Truth: Belonging

The legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers, Vince Lombardi, became accustomed to fans seeking his autograph.  One day while eating at a public restaurant,he spotted a kid approaching his table.  Lombardi grabbed a menu and quickly scribbled his name.  When the kid got to Lombardi’s table, the coach handed him the autographed menu.  The youngster said, “I don’t need a menu. I just need to borrow your ketchup.”

Sometimes it’s good to be known and to have a place in this world; it feels good to be recognized.  On this Truth Tuesday I must admit that sometimes I don’t feel like I fit in – when I’m at the gym, or in a committee meeting full of professors, or when I read the Bible.  I don’t always connect to the words in this book or find where I fit in the passages.  It can be discouraging to read story after story and not be able to relate to any of it.  And this, coming from a male perspective, is eye-opening!  If I can’t always relate to the text, I can only imagine the discouragement that women, African-Americans, Hispanics, LGBTQ,or any non-white-males may feel when they read the Bible.

What if, as we read the Bible, we were able to finally see ourselves within the story?  What impact would that have in the way we read the Bible and the way we live our lives?  As we read the following passage, I invite you to do just that: have open ears and open hearts, and take a moment to find our place in the story. 

I’m going to be sharing the text from a very different translation – it’s called “Young’s Literal Translation” by 19th century author Robert Young, who, as the title suggests, wrote a very literal translation of the original Greek texts.  It may seem a little confusing in certain areas, and I have changed the ‘thee’ and ‘thy’ to ‘you’ and ‘your’ to make it a little more palatable.

“And again he entered into Capernaum after some days, and it was heard that he is in the house, and immediately many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door, and he was speaking to them the word.  And they come to him, bringing a paralytic, carried by four.  And not being able to come near to him because of the multitude, they uncovered the roof where he was, and,having broken it up, they let down the couch on which the paralytic was lying.  And Jesus having seen their faith, said to the paralytic, “Child, your sins have been forgiven.” 

And there were certain scribes there sitting, and reasoning in their hearts, ‘Why does this one in this manner speak evil words?  Who is able to forgive sins except one –God?‘  And immediately Jesus, having known in his spirit that they reason in themselves, said to them, “Why these things reason you in your hearts?  Which is easier to say to the paralytic: the sins have been forgiven or to say, rise, and take up your couch and walk?  And that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on the earth to forgive sins,” (he said to the paralytic) “I say to you, rise, and take up your couch, and go away to your house.”  And he rose immediately, and having taken up the couch, he went out before all, so that all were astonished and do glorify God, saying: “Never in this manner did we see.'”

This translation may be a little difficult to understand because the grammar isn’t what we’re used to reading, but did you catch some of the cool things that are happening in this passage?  Yes, the miracle is cool (my east coast friend would say ‘wicked-awesome’), but I think there’s something cooler than that – did you notice how ambiguous the story was concerning the characters within it?  The only person identified by name is Jesus, but everyone else is unnamed and ungendered!

If you’ve ever heard this story before, think back on it and about the characters.  Had you always assumed the four who brought in the paralytic were male? Had you always imagined that the people who were listening to Jesus speak were primarily Caucasian?  Had you taken for granted that the scribes were men? Had you expected the paralytic to be an older man?  What ideas about the characters did you have, either when we read the text or that you already had in your mind?

What I love about this passage from Mark is the total ambiguity of the text.  When we look at the Gospel of Mark, it should be noted that we don’t have a clear understanding of who wrote the text.  The early church designated this as the Gospel of Mark, but within the text itself we have no name attached to who wrote it.  The name ‘Marcus’ was one of the most popular names in the Greek world at the time this work was written which leaves the doors wide open for authorship.  Even within the Bible itself, some scholars have said there are at least three different men named Mark.  While it could be said that the work is anonymous, we can safely say that it was written by a “Christian teacher who writes not as a charismatic individual but as a member of the community.”[1]  Who wrote these words?  A woman? An African?  A middle-eastern male?  Does this give us room to find ourselves in the story?

As we move into the passage itself, we can easily take up a variety of characters with whom we most relate.  Do you relate to the ones carrying the paralytic, or to the one being carried?  Do you envision yourself as one of the people in the crowd, and were you inside or outside of the house?  Were you one of the scribes, questioning whether or not Jesus had authority to say these words?  Were you the author of the Gospel of Mark,recording what was going on as you saw it happening?

Do you see the beauty of this passage when we insert ourselves into the text?  We are no longer bystanders reading some ancient text which has been passed down from age to age – no, we are now participants in the Word of God!  We are part of the story – we are part of God’s story!

If I’m to be perfectly honest with you, I have to admit that yes, the Bible was by-and-large translated by white men, who were more than likely attempting to maintain a patriarchal viewpoint.  But we don’t have to read it that way!  Instead, we should be reading it and experiencing it through our eyes – because that’s the way God desires us to listen and understand.  I should read it through my poor, white, male eyes.  You should read it through your powerful female eyes. You should read it through your queer eyes.  You should read it through your Hispanic eyes.

And we shouldn’t stop at our own vision and our own mindset.  What if we were to experience this passage through the eyes of someone else?  What if you were to read it as your co-worker? As your nanny?  As your mechanic?  As your mother?  As your neighbor?  How does this passage change for us when we look at it as someone else?

This passage from Mark is for us, it’s about us – it’s our story.  We are the paralytic needing God’s healing touch to our illnesses.  We are one of the four carrying those we care about to God. We are the crowd, witnessing God’s Word in this world.  We are the scribes, doubting in our hearts Jesus’ words.  We are the author, sharing what we see God doing in our world.

As we go out from this place, let us remember that this book – the Bible – is a book for all of us.  It is our story, our heritage, our witness to God’s promises. Let us find ways to see how we fit into this story and where God desires us to be within it.  May we see this book as our book.

much love. sheth.

[1] M. Eugene Boring, Mark: A Commentary (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), 20.

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