A recent adventure into Scripture has left me wrestling with God. It’s a story I’ve probably read a hundred times. And yet, somehow the questions I’m asking about this passage never entered my consciousness the first 99 times I read it.
It’s the story about Jesus healing a paralytic, found in Mark 2. Here’s what happens…
1 A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. 2 They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. 3 Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4 Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
6 Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 7 “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
8 Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? 9 Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? 10 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, 11 “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” 12 He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”
I’m not gonna lie, after reading this recently, my reaction to Jesus’ initial response to such a bold, desperate act of faith was deep frustration, even anger. How must this paralyzed man have felt? I’m sure there was an element of embarrassment for him as he allowed his friends to fight against all odds to get him to this place before Jesus. And think of how the hope in him, the desperation for healing, must have been rising. As Jesus is about to open His mouth to speak, I’m sure this man was faced with the overwhelming realization that he might actually experience true healing. Only to then hear, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
I wonder if the man was processing Jesus’ words something like this:
“Um, excuse me… forgiven? Has He seen the state of my legs? Why does He think I came to Him? Maybe I wasn’t clear… I want to walk. I appreciate the His gesture of forgiving my sins and all. That was sure nice of Him. But that isn’t why I let my friends destroy the roof and interrupt His preaching. All I want are legs that work.”
Only after Jesus senses that the teachers of the law are making an inward fuss about His open display of authority does He say to the paralyzed man, “Get up, take your mat and go home,” thus healing the man of his paralysis.
I guess the question that troubles me is this: If the teachers of the law hadn’t questioned Jesus’ authority, would Jesus have healed the man’s legs at all? Could this story have ended with Jesus walking away from the man after forgiving his sins while leaving his legs paralyzed?
When I think about the places in my own life where I yearn to experience healing, I imagine being set in front of Jesus with my wounds open and bare before Him, hopeful that He’ll choose to heal me once and for all. I can imagine hearing these seemingly irrelevant words from Jesus: “Your sins are forgiven.”
“No, Jesus,” I can hear myself saying, “that is NOT what I wanted. Why can’t you just give me what I want? I want to be relieved of my pain, not forgiven of my sins!”
In all honesty, I have not come to a solid conclusion regarding the tension I find in this text. It still doesn’t entirely settle. The one thing that has become clear to me as I read, however, is my own short-sightedness and small-mindedness. I entered this passage wanting from Jesus an immediately gratifying result. Please, Jesus, heal this poor guy’s legs. But, surprise, surprise, Jesus doesn’t conform His ways to meet my expectations. I wonder if this man’s request was too small. The paralyzed man wanted his legs healed, but Jesus wanted the whole person healed. The paralyzed man wanted the freedom to walk, but Jesus wanted to give him freedom from the weight of sin. The paralyzed man wanted healing from the physical sickness he could see, but Jesus wanted to heal him from the spiritual sickness he could not see.
I wonder if the hope I have for my own healing journey is tragically incomplete. Perhaps Jesus wants to give me more than I have found the words to Him ask for. Perhaps He longs to give me true, eternal wholeness over immediacy. The question I find this text asking is, “Will I trust Jesus’ picture of wholeness and healing over my own?”
By Liz O, UMin Intern
You would think that blogs are for brilliant thoughts. Well try this one on for size: It rains a lot in Seattle. For as long as I have lived in the northwest, you might wonder how I have not yet come to this realization. Twenty-three years old now, I think I might be on to something. The rain can be an extremely depressing thing. For what seems like two thirds of the year, we deal with the rain. Any good Portlander or Seattleite makes sure they have plenty of rain gear. We have boots, fleeces, soft shell jackets, umbrellas, rain slickers; the list goes on. We do a lot to protect from the rain. To those reading this, I am guessing you have all experienced what it is like to experience a rain storm without having anything to protect yourself. Your clothes are soaking, your socks are wet and each subsequent step gets a little squeakier. Over time you realize how heavy you are weighed down because of the rain. It is an unpleasant experience.
It is not instinctive to stand in the rain. Our natural reaction is to get out of it as soon as we can. The less we get wet, the better off we are. We run to any source of cover we can to find a sense of shelter. Sooner or later, we have to step back into the rain whether by choice or not. Sometimes we are lucky enough to avoid it, but it is inevitable that we will have to deal with the rain once again. The last thing we want to do it let the rain cover us.
Ever feel like you are just fleeing from the rain in life? I do. In fact, I do it all the time. My guess is you do too. There is a lot of hurt in our worlds that take on the form of “rain.” We don’t want to deal with pain. Particularly, trying to avoid the pain of losing someone you love. We run away pretending that we are going to be okay. We try everything we can to find shelter. We take on more hours at work; we go to the gym more often and even study harder for classes just so we don’t have to deal with the hurt. When those forms of shelter aren’t enough we turn to others to fulfill our need to get out of the rain. Drinking, Sex, partying, you name it. Any form of shelter is good for now. No matter the rain we are experiencing, it is the shelters we are desperately seeking in order to stop the rain. The truth is that shelters don’t stop the rain.
