“The Communal Nature of Faith”
“The Communal Nature of Faith”
by Margaret U. Alvarez
University Christian Life Emphasis Month
Theme: “#MASKup: Manifest, Affirm, Spread, & Kindle our Love for Jesus Christ”
Scriptures: Mark 2:1-12
February 8, 2021 (MONDAY) at 9:00 AM
Friends and Colleagues, good morning. I must admit that I labored over this month’s Christian Life Emphasis theme and even more over the suggested scriptural passage. I thought perhaps I might find the answers there on why I was invited to speak today. And I found the passage to be about forgiveness and faith. Phew! I thought, Pastor Noriel chose the wrong person. But, I can never say No to the church.
I would like to believe, therefore, that I have been chosen to speak to you today from the perspective of my own discipline. But the effect of the pandemic on my psychology practice as well as my work in the academe has been less than positive for the most part. We had to close my clinic because psychology practice is very personal and I feel that more can be achieved if you interact face to face. Similarly, I thought that the life and work at the graduate school would ground to a halt because, again, graduate faculty like to debate candidates and colleagues seated near them.
The choice of the Scriptures—Mark 2:1-12—appears at face glance, and in fact that’s what I saw, to be about faith. That it was faith that made the person with paralysis rise and walk. But we forget about the men—the paralytic’s friends—who, because they could not get to Jesus due to the crowd surrounding him, opened the roof and let their friend down on a straw mat to get to Jesus’ side. “And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘My son, your sins are forgiven’ and ‘I say to you, rise, take up your mat and go home.’
These scriptures are appropriate for us today because it is truly about friends. One person diagnosed with COVID recently posted a video about his confinement in isolation at the hospital. It’s bad enough to be given a positive diagnosis, he said, but what he truly finds difficult is the loneliness. This was surprising to him because he thought of himself anyway as a loner and was used to being alone.
Prior to the pandemic, we took for granted coffee dates, dinner out, meetings and classes, family gatherings, birthday parties, church services, including vigil services, travel, and countless other social activity. But now, even the introverts are complaining. My own family has been getting together via zoom every Sunday since June last year. This is how we learned that my uncle who is stuck abroad and has been longing to come home to Dumaguete has been picking up stones on his walk and has lined up the window sill in their apartment with these – one stone per month since the lockdown or, more appropriately, since being stranded. All he wants to do is to come home and eat nilubihang manok Bisaya. And I realize that I have learned something new about someone close to me. Without the pandemic, we wouldn’t have found ways to connect, and connect more meaningfully.
We are a social people, after all. The friends of the person with paralysis found a way to help him because they believed. Our UCLEM theme: “MASKup: Manifest, Affirm, Spread, & Kindle our Love for Jesus Christ” – this is what these friends expressed.
But there is another angle to this story that we may not have seen at first glance. In theologyofwork.org is stated:
The story of Jesus healing the paralytic man raises the question of what the theology of work means for those who do not have the ability to work. The paralytic man, prior to this healing, is incapable of self-supporting work. As such, he is dependent on the grace and compassion of those around him for his daily survival. Jesus is impressed by the faith of the man’s friends. Their faith is active, showing care, compassion, and friendship to someone who was excluded from both the financial and relational rewards of work. In their faith, there is no separation between being and doing.
Jesus sees their effort as an act of collective faith. Regrettably, this website theologyofwork.org continues, the community of faith plays a vanishingly small role in most Christians’ work lives. Even if we receive help and encouragement for the workplace from our church, it is almost certain to be individual help and encouragement. In earlier times, most Christians worked alongside the same people they went to church with, so churches could easily apply the Scriptures to the shared occupations of labourers, farmers, and householders. In contrast, Christians today seldom work in the same locations as others in the same church. Nonetheless, today’s Christians often work in the same types of jobs as others in their faith communities. So there could be an opportunity to share their work challenges and opportunities with other believers in similar occupations, such as ourselves, in the academe. Yet this seldom happens. It is worse now when we cannot come together physically to worship—the guards wouldn’t even let you in at the gates. Unless we find a way for groups of Christian workers to support one another, grow together, and develop some kind of work-related Christian community, we miss out on the communal nature of faith that is so essential in Mark 2:3-12.
In this brief narrative, then, in the Gospel of Mark, we observe three things: (1) work is intended to benefit those who can’t support themselves through work, as well as those who can; (2) faith and work are not separated as being and doing, but are integrated into action empowered by God; and 3) work done in faith cries out for a community of faith to support it.
I cannot forever keep my clinic closed because there are those in dire need of psychological care and support, especially during these times; of course, we are now endeavouring to offer services online. Our office at the graduate programs remains closed to visitors, but inside, we have graduated so many students from March to the summer term last year, from the transition term to the first semester—all through online or virtual defenses. We have also managed to hold classes online and have even given comprehensive exams online. Half of the job was about encouraging students and letting them know that they could still stick to their program of study even though they were not physically on campus. As workers, we had to get unstuck first in order to benefit others.
Faith and work are not separated as being and doing, but are integrated into action empowered by God. Work done in faith cries out for a community of faith to support it.
In these times, therefore, my colleagues and friends in the academe, faith is not ours alone, as individuals. Our work is supported by a collective faith through which we can manifest and affirm our love for Jesus Christ and for one another. The UCLEM theme is fitting.
I was looking at my Facebook memories a few days ago, when the first memos came out a year ago on the suspension of physical classes for the School of Basic Education, urging the faculty to conduct ALS (or alternative learning schemes). The faculty and students in college chimed in, saying, surely this applies to us, as well. And sure enough, the following day, work and classes at all levels were suspended. But we all returned, right? After a couple of weeks, we came back to campus, and thought that was that. Little did we know…
These days, I welcome the opportunity to attend online meetings, host virtual defenses, and teach online classes. It’s difficult for me to explain the feeling. Do I really miss these people? We didn’t really have that kind of relationship that was personal and close. But yes, I am always happy to see the familiar faces. Perhaps it is relief? Knowing that people—your colleagues, friends, students—are all right, why am I stressing so much? Why do I wake up every day with a sense of foreboding? Why is there always some underlying anxiety as I go about my day to day activities? Why do I feel always that I should wave a goodbye to everyone—actually to the PC or phone—at the conclusion of a meeting or a class? I mean, it’s not something we would do when we leave the conference room or someone’s office on campus or the physical classroom.
A community of faith. This is what Jesus Christ was telling us. And this is what I leave you with today. Just because we don’t see each other at work, it does not mean that we are not thinking about each other. I find that our bond towards each other, in fact, is stronger because we all over the world are experiencing this pandemic, yet coping somehow. I believe it is because of our work and the relationships we have developed and maintained despite the pandemic and despite the distance.
But even more, it is because we have a collective faith. Jesus saw the faith of the friends of the paralytic and said, your sins are forgiven. Because of the faith of his friends.
My friends and colleagues, indeed we’ll get through this. Allow others to carry you. Reach out…manifest and affirm our love for Jesus Christ. We are a community of faith. Amen.