Abram Jackson's Friday Morning Liturgy Homily
Mark 2: 1 - 12
And when he returned to Caper'na-um after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room for them, not even about the door; and he was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and when they had made an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "My son, your sins are forgiven." Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, "Why does this man speak thus? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, "Why do you question thus in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, `Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, `Rise, take up your pallet 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 say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home." And he rose, and immediately took up the pallet and went out before them all; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, "We never saw anything like this!"
I don't think I have ever felt more helpless. I woke up on a Saturday morning after feeling a tingle in the back of my neck for a week. I thought I was coming down with a cold, but didn't think much of it besides eating soup and drinking Theraflu to head it off. When I woke up, I knew something was off. My right eye was dry and I couldn't figure out why, I then realized I couldn't blink. I ran to the mirror and realized that I could not move anything on the right side of my face. I thought I had a stroke and went to the hospital up the road. I was told that I had this thing called Bell's palsy and that there are so many unknowns about it. "It may go away next week," the doctor said. "It also may never go away."
For me, it was an experience that lasted about 6 months. I thank God for that experience as it humbled me. It made me slow down, it made me go inward as I was afraid to go outward...literally as I looked a little cray cray. It caused me to reflect. Sometimes sickness or injury can do this like in the case of our school's patron saint Ignatius of Loyola... arguably being shut-in from his cannon ball injury helped lead to his conversion. In the historical context of the reading from Mark, sickness and deformities were perceived as a manifestation of sin, whether individual or of one's ancestors. I have to admit that I thought the same way. I thought that I had to have done something wrong to be afflicted with bells palsy and as a sophomore in college I had plenty of things to point to as possibilities of sins committed.
Whenever I hear this passage from Mark, I often personalize it and consider the experience of paralysis and I try to envision the mind of the paralytic. I also try to imagine how those who doubted the power of God felt in their heart and mind. Paralysis is a literal and figurative affliction. I've had a taste of the literal with the right side of my face and the figurative is exemplified by the scribes who have only known of what they have seen. They thought it was blasphemy that Jesus forgave the paralytic of his sins AND healed him. After seeing the miracle the scribes exclaimed, "We never saw anything like this!" I do believe that the figurative paralysis can be connected to our faith and our consciousness. Our faith in that it is based on so much that is unseen but known in our hearts to be true. And in our consciousness in the realm that we think we know what we have always been told and thus believed to be true. This is called epistemology. How we know what we know... but how do we know what we know?
It has been such a challenging Fall as it relates to race relations. The summer ended with the better known killings of unarmed black men Eric Garner and Michael Brown in separate incidents and the semester ended with the grand jury non-indictments of the police officers that shot and killed them. As you know it has really set off a grassroots movement with a social media presence exclaiming #blacklivesmatter This followed by the brutal shootings of two NYPD police officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu. Sigh This stuff is messy, uncomfortable and elicits feelings of anger, hopelessness and confusion.
You see it can't go away because racism is our country's original sin.
When the paralytic is brought down by the four men, the Gospel states, "And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, 'My son, your sins are forgiven.'
Our sins can be forgiven when it comes to matters of race and racism. Where do we point to the hope? The hope may be that God is present in all of this.
The paralysis is our country's challenge both collectively and individually in understanding racism. Jesus asked the question "Why do you question thus in your hearts?... `Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, `Rise, take up your pallet and walk'? 10But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins"
Jesus is playing with the scribes and saying you've already condemned this person because of their sin and Jesus is encouraging them to move to a more faithful place in these matters.
How does that relate to us today?
If we truly understand racism as a system that gives advantage to one group at the expense of others as evidenced in all social indicators like housing, health care, media, education, the criminal justice system, etc. then we may be able to connect the way in which our original sin is rearing its ugly head in so many ways. But as a teacher, I know that not everyone may understand racism in this way. Many people think of racism as the ill treatment of people based on their race. In other words, being mean to each other. This is a small part of it, but by definition it is about a system that keeps one group out institutionally based on race an example is the fact that a black person is killed by police, security forces and vigilantes every 28 hours. The paralysis for all of us is that of consciousness. When we may learn of how hard it may be for some people in our country, we can't believe it. We doubt. It takes a leap of faith when we trust that this may be. In teaching the social movements class here at SI, the racism unit is always the most challenging. In many ways I feel like Black Jesus in a class full of scribes... doubting the realities that I speak of as it relates to racism and other isms. For many people who may have never experienced the atrocities of racism it can be hard to believe.
Rev. Dr. MLK Jr. was able to elevate the consciousness of our nation through a deliberate and organized method of nonviolence. He also used the new technological tool of television to show the rest of the country how bad it was. In the new film Selma we see how Dr. King calls out to all Americans, especially clergy for their support after they witnessed the violence of the Selma police department on the cover of newspapers and on television newscasts. After seeing it, many people understood that what he was saying was true. There was this lack of humanity for African Americans as evidenced by blatant violence of women being attacked by police dogs, elderly being beaten by batons and fire hoses blasting young people who wanted change. This moved many people and created allies of folks from all over the country, including white people to come to Selma and march in solidarity, some of them loosing their life. It is liberating for all involved when a person is able to acknowledge their privilege and pick up their mat and walk with the oppressed in a way they haven't before.
At home, here at SI, we would be foolish not to think that the racism and ideas of the larger society have no impact on us. I believe that this verse calls us to be aware of our privilege and to trust in the pain that others may share with us. To believe faithfully and to proceed with care and love for the oppressed. Last year in my class I had a class that was majority students of color with four white students. About a month into the class, one of the white students raised their hand and said, "Mr. Jackson, I don't feel comfortable in this class. I feel my whiteness and feel like I am the only one in the class. I don't always feel like sharing and it just feels weird." A Latino student from the other side of class raised his hand and shared, "that's how I feel everyday in my classes." In that moment, I saw the paralysis dissipate in the white student. She instantly believed that what many students of color told her about their experience just may be true, in part because she was experiencing it. In order for us to proceed, we have to trust and believe in each other and from that point forward their was a movement for both students... it was as if they both walked together after having paralyzed feet for all these years.
Who have we put at the foot of Jesus? In which ways are we paralyzed? What part of ourselves needs to be put at the foot of Jesus?
It takes constant work for us to combat notions of race and to dismantle systems of oppression. Some of these are big steps and some of these are battles of the mind. I recently was heading to the gym at night and parked on a dark side street. I saw a black man walking towards my car and I instantly hit the lock button. As he walked past me, I realized what I did. I succumbed to the notion that all black men are threatening and dangerous. I had to remind myself that this is not true. How painful it was for me to acknowledge this especially considering the number of times I too have heard the click of the locked door that I walk by... for some reason we have been told to not discuss these incidents, but it takes a leap of faith and consciousness to do so. There is a race riot in all of our minds and we have to confront it. We have to move past this idea that we are colorblind or don't judge. After this incident, I prayed to God in the way that I imagined the paralytic may have,
"I am lying here paralyzed and I want to be healed."
My prayer for our community as we reflect on the legacy of Dr. King is that we commit to being open to those moments of grace that our classmates, teachers, coaches, etc. share with us. That we are able to pick up our mats. I also pray that we commit to being an ally and use whatever power and privilege that we may have to help the oppressed. These actions done with care and love will aid in our collective healing from this paralysis of faith and consciousness especially as it relates to race.