Thursday, July 02, 2020

Personhood

Gospel set for Holy Communion today: Matthew 9:1-8.

And after getting into a boat he crossed the water and came to his own town.

And just then some people were carrying a paralysed man lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.’ Then some of the scribes said to themselves, ‘This man is blaspheming.’ But Jesus, perceiving their thoughts, said, ‘Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, “Your sins are forgiven”, or to say, “Stand up and walk”? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—he then said to the paralytic—‘Stand up, take your bed and go to your home.’ And he stood up and went to his home. When the crowds saw it, they were filled with awe, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to human beings.

 

The term ‘individual’ is appropriate for a wrapped chocolate biscuit, but insidious when applied to human beings. Human beings are not individuals but distinct persons: that is, we exist in, and only in, inter-woven connection with others.

Reading this Gospel passage from an individualistic perspective, we see a disabled man and an unspecified number of able-bodied people. Heard from the perspective of personhood, we note a community of people who are each enabled and enabling, who are enable-embodied. The paralysed man can move because of those around him, and they can move with purpose and towards Jesus because of him. And when the paralysed man walks, he does not move from being ‘less’ to being ‘more’, but remains enable-embodied, in new-found ways. This is important for many reasons, including the fact that paralysis remains present in the community, not least as demonstrated by the scribes.

This difference, and tension, between individualism and personhood goes to the heart of Jesus’ engagement with the scribes (even if individualism, as we know it today, is a later idea). Even though they associate tribally as ‘scribes’ (and here we must note that it is possible to be enabled and enabling in unhealthy ways), within this grouping we see a severing of the ties with fellow human beings. They have chosen to think the worst of someone else—as is so prevalent a reflex today.

In calling them out on this, Jesus chooses to use the term ‘the Son of Man’. This is a symbolic figure from the book of the prophet Daniel, a human form who represents a remnant community, through which God will demonstrate enduring faithfulness in a new beginning. This is underlined in Matthew’s commentary on the response of the crowds, who see in the action claimed as being done in the name of the Son of Man that God has given authority to forgive people to human beings, plural.

The heart of the matter, then, is how as a new community we learn to be healthily enable-embodied; and the first step is learning to forgive those who inevitably get it wrong—knowing that we, ourselves, will need such forgiveness.


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