Mark 2:8

Jesus, at once intuitively aware that they were debating with themselves in this way, said to them,  “Why are you debating in your minds about this?

questions come
bidden and unbidden

questions fade
asked and answered

questions persist
alpha and omega

questions mislead
confuse and constrain

questions shift
depth and height

questions challenge
creation and renewal

questions order
intentions and actions

questions question
why and why

We are all able to sharpen our discernment skills to recognize what is going on in others—their unease and resistance. This opens new lines of conversation and clarification. It does not assure there will be agreement, but it does give a better chance of honorable contact.

A precious gift in our lives are those who toss us back into our wilderness with encouragement to reflect again on what is driving us and the basic principles upon which we engage the rest of the world. May we have friends who both provide this challenge to us and, in turn, receive it from us.

Why do we continue to think, reflect on, feel, demand, enforce our particular images of G*D and community? Whatever this “substance of we feeling (SOWF)” is that is described in Doris Lessing’s novel, Shikasta, it is powerful in our lives. Without it we wither. With it we can live together without constructing Procrustean beds for one another.

This process of wrestling our way through differences is shown in this exchange as Jesus teaches (2:2), Scribes are confounded (2:6) and double-down on their perspective (2:7), Jesus takes the feedback and sharpens his teaching (2:8-9) with an example (2:10-12a).

All along the way it takes intentional engagement by at least one party to see a larger dynamic at work and to persist in deepening the conversation one step at a time and backing up when it is evident something has been missed along the way. Note this same pattern in the way Jesus engaged his followers and in your best teachers.

We are not to take this passage as discounting all questions but to be able to ask why we are so enthralled by our fight-questions that primarily solidify and protect a current understanding.

Mark 2:7

“Why does this man speak like this? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins except God?”

claiming insult for another

the disadvantaged need allies

the affected is the measurer

inciting blame tests community

Our givens that are non-negotiable do guide us in decision-making situations. They are also responsible for creating a wilderness around us that others can enter with only a great deal of trepidation.

In an honor/shame culture the unspoken rules of who can insult whom are very strong. When it comes to blasphemy, there is no substantial distinction to be made between an insult and an assault.

One of the on-going debates regarding G*D is how thin-skinned G*D might be.

Regardless of the form of a G*D-oriented person, institution, culture or nation, its theocratic tendency is measurable by the rigidity or laxness of what it takes to insult said G*D. Prophets and healers can get away with a fair amount in a given situation. However there comes a point when some line in the sand is crossed, knowingly or not, and things are never the same.

We have here a kernel of creedal bottom line—forgiveness.

The passive voice of “your sins are forgiven” did not spell out clearly enough the honor due G*D as the final arbiter of forgiveness. All manner of assumptions could begin to gather around this relatively benign phrasing that would lead to a diminishment of G*D by way of an insult that throws the authority to punish or release into doubt.

This same understanding of authority boundary violations has been present in every age. Rulers do like to rule. When G*D is added into the mix, control issues rise to the top of the agenda. Homogeneity or group-think is one sign of a wilderness area. Woe be to any who are not scrupulous in saying things in an approved manner.

Jesus, familiar with the creative and destructive aspects of wilderness, carries wilderness as a loyal and informative friend where’er he goes. When facing mutterers, this urgently needed gift steadies.

Mark 2:6

But some of the teachers of the Law who were sitting there were debating in their minds,

mutter mutter
toil and trouble
two deuteros
four leviti
there’s one right way
and it’s not yours

we sit and pipe
a top ten tune
and hold up cards
scoring orthos
with a sharp eye
for a misstep

the pressure’s on
now get it right
in front of G*D
and ancestors
jump through those hoops
land securely

O my too bad
you were so close
you only missed
by one day and
a wrong rubric
exit stage left

Having followed a tracking shot with the paralytic and four friends from a distance, to the roof, through the roof, and directly encountering Jesus, we now pull back to the larger scene again.

