January 20, 2002
JESUS AMONG US: CARING
Terry L. Brensinger, Ph.D., Pastor
The Grantham Church
The scene is Capernaum, a relatively small town situated on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. From all indications, Capernaum was the hometown of Jesus during the adult years of his lifethe place to which he returned following his various ministerial journeys throughout the region. Just prior to his arrival in Capernaum on the occasion referred to here in Mark 2:1-12, Jesus had performed four miraculous feats, and the reaction of the on-lookers escalated with each passing episode. Jesus cast out an unclean spirit, and ³they were all amazed² (1:27). He healed Simonıs mother-in-law, and ³the whole city gathered around² (1:33). Jesus healed many who were brought to him, and ³everyone started searching for him² (1:37). And he cleansed a leper, and ³he could no longer go into a town openly² (1:45). As Jesus reenters Capernaum, then, an aura of enthusiasm both surrounds him and awaits him.
Such enthusiasm, however, is relatively short-lived. Indeed, the events recorded here in 2:1-12 seem to trigger a sequence of negative reactions that only gain momentum until Jesus is hanging on a cross. Soon, the religious leaders will take issue with Jesus because he eats with sinners, refuses to require fasting while he is yet alive, and not only allows his disciples to pluck grain on the Sabbath, but he himself has the audacity to heal a man on that most holy day. Soon, Jesus will be misunderstood by his mother and brothers, rejected by the people in his hometown, and unable to communicate effectively with his slow- learning disciples concerning the most elementary aspects of discipleship and his messiahship. Soon, Jesus will be engaged in an overt confrontation with the authorities in Jerusalem. Soon, Jesus will be executed.
But, back to Capernaum. There is considerable excitement in the aira great sense of anticipation. Capernaum in Jesusı day was rather like Grantham is today in various respects. Because of its rather limited population, people tended to know what everybody else was doing. There also was relatively little to do in Capernaumagain, like Grantham. Its true, there is a Franciscan gift shop there now where you can buy post cards and chocolate bars, and there is also a quaint little restaurant that specializes in deep-fried Talipa, served whole with the eye-balls still intact and staring up at you. Iım quite certain, however, that neither the gift shop nor the restaurant were open for business during Jesusı day.
As a result, Jesusı arrival in town is news, and when word spreads that he is at home, everyone gathers. Nearly everyone, that is. There are a few latecomers who can not get in, so they mount the building, dig through the layer of clay and brush that is resting upon the horizontal beams and, while Jesus is speaking to the crowd, lower their paralyzed friend down before him. This is almost more excitement than a town like Capernaum can handle on any given day. Yet the excitement only escalates further when Jesus announces: ³Son, your sins are forgiven,² and a few moments later, ³Stand up, take your mat and go home.² ³Blasphemy,² the religious leaders shout. But soon, even an accusation of that magnitude gives way to a corporate confession: ³We have never seen anything like this before.² What a day. What a moment in the life of this relatively modest town.
Zoom in with me for a short while and look at the Jesus that we find on this energy-charged occasion. He is gentle but controversial, patient but confrontational. Yet in many respects, the Jesus we find here is a person who cares deeply about those around him. Consider, first of all, how he responds to the four latecomers who mount the building and lower their paralyzed friend through the roof. Talk about concern and commitmentthey went to remarkably great lengths to procure the paralyticıs healing. Not only was there considerable time and work involved (lugging their friend to the house, climbing the roof, excavating the hole, and lowering the mat without losing their grip on the ropes), but they also ran the risk of embarrassing and alienating themselves, not only from the people of the town, but from Jesus himself. The crowd, so intently focused on Jesus, might in frustration yell: ³Knock it off up there!² They might label these four guys as ³the roof-diggers,² a label that could stick for life. And Jesus, attempting to instruct and persuade his audience, may get annoyed by such a rude interruptionbothersome noise and particles of debris falling all around him and getting in his hair.
