by John Jewell
Can you remember a time when you really... really messed up?
I'm not talking about the times we bump into someone or spill our coffee on someone's table cloth and say, "I'm sorry." I'm talking about those times when our actions have brought about major hurt or disappointment or anguish to someone.
There is something inside each of us that does not want to look at the ways we have hurt others. It makes us squirm inside to think about ways we have contributed to someone else's pain. It's called denial. We would just as soon forget about:
Do you know the feeling of having to come to terms with a serious wrong committed? It makes us a little sick inside. It takes honesty with ourselves and courage to go to another person and say, "Please forgive me."
In fact some people find it almost impossible to bring themselves to say the words, "I was wrong," or "Forgive me." I have a simple little formula of six words I use in wedding ceremonies when I promise a couple a good start on a fail safe marriage. "Look into each others eyes and repeat after me," I say to them and then make them say the words, "I am sorry, I was wrong!"
As the years go by, we find those words more difficult to speak. One young bride, quite by accident said, "I am sorry you were wrong." Through the laughter that followed I could see the groom nod in a way that said there was some truth to her "slip of the tongue."
The Twelve Step program of Alcoholics Anonymous, which is now used by a number of self-help and recovery organizations has been a powerful tool for many people in their recovery from addictions and other destructive behaviors. It is very significant that seven of those twelve steps have to do with self examination, a willingness to admit wrongdoing and a commitment to change our behavior. In other words, the heart of this program of recovery has to do with forgiveness. Without this component of the program, there is no recovery from the disease.
Perhaps some of you are familiar with the 12 steps. Read steps 4 through 10:
Nowhere in the New Testament are the two themes of forgiveness and healing brought together more dramatically than in today's gospel lesson.
First we need to set the scene. Jesus returns to Capernaum where his ministry was based for most of his ministry. Crowds were growing like wildfire because of his healing ministry. On the day when our scripture reading takes place, Jesus is teaching in the place where he was living at the time. The are so many people who want to be near him that the crowd is spilling out into the street, blocking the door.
There is a paralyzed man in town whose friends are so convinced that Jesus can heal him, they carry him -- on his palette to the house where Jesus is. Unable to get in the door, the four friends take the man up a stairway that goes from the ground level to the flat, thatched roof and proceed to dig their way through the thatch. Using ropes, they lower him into the presence of Jesus.
You have to wonder here what in the world people were thinking, but let me ask you. Do you have four friends like this?
Then there is a surprising reaction that Jesus has to the actions of these men and their paralyzed friend. You can imagine several things that might have taken place. There are likely people in the crowd who are casting looks of disdain toward those who so rudely interrupt the Master's teaching session. Jesus might have said something like, "Excuse me, but we're in the middle of an important class here!" Or if things worked out the way the four friends were hoping, Jesus might have said, "Now this is commitment people..." Then to the paralytic, "Take up your bed and walk!"
But no one could have guessed what Jesus said. Would you have figured this? "Son, your sins are forgiven."
Now if I'm the person lying paralyzed on a mat, this is not exactly what I want to hear! I'm thinking that forgiveness of sin is the farthest thing from my problems. How much trouble can a paralyzed man cause anyway?
Meanwhile, the official bible teachers of the day -- the scribes -- are thinking to themselves that this carpenter from Nazareth is way out of line pronouncing someone's sins forgiven. "Only God can forgive sins," they are thinking. What Jesus does is blasphemy -- unless... (what?) Unless Jesus has the authority and the ability to bring about forgiveness of sin and healing.
Then there is a surprising event that takes place. Jesus knows very well what is going on in the hearts and minds of these scribes. As we progress through the gospel of Mark this year, you will see conflict and anger rising over the person and power of Jesus almost immediately. These people aren't really here to honestly hear what Jesus has to say -- they have come to find out why so many people are following this man.
And they don't have long to wait.
Knowing what they are thinking, Jesus answers their questions by asking a question, "Which is easier to say to the paralytic. 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Stand up and take your mat and walk'?"
If he simply tells the man to walk, he is a miracle worker. But if he pronounces the man "forgiven" he is the one who brings about the spiritual and physical wholeness which is a mark of the kingdom of God -- evidence of the "good news."