A brief pan leads us to refocus on a small group of people who have their heads together and whose expressions give away their confusion and anger regarding this business of forgiveness simply being announced.

What was just experienced had no place to land. Are not appropriate vetting and sacrifice helpful tools to assure the community that all is well? Isn’t G*D to be involved with forgiveness? Where is it recorded a Messiah plays a role in forgiveness?

A subsequent zoom into their muttered questions reminds us of how this story is pushed forward with few transitions; mostly jumps.

The original language identifies the heart as the center of this sort of subvocalized questioning to dissect a scene just experienced. Other cultures use other visceral parts in which to ground a source of internal turmoil.

Intellectual and emotional components of our lives have been identified as being in the heart. Some split them into heads and hearts. Others talk about the viscera, liver, stomach, and gall. There are also other components that include such arenas as the psychological and relational.

Expanding those with whom we talk is an important part of healthy living. Echo-chambers are generally restrictive and lead to ever greater divisions. Mutter not. Question out loud. Wonder widely.

Mark 2:5

When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man,  “Child, your sins are forgiven.”

faith is audacious
climbing where angels fear to tread
expecting what is needed is present

faith is hopeful
never seeing until it is accomplished
a way through a multi-dimensional maze

faith is loving
for if a life were not actually endangered
we’d find a way to put off engaging

faith is sin
a golden Jesus calf discounts agency
an intermediary becomes goal not helpmeet

faith is trust
a last outcome is not determinative
our only question is how we will play

Where is the locus of faith or trust located? Everywhere and nowhere is here an appropriate paradox. This construct can include the paralytic, or not. Would you include them, or not?

“Child” here is not age oriented. Read it as a term of endearment or a reduction in status by paralysis or occupation.

Translation is always tricky. Here, the passive construction of “are forgiven” is not available in every language. Some cultures require active agency. Arguments about inerrancy and over literalized denotations of words as if there are answers in life, rather than responses, are beside any point to be made.

If you were to try to put this response about forgiveness into Tzeltal, it might come out, “your sins are lost”. This is a less judgmental way of dealing with “sin”. Even lost sins lead us back into the wildness of a wilderness where, having missed the goal of a whole life, we are tempted into choices that incrementally increase the distance between what we aimed for and the actual result. Rejoice that our disorientation can be lost beyond the horizon even as we receive a blessing that re-creates an everyday wilderness of an unformed deep or paralysis into a relational garden.

Even without a scriptural recording of Jesus saying, “I forgive”, we are invited to join in acknowledging a new reality for ourselves and others—that the sins restricting the fullness of our living are now lost. This frees us to attend to the filling of lives with broader wisdom.

Mark 2:4

Being, however, unable to get him near to Jesus, owing to the crowd, they removed the roofing above Jesus; and, when they had made an opening, they let down the mat on which the paralyzed man was lying.

a closed door
offers a second look
a second story is sparked
a lid removed

after bump bump bumping
urgency for satisfaction
can give up and fall in line
a fickle finger of fate is not the plan

for some baptismal reason
we look up in times of defeat
we are still beloved
and see reflections in a dove’s eye

there is a way around
even when it is up and over
a little geometry and we’re off again
to lay our burden in blessing’s lap

even as we are rewarded
for a creative initiative
we know we’ve cut the line
solidarity now suffers

such is it when fish fish for fishers
a golden sunfish distracts
we begin to game the system for profit
in the wilderness a low chuckle is heard

For the first time we hear of a “crowd”. It has been implied up to this point but from here on out it will be important to track this word that shows up, on average, more than twice per remaining chapter. A crowd has meaning on its own, much in the way of a chorus in ancient Greek plays. Sometimes crowds are blockages and sometimes show awe, but neither change the arc of the story.

“Carry”, often used in Mark regarding a sick person, speaks to the amount of illness and poverty that comes Jesus’ way. In wildernesses we need to be carried and to carry others.

