Paralysis and Forgiveness (sermon)
Today’s reading is one of those memorable Sunday School stories… mainly because a man is lowered through a roof by his friends. While the adults are thinking aboutOSHand access issues the kids are thinking about what fun it would be to be lowered through the roof
The story then segways into a theological argument… mainly because Jesus doesn’t do what you might expect. Rather than addressing the presenting problem (the man’s inability to walk) he addresses his sin.
“Child”, he says (in an intimate family kind of way), “Child, your sin is forgiven”.
There is great warmth and solidarity in Jesus greeting, but it is not sentimental. The man may be like family, but he is a sinner.
Why is Jesus first reaction to address sin rather than Illness?
The story reminds reminds us that sin and illness are related issues… (which is harder to say…) For Jesus, sin is the more important issue, healing is part of his ministry, but his core business is announcing the forgiveness of God in the arrival of the kingdom.
What can we can say more about the relation between illness and sin. Both illness and sin challenge God in different ways… illness shows up the brokenness of God’s creation at a physical level. Sin is about the moral disorder in God’s creation.
But you don’t get ill because of a sin. You can’t go round blaming people’s illness on sin (Jesus is clear about that elsewhere). But nevertheless, illness is a sign of sin. How? It’s a sign of the domination of death in all of our lives. When we are sick, we are more fragile, more vulnerable, we are in the shadow of death, and the illness becomes a sign, not just that we will die (it’s not the fact that our lives will end that is the problem), but that death can and does threaten us into unfaithfulness and often can dominate us … so that we anxiously try to avoid losing our life, or avoid giving it away in love … the dominion of death is about the way we try and save and protect our life and, as Jesus says, end up losing any real life. Illness, then is a sign of death and its dominion, reminding us that the pervasive problem that we all struggle with, all our lives, is not really the illness as such, as the problem of dying well (and living well).
Jesus addresses the main problem first of all. “Child, your sins are forgiven.”
But a murmur rises in the crowd “How dare this guy speak like this? grumbled some of the scholars among themselves. It’s blasphemy! Who can forgive sin except God?”
What authority does Jesus have to speak for God?
‘Authority’ is an interesting word… It has the word ‘author’ in it… it means to speak what someone else authors… to speak it after them… not necessarily the same words… but the word, the message originates from an other.
Can anyone anywhere speak with the authority of God? … Can anyone, anywhere speak God’s word after God?
It’s not just an ancient question…We have the same question… we have learnt to question all authority.
Our question is can anyone, anywhere really assure us of God’s gracious movement of forgiveness towards us, which overcomes the dominion of death in our life?
That’s where it begins to matter who Jesus is… for us too… if Jesus doesn’t originate in the life of God, if we cannot be confident in his word, then we can have no confidence at all about God’s attitude towards us… about the grace that forgives
To forgive someone is to move back towards someone after they have damaged the relationship. It means to dismiss the sin by reaching out across the barrier created by the offence.
Jesus authoritatively declares to this man… God does not have it in for you, in spite of all the years you have been told that God has punished you with this sickness, in spite of all the years you have lived under the same dominion of death (like everyone else), in fact God has a place for you, God is saying YES to you.
What authority does Jesus have? For us, and for Mark as he wrote his gospel, it is the authority demonstrated by the resurrection. For us Jesus still speaks this same word with the same authority. In him God is saying Yes to us
What matters most for us and for this man, and for all of us, is forgiveness, but alongside this forgiveness is a sign of the promise of the final healing of creation – “stand up, take up your begging mat and go home.”
Every week in worship, we gather, and Jesus says that same word to us. We come with our illnesses, or financial worries, our relationship hassles, but Jesus addresses us in the same way he did that paralysed man “Your sins are forgiven”. He doesn’t say, I will fix your financial worries, or I will fix your illness, or I will fix your relationship hassles. But he does say “Your sins are forgiven”. Sometimes I say it from the front. Sometimes we say it to one another alongside the peace. Some people find it uncomfortable to say to their neighbour. What authority do I have (do any of us have) to declare the forgiveness of sins to my neighbour? And yet we have been given precisely that authority…. because Jesus had that authority and passed it on… even to us… to his community. “In the same way the Father sent me, I am sending you.”… “If you forgive the sins of others they are forgiven.”
So its possible to read this story and put ourselves in Jesus shoes and perhaps if we do that, we see our responsibility to continue the message of Jesus …. from him we have received an extraordinary responsibility to announce the incredible grace of forgiveness.
Another way to read it is to put ourselves in the shoes of the paralysed man.
As I talk with people around the parish about the questionnaire and the difficult decisions we face about the future of our congregations I am hearing people say… “I just put it in the too hard basket” or “I just don’t know what to do”. Can a congregation feel paralysed? Are we in the story on the stretcher being lowered through the roof?
Maybe Jesus turns to us as a congregation and says ‘Your sins are forgiven’. Maybe Jesus addresses us with the basic issue too, the dominion of death. Are we afraid to give anything away, to give away the memories, are we afraid to betray the trust of our ancestors and loved ones, so closely linked in our minds with the way things have been in our church? Are we afraid to give this away in order to follow the life of the kingdom? Are we paralysed at the thought of loss? Are we under the dominion of death?
Perhaps we are hoping that Jesus will wave a magic wand and say here’s three million dollars to build a new church so life can continue as usual. But perhaps Jesus will cut to the chase with us also and say “Your sins are forgiven” its time for something new.
Perhaps Jesus will echo our OT reading from Isaiah 43
Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; … you have burdened me with your sins; you have wearied me with your iniquities. I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.