There is a Gospel reading and a sermon, that I've been thinking about for a few weeks, that I'd like to talk about today. A few weeks ago, the Gospel reading was the story of Jesus healing the paralytic. That Gospel, combined with the sermon preached by our seminarian in training that day, and something I heard later in the service really caught my attention that day. And in the days and weeks that followed, my mind kept returning to them. Let me start by sharing that Gospel reading, which many of you are probably familiar with, but just to have it fresh in your minds before I talk about it...
Jesus Heals a Paralytic
A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven."
Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, "Why does this fellow talk like that? He's blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?"
Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, "Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, "Your sins are forgiven," or to say, "Get up, take your mat and walk"? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins . . . ." He said to the paralytic, "I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home." 1He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this!"
And Tara, our seminarian in training, went on to describe, first of all, what that scene would have looked like, the way houses were constructed in that time and place such that it was typical to have the roof easily accessible by some sort of stairs. (In fact, I had just seen a program about this on the National Geographic Channel.) And she drew a word picture of what the man's friends--the man who, though he is a major character in the story, never speaks a word, and who we have not heard ask for anything--what they had to go through to dig through the roof and lower him down. And then she drew a parallel to what we are called to do.
She said that we are *all* paralyzed in some way...physically, emotionally, spiritually etc.
We need to dig on behalf of our neighbors, get dirt under our fingernails and sweat on our brows, break through barriers on behalf of others.
It was a good sermon, like many good sermons I've heard at my progressive Episcopal church. But it probably wouldn't have stood out in my mind were it not for what happened next. During the Prayers of the People, a parishioner said, "For the health of Bishop Gene." It took a minute to place the name--Bishop who? Then I realized it must be Gene Robinson he was talking about. I hadn't heard anything about him having health issues, and wondered how serious it was.
So, I took out my Sidekick (phone with internet access) and did a quick web search Father forgive me, I have Googled in church and found out pretty quickly that Bishop Gene Robinson had recently entered a rehab facility for treatment of alcoholism. And one of the very first headlines I saw was on Worldnet Daily (for anyone who is not familiar, this is a very right wing internet "news" source" smugly proclaiming, "The homosexual, alcoholic bishop"
And I looked at that headline and thought, "You heartless, self-satisfied son of a--" Okay, I'm already feel a tad guilty about Googling during Mass--probably shouldn't make things worse with that kind of language. But it *really* made me angry. It was just so hateful--positively crowing with condescension.
And it came back to me, "we're *all* paralyzed in some way, and we need to dig through barriers on behalf of our neighbors. Even the those neighbors that are jerks.
And thinking about the different ways people can be paralyzed, it's a lot easier to want to help--to feel *moved* to help someone whose disability is physical and clearly visible. Even the paralytic in the Gospel story is not seen *asking* for help, but neither do we see him denying the need for help. Or worse, scorning those who might wish to help him. But then, that's why these things are called "barriers" isn't it?
One of the first things I read about Gene Robinson when I first heard of him was an interview in which he was asked who his favorite saints were. One of the people he named was Fred Rogers--known by several generations of children as Mister Rogers. That really caught my attention, since I think it was around that time that I really started reading more about Fred Rogers, the man and the Presbyterian minister. And the more I learned about him, the more impressed I became. After he died, his wife Joanne Rogers released a book entitled The World According to Mister Rogers, and part of the forward she wrote to the book was posted online:
A quote he loved especially-and carried around with him-was from Mary Lou Kownacki: "There isn't anyone you couldn’t love once you’ve heard their story." There were many times I wanted to be angry at someone, and Fred would say, "But I wonder what was going on in that person’s day." His capacity for understanding always amazed me.
That really stopped me in my tracks. I know *I* have come across as unkind or uncaring to people at one time or another, simply because I was stressed or preoccupied. I certainly would *like* for people to withhold judgement...so I keep reminding myself to try to do the same for others...to ask that question Fred Rogers routinely asked himself--what might be going on in that person's day.
And I *do* try. But it's harder when we're not talking about one day, but people for whom meanness seems to be a way of life.
This is from an article that appeared in Christianity Today in March of 2000
In seminary Mister Rogers studied systematic theology with Dr. William S. Orr. "From then on I took everything he offered; it could have been underwater basket weaving.
"He was a great influence on many of our lives. Not just because he was brilliant," he says. "He was the kind of person who would go out on a winter's day for lunch and come back without his overcoat.
"I studied Greek with him and then I studied New Testament with him. Every Sunday, my wife and I used to go to the nursing home to visit him. One Sunday we had just sung "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" and I was full of this one verse. I said, 'Dr. Orr, we just sang this hymn and I've got to ask you about part of it.
"You know where it says-The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him. For, lo, his doom is sure. - one little word will fell him? Dr. Orr, what is that one thing that would wipe out evil?"
"He said, 'Evil simply disintegrates in the presence of forgiveness. When you look with accusing eyes at your neighbor, that is what evil would want, because the more the accuser'-which, of course, is the word Satan in Hebrew-'can spread the accusing spirit, the greater evil spreads.' Dr. Orr said, 'On the other hand, if you can look with the eyes of the Advocate on your neighbor, those are the eyes of Jesus.'
"I've never forgotten that."
I know in my heart that this is true, and I want to try to live my life accordingly, but I often seem to come up short. It's not easy. But I know that the other way, the way of punishment, revenge, and feeding our own hate, *really* doesn't work. In fact, it takes bad situations and makes them worse. So, I guess I just have to keep trying...with God's help.
Alternate link for comments