The paralyzed person is being carried on a flexible mat, mattress, or sling of some sort, quite different from the “bed” described in Matthew and Luke. Here life is at the level of the poor—a mat, not a bed. Such small word choices remind us to read Mark in light of Mark.

The roof is described as being “unroofed”, not just a small section dug out. Unroofed is a good descriptor for wilderness. Take this back to baptism, “heaven was torn open, a paralytic descended.” As you read Mark, be sensitive to what, beside a dove, images Spirit?

Mark 2:3

Some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, who was being carried by four of them.

supply lines are critical
for an intention to sustain traction

one found paralyzed in their wilderness
needs tending and carrying

one can bring drink or fireman carry
either option will bring two to their knees

two can relay or bear a stretcher
more sustainable but soon it will be three down

three improves the odds of effective care
while also setting up a self-defeating triangle

four begins a trend toward mutual care
and sets creative organizing loose

what are the needs where are the resources
what lever is available where is a fulcrum

five different wilderness weaknesses
intersect to cast a spell strengthening each

Jesus spoke.

What aspect of making a healthy choice would make a good lead in to a surprise healing.

Given our serial wildernesses, some word of reassurance is probably in order. Just what word-spin he used is probably best left to the reader to speak to their own situation.

Whatever the spoken context, we are led into anticipating a next unexpected encounter.

Who would have thought that a crowded doorway would be the scene of a next wilderness, a place where desires are thwarted. This is also a place were the wonder of imagination strikes at the last possible moment.

Every place the demonic side of purity (segregation, exclusion) or power (poverty, war) arises, an everyday word of another choice needs speaking and enacting. “Habits of the heart” need revealing and restoring.

It is silence that allows us to be fooled into excusing our paralysis. We see all too clearly how powerless we are and fail to see the power yet remaining available to choose and witness otherwise. In doing otherwise, a previously invisible door is found. What word sounds in your center and radiates outward?

Mark 2:2

and so many people collected together, that after a while there was no room for them even around the door; and he began to tell them his message.

a full doorway
piques our curiosity
some basic need is being fulfilled
some political meme reached a tipping point
some new trinket is capturing imaginations

without knowing quite how
certainty arises
it is imperative we enter
laws will be broken if need be
a quick rabbit punch a strategic tug
a wriggle a push a bribe a pulling-rank

we’re in
in time to hear sadness
we’re in this together
there has always been enough
stake your life on it

a dove calls
a wilderness awaits
I am bottled up by neighbors
I trip over my own feet and obligations
all my internal conflicts rise at once
I want to learn more here not on my own

a full doorway
blocks a freedom journey
advantage and privilege conflict a community
setting us at odds with self and tradition
constraining a gravitational law of compassion
dramatizing our wild-eyed stuckness

There is a gravitational field around Jesus that packs folks ever closer. This begins a backup of people filling every nook and cranny. It is the way planets are formed. Pack and pack until there is no room and the pressure begins to transform element to element.

This also helps us understand the need to periodically retreat. There needs to be an inhale after every breath and word is squeezed out.
Do note that the attraction here is not wonder-working but speaking, just plain speaking. This is not preaching as we have come to know it, just simple witnessing.

Neighborly talk in a typical home of the day is basic evangelism in every age. Anything more coercive or corrosive/divisive/sectarian will eventually be heard for how it has given into a temptation for power and people will begin to scatter.

Mark 2:1

Some days later, when Jesus came back to Capernaum, the news spread that he was in a house there;

there is so much to-do
it isn’t worth sticking around
to take more abuse
taken advantage of
conform to a social role
see the enormity of need

but everywhere we go
there we are
a beacon in every wilderness
proclaiming it need not be so
in the center or edgewise
a still point between come and go

until where we are
is where we are
where we are is everywhere
in the course of Brownian Movement
we move through every point
some more than once

while others see us home
we are still journeying
through this wilderness
so déjà vu familiar
so alien in smell and sound
our very own home wilderness

The word “immediately” or “BANG” keeps us looking forward. The story is pushed ahead.

