Mending Walls

The Nazareth Page - A gospel meditation for your home

January 28, 2024 – Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Mark 1:21-28

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When in college, I took a course on speech and drama. As part of the course requirements, I was required to select a poem and recite it to the rest of the class. We were allowed to choose any poem we wanted, but it should we one where we had strong feelings for its message. In other words, no “Roses are red …” selections.

My favorite poet of that time was Robert Frost. Partly because I liked his messages, and it was clearly presented. The poem I selected was called “Mending Wall” and tells the story of two men who met each spring in a field they shared, each one owning half. Between their sections they had built a rock wall, which required repair each spring because the frost had made some rocks fall on the ground.

As I read today’s gospel “my poem” of choice back then came to mind. Jesus enters the synagogue and meets there a man who is described as having an unclean spirit. He was likely segregated from the regular congregation because the text reads that he asked Jesus why he was associating with him (and implied, “others like him.”)

At that time there were literally hundreds of rules about being pure or unclean. This categorization didn’t have to do with who had recently bathed or not, but rather with certain physical or spiritual aspects of a person. The point being this: there was a division in that gathering between one group and another. To use the imagery of Robert Frost, all walls of division divide the world between those assumed good and those who weren’t.

To be brief, I believe that Jesus came to challenge our judgments about people whom we judge as “different” and therefore of less value. We are painfully aware of the damage caused by racial prejudice or religious bias, or today, political differences. The major wars of the last century were often rooted in hostile judgments about those who were “different.”

Jesus overcame the hostile judgment of the one who possessed “an unclean spirit” by directly connecting with him. He treated him as a good person and that was the real miracle of that day. So, I wonder whether the unclean spirit departed, not because of some magical power of Jesus, but because Jesus befriended the man. He dismissed their differences and restored health to the whole community.

David M. Thomas, PhD

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