March 14, 2014
Mark 2: 1-12
“Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get us, take you mat and walk?’”
When I was younger this question posed a problem for me. In my young adult years I went through a period of significant doubt. I never gave up my faith. I was in church every Sunday and Wednesday. Even sang in the church choir! But for a period of time I was assaulted by the constant threat of disbelief.
The miracle stories didn’t exactly help my struggle. A graduate student in the social sciences at the time, I was struggling to prove that I was rational, intelligent, firmly in touch with reality. What was I supposed to do with these “fantastical” stories of miraculous healings? Could a scientifically minded person really believe such things? The answer to Jesus’ question was obvious to me in those days: of course it was harder to say “Get up and walk.” Such things just don’t happen!
Twenty years later I am at a different place on my journey. I still want to be considered rational and intelligent. I still revere science and still believe that we ought to apply our best critical thinking skills to our investigation of the universe. A believer should have nothing to fear from honest, empirical inquiry. But the stories of the miracles no longer pose a challenge to my thought world. I can’t “prove” them anymore now than I could then, but I no longer feel an obligation to do so. I have come to realize that the purpose of Scripture is to narrate a different view of the world than the one that is immediately available to our senses. If the Bible unfolded only according to the “rules” that define our everyday life, then it wouldn’t be worth reading. The Bible offers hope to us precisely because it dares to suggest that there is a power at work among us that transcends the limits of what we have already decided is possible. If clinging to that hope makes me appear irrational to some, then so be it.
So the answer to Jesus’ question has changed for me. Sick people get up and walk all the time. As one of my professors put it, “God heals people everyday. But we spend millions of dollars a year teaching you to call it an HMO.” Miracles are still a big deal when they happen, but the biggest miracle of all is the miracle of forgiveness.
There is a lot of suffering in the world, much of it physical. The Scriptures reveal a God who can and sometimes does intervene to alleviate these physical struggles. But much of the suffering we face comes from a deeper source. As fallen creatures we live in a state of enmity. We are at odds with everyone and everything – with our friends, our family, our neighbors, our environment, even with ourselves. And much of the physical suffering we face is a result of this enmity. How much sickness and pain could be alleviated if we all truly loved our neighbors as ourselves!
By the power of His word, Jesus sometimes does say get up and walk. But the power of His cross Jesus has already said, “Your sins are forgiven.” We already have been set free. We already have been given the greatest healing we could ever need.
Lord Jesus, teach us today to see that our greatest need is for forgiveness. Teach us to truly weep over our sins and to cry out to you for mercy. Thank you that you have already offered to heal us of our greatest wound. By the power of your name, Amen.