“So what do we do? Should be never step into shelter? That sounds stupid Michael.” I agree that would be foolish. But I urge you to step into a shelter that is sustainable. Step into a shelter that you know can ultimately withstand the fierce and unceasing type of rain. For me, that shelter is found in community of people that can engage the rain with you. I might even challenge you to find that shelter in a relationship with Jesus. How you do that might be for another blog entry, but hear it from someone who has sought out a lot of different types of shelter to deal with hurt: There is comfort and warmth in a shelter built on Jesus and his friends.
My final thought for this blog: As much as the rain hurts, there is something good about the rain. Something life giving and cleansing that makes the rain worth all the trouble. As depressing as it can be, there is something liberating about standing still in the rain. It is a unique feeling to surrender to the storm and lets the rain fall on you. If you can stomach country music you might know the song by Luke Bryan that says, “Rain is a good thing.” It is. Rain produces crop. Rain makes things grow. Likewise, it is the same in your heart. It is the rain that can lead to growth. Healing, time and good shelter are certainly a part of that process. Let the rain wash away all the pain of yesterday. We cannot control the rain. Sometimes you have to be in the rain to get out of it. So have courage and stand in it.
By Michael W, UMin Intern
This weekend I finally saw the movie The Social Network. I love to watch movies and I see most everything that hits the theaters, but I was particularly intrigued by this movie for the subject matter (it’s very well done, BTW). The migration of the human world toward a virtual existence online has fascinated me in recent years, and also freaked me out a bit. I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Facebook. Okay, more of a hate/hate relationship, but I honestly don’t begrudge anyone their Facebook page use. Before you write me off as an old fogey going off about the “crazy kids these days and their wild boxes with screens,” know that I recognize the fun and appreciate the usefulness that can be found in Facebook. And, as Mark Zuckerberg says in the movie, Facebook is THE way people connect with one another. But, I can’t help but wonder, as relationships move more and more online, are we missing a key element of what relationships are supposed to be about?
I began to wonder what Jesus’ Facebook page would look like. Check out his new profile pic, tagged with Peter and James, all of them having a crazy time cruising in Galilee. EPIC! Okay, a bit facetious, and I’m not saying Jesus wouldn’t have a Facebook page, the book of John could easily serve as his “info” section. But I don’t know if Jesus’ relationships would really fit into a Facebook page. I think the major difference between the relationships that Jesus had with people throughout the gospels and those he might have on a Facebook page is that whenever he engaged with people as individuals—the interaction, the conversation, the relationship—was about them. Whomever he was talking to, Jesus made the relationship about the woman or the man and what Jesus might be able to do for him or her.
That’s my biggest fear with moving more and more of our relationships and interactions online – 99% of the time, whatever we put out there and post is about ourselves, not about the other people that we’re getting to know. Yes, there is certainly something positive in being willing to open up about ourselves and share with all our “friends,” but where do we model Jesus in this new virtual universe? How often are my relationships about the other person first and then about me? And, honestly, this is the question I don’t have the answer to but one I’ll keep pondering and thinking about as life seems to continue to move this direction: where does living out the gospel truly fit online?
Written by Janie S.
In preparation for the fall speaking series at the INN, I’ve started reading a book from Daniel Taylor called The Myth of Certainty: The Reflective Christian and the Risk of Commitment. It’s caused me to reflect on reflecting.
It seems that we are all asking questions of identity. Who am I? It’s the question that college students ask and a question that I continue to ask as I anticipate creeping up on the time that is traditional for a mid-life crisis. Taylor says, “Reflectiveness is a character trait deeply rooted in what one essentially is. It helps define one’s fundamental experience of reality. The life of a reflective person is more likely to be interesting, less likely to be serene; more likely to be contemplative, less likely to be active; more likely to be marked by the pursuit of answers, less by finding them. The result is a high potential for creativity, curiosity, and discovery but also for paralyzing ambivalence, alienation, and melancholy.”
Psalm 119 encourages us to mediate on the Lord’s Precepts and the Lord’s exhortation to consider the lilies of the field (Mt. 6:28). This encouragement is an invitation into the tension of the reality we live in. Reflection is a risk/reward endeavor. It leads us into the mystery of questions that can and never will be answered. When we get consumed with getting the right answer, we miss the pursuit of the question. For good reason: the pursuit of answers is difficult because it is filled with tension.
But the Christian faith invites us to consider the tension of seeing opposites: the first being last (Mt. 19:30), the physical and spiritual (Gen. 1), dying to live (Luke 14:27). Part of the journey as people seeking union with Jesus is thoughtfully pursuing these answers, not just getting the answer in a well-packaged sermon. We meditate, reflect, struggle, doubt, question, discuss, wonder and celebrate this pursuit individually and in community. We struggle because we are seeking to reimagine who we are as Children of God and seeking to discover more of the mystery of God. On this journey, we get the sense that God is bigger and more loving than we thought.
So this fall I invite the community around University Ministries to reflect. I challenge you to engage the tension present in your faith and think for yourself as we seek a bigger expereince with the grace of God revealed in Jesus Christ.