Today the blog looks at two great bible passages from the Episcopal lectionary, along with a headline from world news:
A house in space: inflatable dwelling to be tested
One in Christ
11 So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth,* called ‘the uncircumcision’ by those who are called ‘the circumcision’—a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands—12remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.14For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.15He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, so that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace,16and might reconcile both groups to God in one body* through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.*17So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near;18for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father.19So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God,20built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.*21In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord;22in whom you also are built together spiritually* into a dwelling-place for God.
Readers who are interested in the Letter to the Ephesians will find that this blog has commented on it over the last few days. (See blogs 938-940). In today’s extract we see the writer getting to the nub of his/her argument: although Jesus and the first disciples were Jews, this faith is open to all. This openness, says the writer, is neither an accident nor a missionary strategy, it arises directly from the central event in the story of Jesus, his crucifixion, which was as we might say, a joint Jewish-Gentile production, since by it the Jewish leadership decisively rejected Jesus as their Messiah, while the Romans passed the sentence and carried it out. In this crucifixion there is no difference between Jew and Gentile; both are equally guilty. Astonishingly however, through the love of Jesus, this becomes a positive equality; both are equally forgiven. The “ruling powers” of Jew and Gentile are arraigned before the cross and exposed as bogus. The true power is with the One who uses neither violence nor deceit but declares God’s peace to his enemies. The writer states this with beautiful irony: “in his flesh” that is, in this crucified flesh, he “has made us one” that is, equally guilty, equally forgiven.
This crucified and risen person, this Jesus, has become (in another metaphor) the cornerstone of a spiritual temple into which the Ephesian gentiles are also built. This is the new community whose structure is determined solely by Jesus, not by religious or political interests, in which God is pleased to live.
The writer has noted at the start of this section of his letter, that the old Jewish custom of male circumcision has been abandoned because it is a religious/political sign of privileged belonging; and with it, we might want to add, all such signs should be abandoned within the Christian community: any veils, turbans, tattoos, robes, that speak of privilege or inferiority have no place there, although of course they may be perfectly legal in civil society. Even the cross, if it is used a sign of “privileged belonging” becomes unclean. An English woman has just won a case in the Court of Human Rights, to wear her cross at work. If she does this for any other reason than to promise her loving service to others, she is in error. The cross is the event that abolishes distinction, privilege and enmity, and creates peace.
Jesus Heals a Paralytic
2When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home.2So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them.3Then some people* came, bringing to him a paralysed man, carried by four of them.4And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay.5When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’6Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts,7‘Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’8At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, ‘Why do you raise such questions in your hearts?9Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven”, or to say, “Stand up and take your mat and walk”?10But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—he said to the paralytic—11‘I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.’12And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this!’
Again I refer readers to emmock.com/oikos where they will find a longer discussion of the biblical tradition of “God’s House” (oikos is the Greek for “house” from which we get our words economy, ecology and ecumenical.)
What is a house of God? The religious tradition is that it is a temple, church, or cathedral. God promises that he/she will be available to devotees in a particular place, access to which will be controlled by a religious bureaucracy. The Biblical tradition is much more various than this. The prophets especially warned against thinking of the Jerusalem temple in this way. They asserted that God wanted to dwell amongst his people, in justice and faithfulness, and that no temple could be a substitute for these qualities. Here in this story about the paralysed man is a new image of God’s house, in this case an ordinary house in Capernaum-it may even be Jesus’ own house.(he was “at home”).
In this house of God, Jesus teaches the truth about God and this is like a magnet to people. They sense its life-giving authority. This “house of God” is a place of good news about God which means it is already bursting at the seams. So much so that the four friends of the paralysed man can’t get access to the source of life and tear off the roof to find it. Now that’s a house of God in Mark’s opinion-a place where the sense of life is so evident that people will try to bust their way in.
It turns out also to be the place where God’s son takes responsibility for announcing God’s forgiveness, which is no mere remission of sins but rather an indication that nothing will be allowed to inhibit God’s gift of life, which comes not as an offer but as a command, “Stand up…and walk!”
This rigorous compassion is for the sake of a person’s new life not his old life, and requires trust (faith) which is the conduit for God’s goodness. Mark insists that this trust can be communal as well as individual; the paralysed man and his friends are a small community of trust which allows one of its members to be healed.
All this is Mark’s image of a “house of God” by which he was reminding his own Christian community of what their house churches were meant to be.