Is 43:18-19, 21-22, 24b-25
2 Cor 1:18-22
Our Gospel today leaves us hanging. It is the beginning of a section of Mark that treats Jesus’ power and is the first of a series of five controversies. However this section will be interrupted by the Lenten readings that begin next weekend. We resume our weekly reading of Mark on June 17, in another section with the parables and sayings of Jesus.
Studies of ancient writing speak of “ring compositions.” Ring composition is a method of oral composition among preliterate people. Several points leading to a central idea are expressed, and then as in a mirror the original points are expressed in reverse. The central point is encircled by pairs of related ideas. This way of writing can highlight words, build up suspense, create circles within circles. Ring compositions exist in our gospels because of the oral composition that came before the written form we now have. They are mixed with the gospel writers’ techniques for moving the story forward.
Today’s story is the start of a ring. It deals with healing, forgiveness, and a challenge from the Pharisees. At the center of the ring is the passage in Mark chapter 2 that goes from verse 18 to verse 22, where Jesus teaches that He, the Bridegroom, will be taken away, and that new wine should go into new wineskins. Because Lent begins this week we will not read that passage this year. After the center teaching, comes a story of healing on the Sabbath that leads the Pharisees to plot how they might kill Jesus. That story, also, will be omitted this year.
Today’s gospel provides a wonderful preparation for Lent because we hear in it the title “Son of Man.” Mark is establishing the power of Jesus, a paradoxical power not based on domination but achieved through suffering for others. The title “Son of Man” has overtones of our humanness and is associated with Jesus’ suffering. [The Gospel of Mark, Sacra Pagina Series, Donahue and Harrington, p.99].
I recall a creative reflection on this passage entitled “Cross-Purposes” by an author named Storey in the journal Weavings. The author asks, “What did the friends of the paralytic see when they arrived at the house where Jesus was speaking?” They saw a packed house and a lot of backs. They were unseen. Taken up by God’s Word as the listeners were, they, the assembled church, did not see the great need in their midst in the person of this suffering young man. But if the “church had its back to the world, the pain of the world would have to hack its way in.” Imagine the noise on the roof, dirt starting to fall from the ceiling, sunlight coming through and the cry “Watch out below” as the paralyzed man is being lowered. What was Jesus’ reaction? Mark tells us, “Jesus saw their faith…”
The friends of the healed man, acknowledged by Jesus for their faith, brought before the community something unseen – both sin and suffering. These friends were prophets of the Son of Man, the one to be revealed in human, redemptive suffering. If the assembly did not see, Jesus did. He healed and forgave.
We leave the developing story of Mark’s gospel today to begin our Lenten journey. Asking for faith, may we open our eyes to whatever needs healing and forgiveness, and may we work to bring the need to the attention of others. “Hacking our way in” may describe a type of prayer that is appropriate for the Lenten season. We can bring before the Son of Man all suffering, and he who knows all suffering can transform it. This is our faith.
- Father Bill Murphy, C.P. is the pastor of St. Joseph Monastery Passionist Parish in Baltimore, Maryland.
- A Lenten Journey (vhoagland.wordpress.com)