I never had the privilege of seeing the old Alumni Auditorium here on campus. It stood where the circle of the Eisenhower Campus Center now is, but it was torn down the year before I came here as a student in the early 70's. I never saw it, but Iıve heard about it. Iıve been told that the cafeteria was situated in the basement, with the gymnasium overhead. It was apparently not unusual during the buildingıs final years for people to be eating their dinner and discover pieces of the ceiling falling in their soup. You can just imagine Jesus scratching his head while the ruckus when on up above.
Yet neither the work involved nor the risks of ridicule and alienation were of permanent concern to the latecomers, whose compassion for their paralyzed friend far out-weighed such peripheral considerations. They wanted to bring him to Jesus more than anything else. And guess what? Jesus doesnıt send them away. He doesnıt scold them for intruding in the middle of his class. Instead, he senses their desperation, stops everything that he is doing, and he cares for them. Nothing is ever said here about the attitude of the paralytic himselfwas he equally confident? Did he want to come along, or was he kicking and screaming instead? Thatıs a matter of conjecture. What is clear is thisJesus cared enough that he reached out to the paralytic in response to the faith of the four. Do we focus with similar tenacity on assisting our wounded friends? Do we go to such lengths to bring sick and hurting people into the presence of Jesus? Is there a paralytic somewhere in your lifesomeone who, for whatever reason, canıt seem to come to Jesus alone? Is there one in your family? In your small group? Is there a paralytic somewhere who needs to be ³carried² to the Lord? As Lamar Williamson has commented, ³When by our actions we give evidence of our faith that Jesus has this authority, miracles still occur.² Jesus cares deeply for those who bring others to him.
Look next at Jesusı specific response to the paralytic himself. Rather than growing aggravated or quickly dismissing this interruption, our Lord simply says, ³Son, your sins are forgiven.² Iım not at all certain what the paralytic or his friends thought about this. Perhaps they looked a bit confused, thinking to themselves: ³Thatıs not what we came here for.² Or perhaps they, like many others, did assume that physical sickness was an outgrowth of sin, and therefore found a sense of relief in these words. While Jesus himself does on many occasions reject such a rigid causal connection between sin and sickness, he may be providing some comfort for those who still hold to such a belief.
In any case, Jesus here profoundly demonstrates his ability to see through and behind that which is immediately visible and determine areas of deeper need. He seems to make a distinction between what we might call ³curing,² on the one hand, and ³healing² on the other. For the four friends of the paralytic and perhaps for the paralytic himself, Jesus was someone who could cure a sick and decrepit body. So too for many todaynote, for example, the high percentage of prayer requests for physical healing. For Jesus, who thankfully acknowledges peoplesı physical needs, something is of even greater importancethe condition of a personıs soul.
I remember so well the last few days of my sisterıs life. I stayed with her in her hospital room, and I prayed more fervently than I ever prayed before. I nearly prayed myself sick. In sheer desperation, I rehearsed in my mind every prayer technique and strategy that I had ever heard or read about. I kept hoping that, if I just got it right, if I could somehow come to God in a new and more insightful way, perhaps he would hear me and restore my sister to health. It didnıt happen, and I donıt think I prayed again for several days after that.
But as I continued to journal through my grief, I began to realize that God had in fact healed my sister. He just chose not to cure her from her cancer. This is far more than semantics. From our rather limited and temporal vantage pointwe live with and actually feel the physical pain at that very momentbeing cured from our diseases seems absolutely essential. From Godıs vantage pointhe sees all of history and all of eternityhealing us and freeing us from sin and its devastating effects takes on far more importance. In his grace, he sometimes chooses to cure sick and diseased bodies, so it is good and right for us to ask him to do so. He may have further work for someone to do. He may cure a person so as to spare others from what Paul calls ³hardship upon hardship.² God may, at times, choose to cure us from our sicknesses. But he may not. I can assure you of this, however. He always heals. He may not give us what we ask, but he inevitably gives us a great deal more than we ask.