In the surprising event that follows, Jesus says -- not with words, but with deeds -- who he is and what his ministry is all about. He turns from the crowd and the questioners to the man and says,
"I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home!"
Try to imagine what is going on with the crowd when the words are spoken. Everyone is waiting to see what will happen. If the man just lays there, the scribes and religious officials are delighted and can laugh off the whole Jesus phenomenon. But... if the man gets up and takes his mat and walks out the door... then someone and something extraordinary has occurred that has to do with the Lord God showing up in their town. Capernaum would never be the same!
The gathered crowd said it all, "We have never seen anything like this!"
The gospel story from Mark points out how it is that there is a tightly woven relationship between healing, forgiveness and wholeness. One of the unfortunate things about our highly specialized, fragmented culture we live in is the loss of relationship between the various dimensions of our lives.
We are physical, social, intellectual, emotional and spiritual beings. If any of these five dimensions are neglected or disturbed, there is a resulting loss of the sense of wholeness we were designed to have. Jesus focused on the issue of sin and sickness in the story from Mark. His teaching and preaching were inseparable from his ministry of healing. Every incident of healing was intended to bring praise and glory to God. That is -- healing was never accomplished for the sake of healing alone. Healing was a sign of the presence and power of God. The amazement the people in Capernaum experienced the day Jesus forgave the sins of the paralyzed man and then sent him home carrying his mat, was all intended to bring the people to the point of glorifying God.
So how can all of this apply to you and me today?
First of all, we need to understand that Jesus never conducted a healing ministry apart from a teaching and preaching ministry. He never focused on one dimension of the person to the exclusion of the others. When he brought healing, that healing was directed at a sense of wholeness, unity and harmony for the whole person.
When I am sick, I want to feel better. I want to experience physical healing. I suspect you can relate very well to that. And -- when people I love are sick, I pray for them to experience healing. I regularly pray for healing for people I know and love.
Likewise, when I am feeling low or blue, I want to feel good again. I ask God to help me sense the goodness and freshness of life. I regularly pray for you -- that God will give you a deep faith and sense of comfort in the Lord's care for you.
When times are tough, I pray for relief from pressure, economic hardship or broken relationships. And when I feel badly over a wrong committed -- or even devastated when a major blunder has overtaken me -- I ask for forgiveness.
And in all of this, I discover that there is such a connection between all these parts of my life. We are created by God to have a center -- a soul which encompasses the whole of who we are as physical, social, emotional, spiritual beings.
When we need forgiveness and do not ask it of God, the consequences will reverberate throughout our physical, social and intellectual being. This is not to say that God makes us sick or sends disease to punish us for our sin. If that were the case, no one would report for work tomorrow!
It is true, however, that the issue of forgiveness is at the heart of our relationship with God and with each other. When relationships are strong and solid, there is a free flowing forgiveness and reconciliation that is a part of our life in community... as families and as a community of faith.
If you do a careful search though the corridors of your living, you may find some places where forgiveness is needed. Some you will need to receive. Some you will need to give.
It is as though Jesus were standing right here today, offering us an opportunity for new life as he offered the paralytic new life. He might say the words:
"Which is easier to say? Your sins are forgiven -- or rise up, and go to you home, forgiven, renewed, refreshed and recreated?"
May God grant to us the grace of experiencing the wholeness and healing that come from giving and receiving forgiveness.
Discussion and Reflection on the Texts
Connections in the Text
The central verse in the readings for this week is the oft quoted Isaiah 43:25, "I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins."
If the most radical thing our omnipotent, omniscient God ever did was to create human beings with free will, the next most extravagant thing must surely be that God forgives. The fact of divine forgiveness for human sin is rooted in the character of God so that forgiveness granted is "for my own sake." Divine forgiveness is as different from human forgiveness as divine love is from human love. That is, "I will not remember your sins." Indeed, there is something God can not do that human beings do all the time. God says, "I will remember you sin no more." We humans, however, are all the time saying something along the line of, "Your sin I will not forget!"
