Recently we have all experienced and witnessed the pain of isolation caused by COVID-19 and the divisions caused by racial and ethnic tensions. As faith communities, our schools play a vital role in how, as church, we find healing and inclusion. Our faith is in Christ and lived according to Gospel values. One such value is the dignity of all others who represent Christ. For these reasons our schools are more than centres of academic learning; they are faith communities that educate both hearts and minds.
The Gospel of Mark was written within a context of great isolation caused by conflict and division, but it was also written with great faith and hope in the Risen Christ. This Gospel reminds us that we are called into communion with others, and in communion are healed.
An example of this is the narrative in the Gospel of Mark of the healing of the paralytic. Like those portrayed in this brief Gospel portion, contemporary societies may have to journey from places of distrust to places of trust (seemingly like the Scribes in this episode); to journey from places of hurt or disability or isolation to experience healing, inclusion, and forgiveness (as with the paralytic); and from enacting compassion to others, to also receiving mercy and salvation (as with those bringing the paralytic to Jesus, and also other witnesses of the event). In every case, it is Christ who completes the search for healing and fulfilment, which may be amplified under three aspects:
- Those who serve others. Mark 2:3 simply mentions these as a group of people who came to Jesus––including four who were carrying the paralytic. The action of these four is dramatic, and they are rewarded for their forthrightness in seeking to put the paralytic before Jesus (as seen in their letting him down from the rooftop). Jesus names their action as one of faith that brings the paralytic to wholeness––involving both Christ’s healing of disability and his proclaiming forgiveness of sins (Mark 2:5).
- The inhibiting mindset of the Scribes. This group was filled with distrust and accusations and obsession with control. Christ “perceives” this, and proceeds to demonstrate his authority in a way that transcends any human ability and control. Thus, in restoring the wholeness to the paralytic, Jesus goes beyond the controls of any human ability and leads the Scribes also to be “amazed and glorify God” (Mark 2:12).
- The helplessness of the paralytic. While no word was spoken or final action was possible by the man who was dependent upon others, we may infer an openness to be taken to Christ, and his consent to the extraordinary measures involved. The pathway of the paralytic ends with restoration of health and salvation that witnesses the authority of the kingdom of Christ. The depicted journey is far from ideal, and this may have been what the evangelist intended to communicate—that our involvement in a faith community may at times be difficult and complex. Fundamental changes only happen with a coming to Christ with others, and in bearing witness as seen where the paralytic takes up his pallet “and went out before them all” (Mark 2:12).
Mark’s healing of the paralytic resonates with the words of Pope St John Paul II at the beginning of our current millennium, “… make the Church the home and the school of communion …” (John Paul II, Novo Millennio Ineunte, n. 43).
In a dramatic manner, COVID-19 and recent social tensions have revealed the paralysing effects of division and isolation upon persons and communities. As church we are called to enact living responses to Christ’s call out of social divisions and isolations, and into his communion. We may identify this in terms of healing, in terms of inclusion, and in terms of salvation. Mark’s narrative of the healing of the paralytic exemplifies the importance of answering the call to Christ in solidarity with others, and to act as witnesses of the healings that go beyond divisions or exclusions and isolations.
How in the current era may we find relevance in this gospel and other episodes with their healing narratives? This is a confronting issue, and we cannot confidently say that Christ will physically raise people from their paralytic divisions and isolations. Mark was in the same position since at the time of his writing Jesus had not walked the earth for years. Nevertheless, he not only retold the story, he wrote it down for his community/church and for posterity out of his conviction of encounter with the Risen and Reigning Lord (Mark 16:9-16).
We may still ask what this has to do with the issue of healings within our own contemporary communities from the effects of forced isolation and social division and exclusion. Mark understood Jesus’ miracles as manifesting the reign of God which more fundamentally brought healing and wholeness to humanity, and, indeed, to the world. For Mark, the end focus is not the miracles, but the Resurrection.
Like those who carried the paralytic to Jesus, our schools, as all communities, must seek to evoke hope beyond present oppressive circumstances––hope to envision the futures to which Jesus is leading us. He leads us into understanding and living church as communion with others who are likewise called to focus on this hope, rather than on present disabilities and divisions and isolations.
The key is that we are called with and for others to hope in the Resurrection; to move beyond our doubts and accusations like the Scribes; to be open to all kinds and conditions of persons; to carry those who need carrying; and to allow ourselves to be carried when needed, as was the paralytic in this gospel episode. It is these gospel perspectives that mobilise us to move forward under the example and leadership of Christ as faith communities of healing and inclusion.
Thomas Hunter is the Leader of Learning, and teacher of English and Religion at CathWest Innovation College.