In the case of the paralytic, Jesus does in fact ³cure² his broken and decrepit body. ³Stand up, take your mat and go to your home.² But Jesus cares about this unnamed paralytic far too much to just do that. Jesus wants to ³heal² him from the inside out. He want to restore his soul. Like a surgeon who operates to remove a gall stone, only to extend, unexpectedly, the incision up into my chest cavity and remove a cancerous growth that had previously gone undetected, so Jesus moves beyond the surface petition and continues the surgical procedure into the deep recesses of the paralyticıs heart and mind. The latecomers sought a cure for bodily paralysisJesus offers nothing less that a total healing of the soul.
Finally, notice how Jesus reacts to the scribes who were sitting there. The crowd as a whole is noticeably silent throughout the proceedings. We donıt know how they felt about the falling debris, for example. But a handful of scribes, who were perhaps positioned there in order to bring information for their superiors, react before the final scene, and they of course take issue with Jesusı pronouncement concerning the forgiveness of sins. ³Who can forgive sins but God alone?² they ask. They are upset. Their theological boxes, their entire way of looking at life and at God, are being challenged and undermined.
And what does Jesus do? He asks another question, and as he continues his ministry to the paralytic, he says to the scribes: ³Watch. I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.² Jesus doesnıt despise the scribes, as frustrated as he may feel about them at times. He doesnıt simply dismiss or ignore those who have a problem with him. He cares about them, too. In fact, he cares so much about them that he is willing to go nose to nose with them if thatıs what it takes to bring about healing in their own lives.
One of the people who ³carried² me to Christ once told me about an episode he had had with his young son years before. I donıt remember what his son had done to incur his fatherıs wrath, but Reinnie, as many of us affectionately call this now 80 year-old man, gave the boy what must have been a memorable spanking. Reinnie then wrapped his arms around his son and said, ³Daddy did that because he loves you very much.² His son then replied, ³I know, dad. I just wish that I was big enough to return your love!²
But in truth, to genuinely care for someone requires at time that we go face to face and nose to nose. Parents will never raise responsible children if they allow them to do whatever they want, whenever they want. Teachers will never help their students reach their potential if they only point out what is already good about their work. They must at appropriate times and in reasonable ways confront areas of weakness and call into question suspect ideas and beliefs. In the same way, God could never bring any of us to spiritual maturity if he did not at times get right in our faces and push us beyond where we are.
In her book entitled A Theology of Love, Mildred Wynkoop reflects on this very aspect of the Jesus who walks among ushis willingness to go nose to nose with us when we need it:
I have a controversy with Christ. He will not let me rest. In his presence I cannot relax and rest on my ³faith² in Him in a lazy way which dulls moral sensitivity. He will not let me settle for less that my best jobnot yesterdayıs best, but todayıs best. When I have done a good job, He confronts me with a bigger taskone always too big for me. When I am selfish, He rebukes me until it smarts. When I am insensitive, He has a way of prodding my conscience into activity. When I cry and pray for a little heaven in which to go to heaven in, He shows me the hell in which other people live. It isnıt time for heaven, yet.
Jesus cares enough, not only to reach out and gently touch the hurting, but also to go nose to nose with the stubborn and the proud.
What a day it must have been in that small village of Capernaum. Its easy to guess what the front page headline was on the following dayıs edition of the Capernaum Gazette, even if archaeologists have yet to discover it: ³Ruined Rooves, Parading Paralytics, and Screaming Scribes: Jesus Returns Home.² But donıt get so caught up in the falling debris that you miss this simple yet life-changing truth: the Jesus who walks among us cares very deeply about everyone gathered around. He cares for those who are willing to carry others into his presence. He cares for both the bodies and the souls of all who are sick and hurting. And he cares for the skepticsthose who struggle with doubt and have great difficulty fitting Jesus anywhere into their lives. In reality, this Jesus who walks among us cares profoundly about every last one of us.