The lessons for today address the issue of forgiveness from the broad perspective of the whole relationship we have with God. This is not the issue of forgiveness as it plays out in human community, but the forgiveness God extends in order to restore and renew our life center -- the image of God within that connects us with God. Divine forgiveness restores a God center, while sin is the placing of a "self-center" where God belongs. Forgiveness is the engine that drives wholeness in our lives -- in the widest, most authentic sense of being whole. We can not be whole persons, in a spiritual sense, until we are forgiven persons.
"I am about to do a new thing..." The heart of this impassioned periscope from Isaiah is the impassioned cry of the Lord to a people who have turned away from the source of their hope, help and happiness.
"I am He who blots out your transgressions..." God is the God who is always doing a new thing -- or going to the extreme to save those who choose the way of destruction. Israel is devastated by her own choices, but God will once again act "in the wilderness." The theme of making a way in the wilderness and providing streams in the desert calls us back to the original forming of Israel in the desert. In the desert, even though their hearts were fickle, the people of God were like children who tightly hold a parent's hand when there is danger and they are frightened.
How is it that there can be forgiveness for the sin of a nation that has turned its back so completely on the One who gave them life and a homeland? God forgives, "...for my own sake..." the text says. The Lord wants to restore Israel because Israel is, "...the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise."
With the story of the paralytic, Mark introduces the theme of conflict between Jesus and the official religious structure of the day. There is a series of incidents from here until the beginning of chapter three which end with a plot being hatched to permanently remove Jesus from the scene. "The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him." [Mk.3:6] The conflict will increases until finally Jesus is not only the one who forgives sin, but is the sin bearer.
It is in the times of conflict that Jesus' ministry and mission are clearly defined. Here it is, "... so that you might know the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins..." [v. 10] In Mk. 2:16 it is the question of why Jesus eats with sinners and tax collectors that brings the well known, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners." [2:17] Next comes the questions of why Jesus' disciples do not fast like the disciples of the Pharisees and of John the Baptizer which brings Jesus' statement about new wine and wineskins. [Mk. 2:22] Now the Sabbath law is tried when Jesus' disciples were plucking heads of grain. When questioned, Jesus replies, "The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath." [Mk. 2:27-28] The final incident in this series is that of the man at synagogue who had the withered hand. Without care or concern for the man with the disability, the religious officials wanted only to see if they could bring another Sabbath breaking complaint against Jesus. Here Jesus becomes angry, at the hardness of their hearts.." and the man is healed. The the final conflict is engaged as the plot to eliminate Jesus is begun.
As with Jesus, so also with us as followers -- we discover who we are in the midst of the most difficult times.
A Prayer of Confession
O gracious and merciful God, we come before you today confessing that we do not deserve even the least of your mercies. We have judged others when we might have reached out in love. We have been less than eager to reach out to the poor and dispossessed. We give ourselves to things that do not count in the long run for the sake of convenience in the short term. O turn our hearts to the light of your Son Jesus Christ and give us courage to follow him into the details of our living. And as your forgiven and redeemed people, we shall praise your name forever. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon
Our Lord Jesus told his disciples that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in all nations. Brothers and sisters, receive the good news that in Jesus Christ we are forgiven.
A Prayer of Thanksgiving
O Lord of life, we give thanks that with you there is forgiveness of sin and healing of our spirits. Your love and grace to us are beyond our ability to comprehend. You love as no human being could ever love. Your forgiveness even goes to the extent of forgetting our sin. You give us a fresh new beginning with each morning and the promise of joy in our living day by day.
We praise you for those times you open our hearts to your grace, our eyes to the beauty of your creation and our ears to the gentle call of your voice within. We pray today that you would give us an increase in our ability to see your presence all around us and a heart to embrace the peace you intend for our living.
Thank you O gracious God for calling us together in the Body of Christ to rejoice in your presence and feast our spirits on your eternal word. Bind us together in heart and voice that we might declare your praise and thus become the people you have formed for yourself. Amen.
A Prayer of Dedication
You are the Giver of all that we bring to you today, O Lord. We can only return
a portion of what you have first given to us. Increase our joy in giving that
the world around us might come to share in the wonder of who you are. Amen.
The Paralytic and His Four Friends by Edward F. Markquart
Today, Jesus wants to heal our hearts and our habits. Jesus wants to say to us, "Your sins are forgiven. Rise, get up, stand up and walk. Get moving. It is time for you and me to be healed."
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