Thursday, January 17, 2013 -- Week of 2 Epiphany (Year One)
Antony, Abbot in Egypt, 356
[Go to http://www.missionstclare.com/english/index.html for an online version of the Daily Office including today's scripture readings.]
Today's Readings for the Daily Office
(Book of Common Prayer, p. 942)
Psalms 18:1-20 (morning) // 18:21-50 (evening)
Only God can forgive sins. Everybody knows that. The Hebrew scripture teaches it. Thousands of years of tradition clearly outline the necessary procedures for human beings to take in order that God might forgive their sin. But only God can forgive sins.
No wonder traditional religious people opposed Jesus and got upset with him. "But so you will know that the Human One has authority on the earth to forgive sins" -- Jesus said to the paralytic -- "Get up, take your mat, and go home." (Mark 2:10, CEB) The title the "Human One" or the "Son of Man" is ambiguous. In some places in scripture, it clearly means "mortal." In other places it implies superhuman qualities. In Matthew's version of this story the people leave praising God "who had given such authority to human beings." Teachings such as this provoked religious traditionalists to charge Jesus with blasphemy. After all, only God can forgive sins. Everybody knows that.
Maybe they underestimated just how radical Jesus was. In Ephesians we read the effect of Jesus's ministry. Those who were once regarded as sinners and outsiders are now welcomed as equals. This lyrical passage in Ephesians 2 has inspired not only uncircumcised Gentiles, but also slaves, women, people of color, and gay Christians. "But now, thanks to Christ Jesus, you who were once so far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. Christ is our peace. He made both Jews and Gentiles into one group. With his body he broke down the barrier of hatred that divided us. He canceled the detailed rules of the Law so that he could create one new person out of the two groups, making peace. He reconciled them both as one body to God by the cross, which ended the hostility to God." (13-16)
This is such rich material that it is worth looking at some of the alternate translations. Another way to translate the description of this reconciliation is to say that Jesus' work will "reconcile both of us in one body for God" by destroying the hostility "in himself."
This great proclamation of inclusion speaks of breaking down "the dividing wall." Many scholars believe that this references the barriers which separated the court of the Gentiles from the worship places open only to Jews. In the ancient Christian shrine to St. Cuthbert in Durham, England, there is a black marble line across the floor. It was placed in 1100 when the Norman cathedral was built. It was a protective barrier, to keep the altar and St. Cuthbert's holy shrine pure and free from the corrupting presence of women. I remember "Whites Only" signs in waiting rooms and on restroom doors and water fountains.
The people who created those dividing walls believed they were doing God's will and protecting the holy from the profane. But Jesus came and "announced the good news of peace to you who were far away from God and to those who were near. We both have access to the Father through Christ by the one Spirit." (17-18) The apostle says to us Gentiles and to all others who have stood behind those dividing walls, "So now you are no longer strangers and aliens. Rather, you are fellow citizens with God's people, and you belong to God's household." Hallelujah!