Extraordinary Healing – Sermon for Sunday, February 19

Today, Mark continues to report on the many healing encounters that Jesus had with persons confronting all sorts of needs.
Last week we heard the story of Jesus healing the leper. Jesus reached out and touched the leper, risking his own contamination, and, in so doing, not only made the man clean, but restored his dignity and his rightful place in the human family.

Today Jesus is confronted by the loving, persistent, faithful friends of a paralyzed man. When they cannot get through the crowd at the door of the house, they literally carry their paralyzed friend up on the roof of the house, dig a hole through the roof and then lower their friend down through the hole, placing him right in front of Jesus. And what does Jesus do before the man or his friends can say or do anything?

He immediately says to the man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now why would this be the first thing that Jesus says to the man? One commentator on today’s text suggests an interesting insight. He writes,

“It is helpful for our understanding of just what is going on in his story of the healing of the paralytic not only to remember the fine line between sin and illness in Jesus’ day, but also the deep sense of the word for sin used here: “missing the mark,” “error,” and “defectiveness.” Then there is the word used for forgiveness here, which has the sense of “sent away” or “released.” In the Greek of Jesus’ day the word was most often used as a legal term, meaning the release of omeone from a legal obligation.

This allows us several interesting alternative translations for Jesus’ words in Mark 2:5.

Try, “Son, you are released from your defect,” or “Your defects are removed.” Or better yet, “Son, your defects mean nothing to me.” The point here is that one standard interpretation of this story – that Jesus perceived that the paralytic was in need of forgiveness before he could be healed – misses the point altogether.

Jesus perceived that the man was both socially and physically bound. Where others saw defect, he saw the need for freedom. So did the man’s friends who went to extraordinary measures to bring him to Jesus.”

(“Perceiving with Compassion.” Reflecting on the readings for Epiphany 7 (February 19, 2006), by Michael Hopkins in the Witness Magazine online [posted 2/16/06])

The good news that Jesus powerfully demonstrates here is that God sees and accepts us just as we are. God looks at you and at me, and God’s first thought is not one of judgment or condemnation, but one of love and compassion. Sometimes, as with the leper, we have the courage to bring ourselves into God’s healing presence. At other times we need someone to bring us there, as the man who was paralyzed did, and at still other times it may be you or me who needs to pick up our friend or family member and carry them into God’s healing presence. No matter how we get there, God compassionately sees all those places in our lives where we are bound and says to us, “My son, my daughter, I do not judge or condemn you for these things, stand up and be free of them!” The reality of this good news was powerfully demonstrated for me this week when I read the following e-mail containing three messages.

The first read:

Dear Colleagues in Christ,

I am writing to share with you the following letters received this morning from the Diocese of New Hampshire. Please keep our brother +Gene [Robinson] in your prayers for a powerful anointing of God’s healing grace as we continue to give thanks for his ministry as a bishop in the Church of God and for his exemplary witness of courageous and faithful honesty.

Signed: Susan Russell
President, Integrity USA

The following are letters first from the Bishop Robinson and second from the Standing Committee of the Diocese of New Hampshire:

February 13, 2006

Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I am writing to you from an alcohol treatment center where on February 1, with the encouragement and support of my partner, daughters and colleagues, I checked myself in to deal with my increasing dependence on alcohol. Over the 28 days I will be here, I will be dealing with the disease of alcoholism – which, for years, I have thought of as a failure of will or discipline on my part, rather than a disease over which my particular body simply has no control, except to stop drinking altogether.

During my first week here, I have learned so much. The extraordinary experience of community here will inform my ministry for years to come. I eagerly look forward to continuing my recovery in your midst. Once again, God is proving His desire and ability to bring an Easter out of Good Friday. Please keep me in your prayers and know that you are in mine.

Your Brother in Christ,

February 13, 2006

Dear Colleagues in Ministry,

The Standing Committee of the Diocese of New Hampshire joins its bishop in writing to you about his decision to seek professional treatment for his dealings with alcohol. The Episcopal Church, through its General Convention, has long recognized alcoholism as a treatable human disease, not a failure of character or will.

The members of the Standing Committee fully support and stand with our bishop and his family as he confronts the effects of alcohol in his life, and we commend him for his courageous example to us all, as we pray daily for him and for his ministry among us.

Randolph K. Dales,
President, Standing Committee of New Hampshire

No matter how we get there, God sees all those places in our lives where we are bound and says to us, “My son, my daughter, I do not judge or condemn you for these things, stand up and be free of them!”

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