Now we are introduced to its companion that will come around with increasing frequently as Mark proceeds, πάλιν (palin, “again”, “back”).
Listen a bit to Robert M. Fowler in his chapter, “Figuring Mark’s Reader” in Mark and Method: New Approaches in Biblical Studies.

Somewhat like euthys, but pointing in the opposite direction, the Greek word palin stops us dead in our tracks and demands that we look backward momentarily. In Mark palin is usually best translated as “again.” Unlike euthys, which points forward but vaguely so, palin usually points us backward to a fairly certain moment earlier in the reading of the narrative. If we stop to think, usually we can recall the previous moment to which the palin is pointing us.

One effect of this forward push and backward pull is that we readers can see what those in the story do not. This reminds us that Mark is not recording history but is trying to have us engage the wilderness we are in with an announcement of good news, of new living, of new partnerships, through choices we are being prepared to recognize and act upon.

Mark 1:45

The man, however, went away, and began to speak about it publicly, and to spread the story so widely, that Jesus could no longer go openly into a town, but stayed outside in lonely places; and people came to him from every direction.

entering a wilderness
voluntarily or circumstantially
remains an entering
a recognition
not-wilderness is fantastical

a voice cries
you have heard it said …
and such a voice
is exiled

a voice sworn to secrecy
exuberantly blabs thanks
exiles its source

a baptism without wilderness
is meaningless

wilderness happens

meaning scratches outward
implementing new wildness

sourced from exile
unexpected blessings arise
in what previously was blind

redeemed in exile
language views backsides
revealed through invisible robes
no shying from revelation

receive then wilderness
to open your senses
beyond either flight or fight
for no matter how we arrived
we are where we are

Sure enough, if Jesus can say, “Instead….”, so can the one he said it to.

Choice continues. It continues even more in the clean state than in the unclean. Having been brought back within the community the former leper regains what was removed when he was cast out—his agency to choose.

The urgency of Mark with his immediate healings is transferred to the ones healed. There is no way this person can contain what it was that had happened to him.

Reflect for a moment on the difference in experience between the disciples with their oral call and this man whose life has been turned upside-down in a very providential way. The disciples are still learning and this one is off and about preaching loudly about what he experienced with Jesus.

Whatever else needs saying about this close to a dramatic story, it has to be admitted that brings Jesus back to his reason for leaving Capernaum. Though not entering towns, people kept coming and kept coming. There is no honoring of the law, but plenty of honoring healing.

Mark 1:44

and said to him, “Be careful not to say anything to anyone; but go and show yourself to the priest, and make the offerings for your cleansing directed by Moses, as evidence of your cure

talk is cheap
Eliza asks to be shown
priests likewise

explanations bring forth
alternative speculations
leaving confusion aplenty

evidence is not certainty
it is possible common ground
to further reflect together

show up is basic organizing
show off wounds opens compassion
show off healing shares thanks

secret action has power
revealed eschatology confirms power
common definition shifts decisions

so know
so go
so show

The sternness continues. “Don’t you dare say anything to anyone about this!” “Beware the consequence of crossing me!”

With that reinforced, we find another strand being woven in—“Instead.”

Perhaps the former leper was not to talk locally, but travel all the way to Jerusalem to confront or witness to the priestly priests there. It will be penance to not only sacrifice there but to have to travel all that way.

On the one hand this would rub the leper in the face of the priest. See a healing did take place outside the usual boundaries of control. There is a new sheriff in town who is not part of the current cronies and will not be bought off.

On the other hand, Jesus is also hedging his bets with this show of honoring the laws of Moses as they are currently being interpreted (there is no original intent here as we are dealing with a Living G*D). While this cannot be seen as any more than a delaying tactic, it does buy some space for continuing to teach learners who have a long way to go.

Whichever way you tend to read this ambivalent instruction to be quiet and show off, we are beginning to sense that the anger karma is about to bite. Life is never as easy as, “I’m only going to say this once, so be sure you don’t mess up.” Sure enough, consequences are on their way.