in the person of Jesus acted out in a concrete situation. But, as the Gospel makes clear, whenever this resurrecting newness of God irrupts into human affairs, we’re not dealing with something trivial; rather a force for good that breaks moulds & often causes conflict. Let’s see how that works.
First, the conflict. The scribes accuse Jesus of ‘blasphemy’, just as the High Priest was to accuse him of blasphemy at his trial (Mark 14:63). Who then were the scribes? A scholar writes: ‘The scribes were the literate expert interpreters of the official law codes, the Pharisees a particular … a faction within the wider class of scribes. Both were based in the Jerusalem Temple (3:22; 7:1) and worked for and represented the priestly rulers in dealings with the people’. The first mould, then, that Jesus breaks is this scribal monopoly on the interpretation of the law. In offering forgiveness and healing as though he were acting with the authority and power of God, Jesus is in conflict with the whole Temple-based religious establishment. We begin to see why he was crucified.
Now look at the other actors in the story. Their fervour, amazing faith & enthusiasm contrasts totally with the destructive negativity of the scribes. It was like a riot. The house where Jesus was teaching is besieged with people. ‘So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door’. And then there are these four guys who desperately want to bring their mate – a paralyzed man – into the presence of Jesus. Perhaps he can heal him … To achieve this they have to do something extraordinary. Blocked at the front entrance, they climb up onto the roof, dig through it & lower their friend down to where Jesus was standing. They don’t say anything; but Jesus recognizes their faith in their actions, just as they recognize him for who his is: ‘the Son of Man [who] has authority on earth to forgive sins’.
The paralytic doesn’t say anything either, but Jesus’ interaction with him continues this pattern of breaking moulds – just as the four friends had to break into the house. His first word to the paralytic is, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven’. But then comes the conflict with the scribes about the right to forgive that we’ve already noticed. Immediately Jesus breaks the mould of this stale old argument. ‘Which is easier to say … “Your sins are forgiven” or “Stand up, pick up your mat & walk”? The accent now is on a word of command & the corresponding action, not on wasting any more time debating the theological argument around forgiveness. ‘I say to you, stand up, take up your mat & go home.’ The recumbent paralytic does just that: stands up, rolls up his mat and heads for home – to the total amazement of all present.
To get the full force of this we have to focus on who this is that is speaking. ‘The Son of Man’ in the first place means ‘a human being’ implying that Jesus, simply as a fellow human being, can fully understand the self-blame, the guilt, the fear that may have been paralyzing this man. He needs to be released from all this. It’s called ‘forgiveness’. ‘Son of Man’ also means one destined for conflict, suffering & death. Later in the Gospel we read, ‘the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, & be rejected by the elders, the chief priests & the scribes, & be killed, & after three days rise again’ (8:31). It’s this last aspect of resurrection that comes out so strongly in our Gospel. ‘Stand up’ says Jesus, ‘stand up, take up your mat & walk’, ‘and he stood up’. What is remarkable about this language of ‘standing’ & ‘standing up’ is that here we have the very same words that are later applied to Jesus himself. He is the one who is raised up (from death) by the word of the Father, just as the paralytic, this man as good as dead, is raised up by Jesus. He is thus seen to share that very same power to raise up & give life that wells up out of the being of God.
In other words, the resurrection of Jesus itself is not some extraneous ‘out of left field’ miracle that bears no relation to anything before or after. No; already in Jesus’ earthly life we can see him as – in fact & in anticipation – as the risen one. Why? Because the same power to raise up & give life that we see in God at Easter was already at work in the person of Jesus during his earthly life. Soon we shall be looking at the Transfiguration which is the supreme example of this.
This is why the Creed says that he is of the same stuff, substance or being as God – ‘one in being with the Father’ - the being of God an endlessly creative abyss of love & life that all who encountered Jesus also saw in him – that caused so much trouble, broke so many moulds – in the end the confinement of his own tomb. If God makes all things new, so does Jesus – in this particular case, a paralyzed man. If God is always full of promise for everybody’s future, then so equally is Jesus. ‘For in him every one of God’s promises is a “Yes”’.
It’s up to us, then, to pronounce the ‘Amen’ - ‘yes’, ‘so be it’, ‘let it be so’ – ‘to the glory of God’. The Gospel, the good news for today, may simply this: in encounter with the living Christ we can re-create ourselves day by day & in that way become a gracious presence to others, breaking our mould & hopefully things that imprison others too!