Mark 1: 35 - 45, NRSV
In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.
Mark 2: 1 - 12, NRSV
When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. Then some peoplecame, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to 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.” And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”
Mark 3: 1 - 6, NRSV
Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
Preached Sunday, August 6, 2017 at Westfield Church by the Rev. Jonathan Chapman
Finally, nearly an entire chapter into the gospel of Mark, Jesus tells us what his mission is. Early in the morning, he’s abandoned his disciples for the calm and cool of a deserted place. And there he prays. And the disciples, after hunting for him, finally find him. And when they find him, Simon says what might be the most loaded line in the gospels: Everyone is searching for you. Everyone is searching for Jesus—or at least what we find in Jesus—meaning, hope, promise. Jesus’ response is simple: “Let’s go so I can tell others about this message—that’s what I came to do.”
And Mark tells us that is what Jesus does. But Mark is sure to let us know proclaiming isn’t just about teaching, it’s also about healing. “And he went throughout Galilee,” Mark says, “proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons. Teaching and healing. Talking and doing.
Today, we’re looking at three stories that show Jesus doing just that—teaching and healing, talking and doing. Now each of these stories features someone with a different ailment. And while the circumstance are varied, they have some shared experience. Each of them knew what it was like to be ostracized from society because of their ailments. This may seem obvious, but people in ancient times didn’t have the same medical knowledge we have now. They didn’t understand where disease came from, just that it was there—that it afflicted people. And that it was contagious. The Leper would’ve been cast out from his village, away from the healthy people. All he could do was rely on the kindness and courage of strangers for his survival. People would pass him by regularly. Why? They didn’t want to catch it.
And while the paralytic and the man with the withered hand didn’t likely have communicable disease, they did, like the Leper, have the weight of religious disdain on their shoulders. Have you ever heard of the sins of the father? This is it—it’s the belief that children are punished for the sins of the parents. And we encounter it head on today. It’s no mistake, that Jesus, when healing the paralytic, doesn’t just say, “Your sins are forgiven.” But instead says, “son, your sins are forgiven.” Sin for Jews in Jesus’ time wasn’t just sinning against God, it was sinning against God by breaking a very specific set of rules—rules that God created and only God can forgive breaking. So when Jesus says, “Son, your sins are forgiven,” he upsets the religious authorities in part because it seems like he’s downplaying the role of those rule, but mostly because only God can forgive. And so forgiving someone like Jesus does is the same as claiming he’s God. And that’s blasphemy.
I love this next part. Jesus hears the religious authorities squabbling over this and calls them on it. “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? 9Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven”, or to say, “Stand up and take your mat and walk”? 10But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—he said to the paralytic,— 11‘I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.’” Basically, Jesus said, “watch this.”
And again, Jesus is confronted with closed-minded religious authorities when he encounters the man with the withered hand, which is a mouthful, so we’re going to name him Sam. This is all taking place in a synagogue, so there are scribes there reading and interpreting and paying attention to trouble makers like Jesus. And they notice Jesus calling the man forward and are already getting themselves worked up into a tizzy. Nothing big yet, kind of like the grumbles I sometimes hear at in the dessert room at a supper or at the Bazaar about how “if I was in charge I’d do it differently.” So, they’re all paying attention to Jesus to see if he’s going to cure someone on the Sabbath. Because curing is work and work is forbidden on the sabbath. And Jesus, being Jesus, knows all of this, so he decides to teach and heal at the same time. He calls Sam forward, then looks at the religious know-it-alls, and asks “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save a life or to kill?” Now, Jesus is being a bit dramatic here, trying to prove a point. A withered hand does not equal life or death. But he’s making a point, a point the scribes know is true: that religious prescriptions and cultural expectations are not more important than people.
And do you know what’s really curious about these three stories? What Jesus is really doing isn’t healing them. That’s an outcome of what he’s doing, but what he’s really doing is restoring them to their communities. These three men: the Leper, the paralytic, and Sam—were all considered ritualistically unclean. And as such they weren’t welcome to be a part of society. So Jesus, taught and healed and restored. He chipped away at the religious institution of the time and worked with people themselves so that everyone, everyone, everyone was welcome. May we, like Jesus, teach and heal and restore, the leper and the paralytic and the Sams of our world. And may we love every. single. other while doing it.