Sermon 19th Feb. 2006 Mark 2:1-12.

 

Before we start I have a request of you.

 

Under no circumstances are you to think about paralysis as a medical condition. You are not to think about severed spinal cords, the result of accidents when horse riding or diving into shallow water, Christopher Reeve, wheel chairs or stem cell research.

 

Now I know that this is a bit like asking you not to think of an elephant but I want you to try very hard.

 

I make this request because when we hear of the healing miracles of Jesus we immediately think medical.

 

This is not helpful, because the people for whom this gospel was written had no such concept. For them physical health could not be distinguished from spiritual health. They did not operate with a dualism that split the body from the spirit.

 

So when we think medical we miss the point of the parable.

 

The other thing that happens when we hear one of the healing stories of Jesus is that they tend to take up our whole attention, particularly this one with its marvelous depiction of the paralyzed man’s friends digging down through the roof in order to place their friend in the presence of Jesus.

 

It is often the case that the clue to the meaning of the parables is hidden in the details.

 

I want to concentrate on one of these details this morning.

 

Last week Tom preached on a healing story in which a leper was healed of his leprosy. After the man’s skin was made clean Jesus told him to say nothing to anyone about what had happened.

 

However, the man went out to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word. It seems that this word, once set free in the world will break out, even in spite of the prohibition of Jesus.

 

And in today’s reading we find Jesus speaking the word to the crowd that had gathered. This is the reason so many are gathered around him so that there was no room to enter by the door.  These people did not come to see Jesus perform a miracle but to hear the word that he spoke.

 

We may wonder what this word was that the crowd gathered to hear and which was spread by the healed leper against Jesus’ instructions. 

 

Now if you have any bible knowledge at all, lights should have gone on by now.

 

In the first creation story that occurs in seven days, at the beginning of each day God speaks.

 

God said: Let there be light.

God said; Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.

God said; Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.

 

And so on for six days.

 

God speaks the creation into being, His words being something out of nothing.

 

Further on in Genesis we find: After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, "Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great."

 

Notice that the text does not simply say that God came to Abram, but the Word of the Lord came to Abram.

 

Is this the same Word that Jesus speaks in our reading this morning?

 

In the OT the words of the prophets are introduced by a saying “Thus says the Lord”. This phrase occurs 418 times in the Old Testament.  God is with Israel in his word. He is not with Israel as a disembodied spook but as a concrete word that is spoken and heard.

 

We remember the beginning of John’s gospel:  In the beginning was the word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.

 

It is significant that language about God changes between the Old and New Testaments.

 

This is because of the presence of Jesus, the Word made flesh.  It is therefore not necessary for Jesus to say “thus says the Lord” after he teaches, the new testament writers know who speaks.  It is the same word who created the heavens and the earth, the same word that came to Abram.

 

 In the New Testament, “Thus says the Lord” is replaced by the presence of Jesus.

 

So when we hear that Jesus was speaking the word to the crowd that had gathered around we know what is happening. 

 

Jesus was not telling them about the meaning of life, or imparting deep theological knowledge or giving them a lesson in ethics, because Jesus himself was the Word of God, he was the good news, the gospel.

 

That is why Mark can simply refer to Jesus speaking the word to the crowd without telling us exactly what he was saying. This is because everything about Jesus was the word of God, who he was, what he said, what he did.  He himself was the event of the word of God.

 

He was the fulfillment of the covenant that God made with Abraham that He would be their God and they would be His people.

 

Up to this point the history of Israel had been one of apostasy, Israel always turned away from God.  But in Jesus this shameful history is brought to a close and the time is fulfilled.

 

Remember that the name Israel means “to contend with God”. Israel was the nation that wrestled with God and this was mostly a history of shame.

 

But here we have a man who contends for God who fulfills  the covenant that God made with Abraham, I will be your god and you will be my people.

 

After years of unfaith and doubt and of turning away from God, here in their midst comes one who brings it all to a head.

 

So there is no point in asking what Jesus was actually saying to the crowd, and Mark rightly omits to tell us, because he points to the presence of the creative, healing and liberating Word of God.

 

So you can see why I instructed you not to think medical.  The healing of the leper and of the paralyzed man is not a medical trick that Jesus performs but a symbol that the word of God has come among us and that he brings healing with him.

 

In the story, the paralyzed man has four friends who understand who Jesus is, that is, they had faith. Being unable to get to Jesus because of the crowed, they take the extraordinary measure of digging through the roof of the house where Jesus was and lowering the man on ropes into his presence. We are not told whether the man believed, it is enough that his friends did.

 

We find something said here about our highly individualistic understanding of faith.  The word is so potent and moves in such a free way in the world that it is enough to be with people of faith.

 

This interpretation is supported by the text: When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”  The faith or unfaith of the paralytic seems neither here not there.

 

The discussion with the scribes reveals the power of the words of Jesus.  He says to them “Which is easier to say the paralytic “Your sins are forgiven” or to say “Stand up and take your mat and walk? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” -  he said to the paralytic – “ I say to you stand up, take your mat and go to your home.”

 

The scribes do not see the reality that is before their eyes.  They see a man who takes on powers that no man should, because they belong to God alone.  They see a blasphemer.

 

But the reality is that this man, while being a man, is also the creative word of God.  When he speaks, his word does not return to him empty but accomplishes that which he purposes.

 

When this one speaks it is as if creation happens all over again and a new thing comes into being.

 

And this creative word is evoked only when men see this reality, when they have faith.

 

For it is because of the faith of this man’s friends, that they would go to extraordinary lengths to get their friend into the presence of Jesus that Jesus turns to them as speaks healing.

 

Their actions show that they turn to God, as it says in the baptismal liturgy, but in the New Testament this means to turn to Christ as the only hope of their lives.

 

The healing of the paralytic is symbolic of the breaking in of the kingdom of God in which God will, once again, as in the garden of Eden, dwell with His people.

 

But what of us who live in a time after that in which the word made flesh dwelt with us, when we could see and touch and hear him?

 

How do we experience the Word of the Lord?

 

We do that by listening to the witnesses to that Word, the historians of Israel, the prophets, the writers of psalms and stories and song.

 

We also listen to the witnesses in the New Testament who lived in a time when memory of him was fresh.

 

We listen to all those men who contributed gospels and letters and visions to the NT.

We rely on their witness to the word and the word becomes alive and creative for us and heals our lives.

 

And we do that in private but perhaps more importantly in public when we come to church and hear what the witnesses said and hear preaching based on those witnesses and partake of the common meal that Jesus inaugurated.

 

 

This is how we as church become the new language of God who seek to spread the word in the world among all who will listen.

 

We are to become like the faithful friends who go to such lengths to gain for another the presence of Jesus.

 

I know that this does not sound very Anglican for we have for too long understood faith as a private matter.

 

But as you read the gospels we realize that this is a mistake, faith is private and public and political.  It is the duty of the faithful to take on the powers of the world, to seek justice and to protect the weak.

 

Let us pray that we here at St Andrews hear this word and that it kindles fire in our hearts.

 

Amen.