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Kirk Johnson T’12, G’16

An essay by the Master of Divinity alumnus.

In Mark 2:1-12, Jesus heals a paralytic or paralyzed man. What is profound about this narrative is the way the house was built only allowed people that could walk to enter in. The builders were intentional about building a structure that only allowed access to people who could walk. This text has been used as an example to remind us of the value and rights of those who are differently-abled. However, this text can likewise serve as a metaphor of racism within our country. The founding fathers of America intentionally built a structure of white male patriarchy. As a result, communities of color cannot progress the way we should. We do not have the freedom of movement like we should, because we are in a state of social and legal paralysis like this man in our text. We are still dealing with centuries-old problems that cannot go away because they are rooted in our American DNA. The people in our text tore the roof off the house and dismantled the structure that hindered the paralyzed man’s access, that hindered his humanity. Like the people in this text, we, the body of Christ, need to tear off some roofs. We need to dismantle the structures of oppression.

We, the body of Christ, can be agents of change. If I have a tooth ache, my whole body feels the pain, because the nerves in my tooth are connected to the nerves in the rest of my body. There is no disconnection. This is the same principle in the body of Christ. So many people of color, like the paralyzed man, are paralyzed by the sins of racism. When members in the body of Christ are oppressed and mistreated, then we too should have the mentality that we are oppressed and mistreated. Though we personally will never go through such challenges, we should take it personal. This is the mentality white churches need to embrace.

We recently heard about the unjustified murders of Ahmaud Arbery jogging in Brunswick, Georgia; Breonna Taylor simply sleeping at home in Louisville, Kentucky; and George Floyd, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, who died in police custody with a police officer’s knee on the back of his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. All of them were unarmed black people. All human beings. All children of God shaped in God’s image. George Floyd begged and pleaded with the officer to stop. Like Eric Garner in NYC in 2014, George Floyd cried out many times, “I can’t breathe.” Breath is a part of life. Genesis 2:7 mentions, “then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.” This is Nephesh, meaning life or the soul. When George Floyd’s breath was unjustly taken from him, it is the opposite of God’s spirit of life. It is sin. The breath in our lungs is a sacred gift from God. Everyone’s breath has value.

At the end of this narrative, Jesus pardoned the paralyzed man’s shortcomings when he saw the community around him dismantle the structure that prevented the paralyzed man’s healing and liberation. It is important for us to realize that forgiveness comes with repentance. Forgiveness can never be complete until repentance and retribution happens. Social media posts, emails and staged videos are simply aesthetics without the renewal of minds, contrition of hearts, legislation, laws, policies and investments. Action is an obligation. When our white churches, communities and society acknowledge, repent and intentionally dismantle systems of dehumanization and oppression, then healing and reconciliation can authentically begin. Then, those who are systematically paralyzed can finally begin to walk in their liberation God intended.

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