January 23, 2013

Touches and Imperatives

It's probably because trying to learn Italian makes me more attentive to grammar, but as we've started once again to journey through St. Mark in the daily lectionary, I've been thinking about how Jesus heals people.

Sometimes it's by a touch, as in Peter's mother-in-law or the leper in chapter one. Later on, in chapter five, we'll see that the touch works the other way too, when the woman with the hemorrhages is healed just by reaching out and touching Jesus' garment. These touches exist for us in our prayer, as we strive to reach out to God through the crowd of our distractions and attachments, and as God touches us in so many ways, noticed and unnoticed, but especially in Holy Communion.

But touch isn't the only way Jesus heals. The paralytic in chapter two and the man with the withered hand in chapter three are healed by a word. And it's not just a word, but an imperative, a command. 'Rise, take up your pallet and go home.' 'Stretch out your hand.' The new wholeness for each came in obedience to the command, and the imperative holds within itself the power to be effected. Divine speech is creative in its very utterance--'God said, and so it happened'--and by just the command of Jesus these two people are created anew, renovated.

It seems to me this sort of reflection can save us from two ways our sense of religion gets impoverished sometimes.

First, without quite knowing it, we can start to think as the world does in viewing the imperatives and 'rules' of the faith as arbitrary or oppressive. But the truth is, though they may seem otherwise to our minds made confused and wills made disordered by sin, all of the commands of God are of the form, 'rise' and 'stretch out,' that is to say ordered to our wholeness, flourishing, and happiness.

Second, sometimes I hear hints of an impoverished sense of God's will with regard to salvation, a sense that salvation is something God simply offers to the world for anyone who might be fortunate enough to find it and diligent enough to accept it. Holding such an idea, even half-consciously, can be attractive because it lets the believer think himself a little special. "God, I thank you that I am not like other men." But the truth is that salvation isn't just something God offers to the world, but something God wills for the world. Indeed, God commands us to be saved, willing and desiring passionately that we should become free to be the creatures he made us to be for his glory and one another's salvation. And just like the imperatives that healed the paralytic and the man with the withered hand, God's command is effective; it contains within itself the power to stand up, to stretch out hearts and minds turned in on themselves in misery and sin.


Judy Kallmeyer said...

Amen! "This is the will of God, your sanctification."

Myzomela said...

This makes a good counterpoint to Christopher Hitchens' characterisation of Christianity (and religion in general), that it is "a cruel experiment, whereby we are created sick, and commanded to be well" (though I think Hitch got it from elsewhere). In a way he's right, but doesn't understand what "command" means.

Anthony ofs