26 January 2020 Old and New Martin Baker
1 When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2 So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. 3 Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4 And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven." 6 Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7 "Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" 8 At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, "Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? 9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, "Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, "Stand up and take your mat and walk'? 10 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins" — he said to the paralytic — 11 "I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home." 12 And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this!" 13 Jesus went out again beside the sea; the whole crowd gathered around him, and he taught them. 14 As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, "Follow me." And he got up and followed him. 15 And as he sat at dinner in Levi's house, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples—for there were many who followed him. 16 When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, "Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?" 17 When Jesus heard this, he said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners." 18 Now John's disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, "Why do John's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?" 19 Jesus said to them, "The wedding guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 20 The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day. 21 "No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. 22 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins."
It’s a long reading we heard today. One of the things I think we need to be mindful of sometimes, is that scripture was never written in little vignettes. Our Bibles are not made up of a series of slogans. And while some verses are really important to us, the verses, when they were spoken or written down were always part of a bigger story. The writers of scripture never wrote in chapter, in verse. In fact often they didn’t bother even separating the words, partly it was just to do with the cost of parchment or velum .
So not just one or two verses today and the next few weeks. But quite a few verses.
And the bigger story today that these verses are telling us about. And today these verses are telling us a bigger story about old and new.
For people of Jesus’ day this was a critical issue. How do we weigh up what we hear today against everything we’ve known from our past, our tradition. We’re probably in a different place in 2020. We today, we often equate new with better. If you go into a supermarket today, half the producst on their level will include the word new. There were queues outside the apple store waiting to purchase the latest iphone. Even some churches will emphasise that they are a new church and the implication being that somehow the Gospel message will be told in a different more contemporary more relevant way.
But is new mostly better than the old? I think it is quite a deep question. What is it about being new that makes something so attractive. Back in Jesus’ day some of the new things represented the opposite to how we see them now. New was seen as a threat, a danger. But now new has a kind of mystique about it.
I went into Mitre 10 last week. And I was looking around for a product that would clean bricks. There is a whole lot of white stuff on the bricks at home and and I was sure there would be some new product I could buy that would clean them up. After all we have quantum physics and satellites and MIR machines, there must be something out there that I could pour on and wipe off.
A couple of helpful young store people showed me various new things, cleaners, a type of acid. And then an older guy overheard me talk about the problem. And he said you know there is only one thing you need for those bricks and I’s only going to cost you $8.50 and I said what’s that. And he said a good wire brush. You’re going to have to get down and do the hard work of cleaning each one of those bricks. No. I want the pour on and walk away stuff.
It might seem like a distant maybe even an academic question to us, but our verses today touch on this critical thing to Jesus early followers those first Christians. How does the old relate to the new. Is the new always better, is the old always lesser, somehow inferior?
Jesus is saying these words about healing, about forgiveness of sin, he’s sitting down to eat with some of the least respected members of his society. It seems in the story he might even be calling Levi a tax collector, a possible Roman collaborator, calling him as one of his disciples.
The scribes, these were the establishment people, the people who gained great benefit from keeping things as they were, they accuse Jesus of blasphemy - historically a crime punishable by stoning, the Pharisees, who were looking for ways that people could uphold the law, they can’t believe that a religious teacher would eat with sinners. That wasn’t done.
When Jesus heard this, he said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners”. New words but spoken into a historically ancient culture.
And so in these little stories we read today we have these reflections the Gospel provides us on understanding something about the relationship between the old and the new.
Jesus teaches that ‘No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made’. A false reading of these verses leads us to think that the old is irrelevant and the new is all that is important.
And yet it is not saying that. Cloth was an incredibly valuable commodity in Jesus’ day. Old cloth was patched all the time. But you needed to take care when you were sewing a patch on it or both the old and the new would be damaged.
Jesus says, “ And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins."
There is no inference here that old wine skins are bad. In fact some of the mature older wine was most highly valued. Again Jesus is talking about care and thoughtfulness in the way the old and new interact.
The point that Jesus is making is that: inherited things are not necessarily bad things just because they are old things, well-used and well-worn. Rather, there is acknowledgment that old ways and new ways can be mutually destructive. How and when they will be brought together entails thought and care.
In fact if we reflect in different way on the story of the man forgiven of his sins and healed from his paralysis there is an unusual detail in this story as well which also draws us to reflect on the relationship between the old and the new.
The paralysed man’s, mat. His bedroll. His stretcher. We are told the man is laying on it, that this mat is lowered down through the roof. That bed roll or mat is the thing that bears the man to Jesus. And then there is the way Jesus specifically includes it in the question he poses to the scribes in verse 9. He doesn’t just ask if it is easier to tell the man his sins are forgiven or to “stand up and walk.” No, it is “stand up and take your mat and walk.” The mat is somehow, oddly, right there. Then, of course, Jesus does tell the man to “stand up, take your mat, and go to your home.” And finally Mark writes that the paralyses man did just that, immediately, taking his mat with him (verse 12). That mat is mentioned four times in just a few verses.
It seems like a strange thing to tell a healed person to do: be sure and take your sickbed with you. Why on earth would this healed person want that particular souvenir? It would be like finally getting your cast off and then taking it home.
Why does Mark name this detail? Maybe it is just a way of showing that the paralytic is so healed that he cannot only walk but he can also pick stuff up. Or maybe it is just the recognition that this man will still need something to sleep on now that he is mobile again. Or maybe it’s pragmatic: it’s a crowded room, we need the space, get that thing out of here.
But maybe there is more to it than that. But let’s think of it a different way. The healed man’s life would never be the same after that day when he heard the words of forgiveness and stood on his own two feet. He was carried in on the mat at the beginning of the story, but now he carries, and carries on. The old life is gone and a new life has begun, sure. But take your mat with you, Jesus says. Does he mean: don’t forget where you came from? Does he mean: bring your testimony, your story with you? When people see you are walking tell them the story. Perhaps this is also about the old and the new, the past and the future, somehow, thoughtfully, related.
There is a lovely saying, one of my favourites really, every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.
For Jesus’ words to have meaning they have to be words about all we are.
Our past. The things we regret. Our injuries the things we might even be ashamed of. The things we need to be forgiven for. The words we have said, the experience of love and pain. The knowledge of God’s presence, the good and bad stories that we have told about ourselves. Our limitations, our hopes. The old and the new.
There is a thoughtfulness, a depth, a compassion in Jesus words and stories.
We come to Jesus with all these things. And Jesus, son of God, our risen saviour, Jesus says, you are forgiven, you are healed. Take up your mat and walk.
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