By John Forman, Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry Graduate Assistant to the Ecumenical Liturgical Coordinator. John prepared this homily based on Mark 6:1-12 for the School of Theology and Ministry’s Morning Prayer on Tuesday, Jan. 29th
Rabbi Abraham Heschel has said that the art of prophecy is “knowing what you see rather than seeing what you know.” Just before our reading, Jesus has raised Jairus’ 12-year-old daughter to life and healed a woman from 12 years of hemorrhaging. The two stories are intertwined, but both woman have been healed by acts of faith. Our reading today is divided into two stories. In the second story, Jesus sends the 12.
Three sets of 12—a reference to wholeness, totality marked by the sending. The Kingdom of Heaven is truly at hand. So what interests me is the odd story in the middle where Jesus can “work no miracles…apart from laying his hands on a few people and healing them.” What makes healing Jairus’ daughter and the woman with the hemorrhage “miraculous” and healing these few different?
Distinct from salvation, given freely by grace, do God’s “acts of power” depend on our receptivity? On our openness to unprecedented possibilities? The people in the first story in our reading today respond to Jesus’ teaching by looking for ways to confirm what they already know about Jesus—his pedigree, his background and family—and because they are intent on “seeing what they know,” they do not “know what they see,” which is the evidence of the Kingdom of Heaven so close to their grasp. Yesterday’s story was about people who recognized what was in front of their eyes and believed.
90 years ago,scholars would have said that stories of Jesus’ healing miracles had to have been hyperbolic legends meant to set Jesus apart because God doesn’t violate the laws of nature. 50 years ago, we began to understand the dynamics of psychosomatic disorders and so were able to allow the possibility that Jesus could heal those kinds of problems but not others. 20 years ago, research began to show that some forms of prayer and meditation had a measurable and non-trivial influence on healing. What has changed is not the available possibilities, but what Paul Ricoeur called the “available believable.” In other words, what changed is our increasing openness to God’s movement within, between and around us.
So how does this apply to us today? These are the headlines for Saturday’s Seattle Times: “Starbuck’s Boosts Shultz’s Pay 80%” from $16.1 to $28.9 million a year. The headline directly next to it reads: “Big shift in aid for homeless: funds for emergency shelters.” The plan, in short, is not working. There are at least 2,736 people living on the streets or in their cars or in tent cities, up 5% from last year. That doesn’t count the working poor who are doing everything they can to stay off the street or those temporarily living with relatives or friends.
I don’t bring this to your attention to vilify Howard Shultz or to criticize King County’s Plan to End Homelessness. I bring it to our attention because of what it says about you and me—how it points to what we believe is possible: The American Dream is based on our belief that anyone can achieve success to the tune of $28 million a year. Alongside that dream is the belief that homelessness is unsolvable or someone else’s problem or just a chronic aspect of life.
But I wonder to what extent our own certainties—our clarity about “what is so”—are preventing us from seeing openings for the breaking through of the Kingdom of Heaven. Mark’s Jesus sent the twelve out who “proclaimed repentance,” though we are better served by the Greek that makes this read more like “that all (that means you and I , not “those people”) might repent.” And the Greek verb translated as “repent” can render as “change of mind.” Will you grant me the possibility that it might mean to “expand the available believable”? When Mark’s Jesus began his ministry just after John was arrested, he proclaimed the good news of God saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent (expand your available believable), and believe in the good news.’” We who follow Jesus are invited, like the 12, or better, we are commissioned to change our minds so that we might know the Reign of God when we are see it and act as though we believe it.
John Forman is a Postulant for Holy Orders in the Episcopal Church working toward an MDiv at Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry. He is also a Benedictine Oblate of Mt Angel Abbey in Oregon and the co-author of the forthcoming textbook, “Integral Leadership: The Next Half-Step,” which will be published by SUNY Press in May 2013.