We usually guess right when we assume that mention of Pharisees, scribes and doctors of the law in the opening of a gospel passage will lead to them being even more off-side with Jesus at the end of the reading. But today’s gospel is different.
The Pharisees and doctors of the Law were watching Jesus and listening to him speak. A paralysed man was carried to see Jesus but they couldn’t get through the crowd to so they carried the man onto the roof, removed some tiles, and lowered the man’s stretcher through the opened roof to place him in front of Jesus.
The stretcher-bearers’ faith is enough for Jesus who responded by calling the paralysed man “friend” and forgiving his sin. This upsets the scribes and Pharisees who (as expected) accuse Jesus of blasphemy: “Who is this man talking blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
Jesus was aware of their thoughts and ordered the paralysed man: “get up, pick up your stretcher and go home.”
This is where the account takes an unexpected turn and instead of more hostility the passage concludes: “They were all astounded and praised God, and were filled with awe, saying, ‘We have seen strange things today.’”
Such a positive response from those who were seeking to catch Jesus out was indeed strange.
While the popular Netflix series Stranger Things is a science fiction horror, the dictionary definition of “strange” brings us closer to the gospel use of the word: “Unusual or surprising. Difficult to understand or explain”.
Perhaps we expect Christian faith to give more of the same-old-same-old tried and tested well-practiced routines and rituals, doctrines and beliefs. In other words we expect Christianity to be usual and unsurprising rather than “unusual and surprising.”
Remember my post yesterday on new beginnings? (Apologies for the late sending of that post – my fault entirely as I forgot to tick one essential box in the email set-up). One of yesterday’s reflection questions was “In what ways do you sense that Jesus might be inviting you to embrace a new beginning?”
The paralysed man certainly was given an unexpected and surprising new beginning as he picked up his stretcher and walked home.
That was a strange thing.
The life of today’s saint Ambrose also took an unusual and surprising turn. As an up-and-coming political leader (a catechumen but not yet baptised) in the 4th century he was sent to govern factions in Milan in the midst of political and religious tensions. The people, in need of a bishop, unexpectedly and very surprisingly acclaimed him as their bishop, (he had to be quickly be baptised and ordained priest so that he could be ordained bishop. He served as bishop of Milan for more than twenty years, becoming one of the greatest bishops of all time.
That’s pretty strange.
So now, in the words of today’s gospel I’m expecting to “see strange things” today. I’m expecting to be surprised and I’m open to the unexpected, hoping to appreciate that the ways I will encounter Christ will be unexpected, unusual, surprising, and even the strange.
- Is there a word or phrase from today’s reflection that speaks to you? Take that word or phrase as a personal mantra over the next few hours.
- Savour this quotation from today’s Office of Readings for the feast of Ambrose: “…let your words be rivers, clean and limpid, so that in your exhortations you may charm the ears of your people. And by the grace of your words win them over to follow your leadership… Solomon says: The weapons of the understanding are the lips of the wise; and in another place he says: Let your lips be bound with wisdom. That is, let the meaning of your words shine forth, let understanding blaze out. See that your addresses and expositions do not need to invoke the authority of others, but let your words be their own defence. Let no word escape your lips in vain or be uttered without depth of meaning”. Office of Readings
- Pray for those who have asked for our prayer. Especially those whose initials appear below. You are welcome to send more initials.