February 4, 2018
Today we have the story of the most bizarre healing I think Jesus ever performed. The only exception might be the raising of Lazarus. (Ok, this is the second most bizarre healing!)
In this story, we have these men who couldn’t get their paralyzed friend anywhere near Jesus. Remember what I said before? This was “Jesus the Rock Star!” This is the Jesus who was mobbed by the crowds. There were times he and his disciples couldn’t get a decent meal together because of those crowds.
Well, in this story, Jesus was teaching, and the house and the area around the house was so full of people, these men couldn’t begin to get anywhere near. And so this story.
The other thing about this story is that it took place in Capernaum. If you remember, that’s where Jesus healed the mother-in-law of Peter – and then everyone else! Remember the whole city was gathered around the house. And if you remember that story, I also said how many historians believe that Capernaum became Jesus’ “base of operations” during his ministry, maybe even his adopted home town. Well, verse one for today gives us a hint of that. “…the people heard that he had come home.”
Actually, there’s something there that I hadn’t noticed before. Could this actually have been Jesus’ own house? That’s what verse one suggests. “…the people heard that he had come home.” That would change the nature of this story, wouldn’t it? When these men couldn’t get near Jesus with their paralyzed friend, they climbed up and cut a hole in the roof, and let their friend down by ropes through the hole in Jesus’ own house!
Whether that was the case or not, we often read Bible stories in our “Bible voice,” don’t we? We make them sound nice. We read them respectfully, as we should. But sometimes we don’t get the full impact of what was happening. How desperate were these men to do what they did? How dramatic might this scene have been.
I’ve heard a couple of good descriptions of this. One author talked about the pieces of roofing materials that would have fallen into the room, maybe even people taking cover, maybe beams of light streaming in through the dust. There’s no overhead door described here. These men made a hole! Another author described this as the men “digging through the roof!” Yep, this is good old “destruction of property!”
Well, I guess I’ve always thought of this as being somebody else’s house. I assumed it was Peter’s house from the previous story. Well, as I’ve thought about this week, what if this was Jesus’ own house?! I don’t want to make that the focus of this message. But imagine that this was possibly his roof these men dug through! Imagine that this was his property these men destroyed? The Bible doesn’t specifically say that Jesus owned a home, but there are hints of his life “outside” of his ministry.
Whatever the case, I encourage you to think of this story outside of your “Bible voice.” Get the impact of what’s happening! Because next we have the second part of this story. Jesus looks at this scene, He sees the destruction of property that has just taken place. He sees the determination and the faith of these men. And he says to the man lying there, “Be healed.” No, he doesn’t! He says “Your sins are forgiven.” And again, we read that in our Bible voice, too! And it just makes sense. We don’t get the impact of it. It doesn’t seem “controversial” to us.
Well it did here! It was very controversial, especially to the “religious guys” – the scribes – who were there. They were always there – watching, listening, trying to figure out if this Jesus – this new “rabbi” – was legit. They were ever ready to to jump in if they heard anything out of line. And this was just such a moment!
Actually, Mark tells us they didn’t “jump in.” Jesus “perceived in his spirit” that they were questioning. He knew they were thinking, “Hey Jesus!” “You can’t forgive sins! Only God can do that!” And I can only imagine what the other people there were thinking. You know what it’s like when somebody does something embarrassing or controversial, and you know they’re about to get in trouble. And you’re like “Shhhh! Somebody’s gonna hear you!” I can picture that happening here.
So Jesus was in trouble! But he answers what they were thinking. And think of the drama of this scene! He says, “Why do you question?” “Which is easier to say,‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Take up your bed and walk?’” I wonder how that “landed” on those men. They had seen him heal. But now he was bringing “forgiveness” into it. And he used the idea of healing to emphasize his authority to forgive sins. (And there’s that word again!)
All of a sudden, Jesus put those two things together, healing and forgiveness. And I think people have struggled with them ever since. (And before, I suppose) When and why does God heal us? What constitutes a “miracle” healing? There have been many questions like that over the years. And of course there have been many “answers,” too!
I’ll never forget the time I had a conversation about this with a woman in seminary. I don’t know how we got on the subject of healing, but it was one of the things I had struggled with over they years. I had heard a lot of “answers,” none of which I was particularly comfortable with. And in this conversation it wasn’t long before she said that she didn’t believe God had the power to heal people. Well it seemed her “answer” to the question of healing was to deny the power of God altogether. And the reason, she said, was that. God didn’t heal her father when he was terminal.
Of course that’s a very traumatic thing. In no way do I mean to belittle her loss. But her logic seemed too simplistic for me. God didn’t heal somebody, therefore he can’t heal anybody. That’s what she was saying. I’ve struggled with that thought ever since. It seems to me it’s better to say that God has healed some people, therefore he can heal other people. Of course that leaves us with the question as to why he does heal some people and he doesn’t heal others. And that is the real question, isn’t it?
As I said, I’ve thought a lot about that conversation over the years. And as I’ve thought about it, one of the things I’ve realized is that God does not promise us perfect physical health. If he did, and if only those with the “strongest faith” would be healed, then, as a friend of mine used to say, “hospitals would be full of scoundrels.” In other words, people of “little faith.” (Because some “faith healers” will tell people who don’t get healed, “your faith wasn’t strong enough!” As though it were up to us!)
Well, we know that isn’t the case. It’s not up to us. It’s not about the strength of our faith. As I said, I don’t believe God promises us perfect physical health. What he does promise us is perfect spiritual health! And that’s something he provides us! And that’s because it comes from his grace, not our worthiness!
I know that’s where the real struggle is. Why does God allow – and that’s a very important word in this – why does God allow suffering? It’s hard for us humans when we are not “in control.” If something is wrong with us, we want it “fixed.” If a loved one is suffering, we want them healed. Why wouldn’t God want to do that for them?
Those are hard questions. And we’ve all asked them. I know I have. And I don’t know the answers. I don’t know if we can know the answers. But sometimes we try to figure them out. We try to find reasons for suffering. Sometimes we blame God. And sometimes we’re angry.
I don’t propose to tell you the answer for all of this here today. Except to say that God doesn’t promise us perfect physical health. He promises us perfect spiritual health. Again, by his Grace, we are made whole. We may not feel like we are sometimes. We may not feel like we are worthy. We may not feel like our faith is very strong. But the operative word there is “feel.” Our feelings are wonderful things, but they can betray us! They can make us “think” we are not worthy, or strong, or “whole.” But God tells us – God promises us – that, through Jesus, we are!
So, what that means is that God might not heal us. But then again, he might! And he might heal us in ways that we don’t expect! But he doesn’t promise us he will. But he does promise to be with us – always – to the close of the age.
For me that’s what this story tells us. And where Jesus did heal this man – and he healed a lot of people when he walked this earth – he was even more interested in forgiveness and Grace, and wholeness. That’s what he freely gives us. So, know that you are forgiven! You are redeemed! You are made whole!
Eternal God, your power is beyond our comprehension, and your love for us is far beyond what we can even know. Help us to know that, though we are unworthy of your forgiveness, by your amazing Grace, we are forgiven. Help us to live as your joyful people. For we pray in our Savior’s name, Amen.