During this season of Lent, we are following Christ.
Well, we should always be following Christ: following him by staying close to him, and following him by following his example. In the first century the disciples did this by walking with Jesus, seeing what he did, and then mimicking his behaviors. Here in the twenty-first century we can’t literally follow Jesus around, so we do it by reading about him through Scripture and experiencing him through the Holy Spirit. Then, like good disciples, we can mimic the behaviors we’ve “seen.”
This Lent we at Andrews UMC are taking our role as followers of Christ very seriously. We’re following Jesus through a careful look at the things he frequently did and we’re discovering ways to mimic those behaviors. On this second Sunday of Lent we look at something Jesus did a lot:
Wanna see for yourself? Open up the gospel of Mark. You’ll find the first healing at 1:21, then another starting at 1:29, and others at 1:32, and 1:40, and 2:1…
I think you get the drift.
Today we follow Jesus as he heals a leper and a paralytic. We watch closely to see what he did… so we can act similarly.
First, Mark 1:40 – 45: Jesus heals a leper.
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.
Okay, followers of Christ; you were watching, so you tell me. Why did Jesus heal the leper?
Because he was “moved with pity.” Other translations say, “moved with compassion.” The Greek root word is splanchnon, a super-fun word that sounds like what it means: guts. In modern-day America we “feel” with our hearts; the ancient Greeks “felt” with their guts. Literally, Jesus is moved by his guts to heal the leper.
Next question for you followers of Christ: What did Jesus tell the leper to do after he was healed?
“Say nothing to anyone,” except to make a thank offering with the priest. In the gospel of Mark Jesus has a tendency to hush-hush his miracles, which is kind of weird when you think about it. This same Jesus would tell his followers to “go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19) – in other words, to tell the whole world about him! So why the big secret now?
From the healing of the leper we see that Jesus is moved by compassion and tries to keep it a secret. Let’s keep those two things in mind as we follow him into the next story about a paralytic (Mark 2:1-12)…
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 people came, 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!”
Alright followers of Christ: What were Jesus’ first words to the paralytic?
“Son, your sins are forgiven.”
This man’s friends just carried him in on a mat. Has Jesus missed the fact that this dude can’t use his legs? They may not have explicitly said, “Please help our buddy walk,” but it seems clear the presenting issue wasn’t his unforgiven sins.
Or was it?
The scribes (religious leaders) have a severe response to Jesus’ forgiveness statement. “No one can forgive sins except God!” They seem to think this is a big deal, which is a clue to us about what’s important in this story. Maybe the forgiveness of sins really is more important than helping a lame man to walk.
After the scribes throw their attitude, Jesus throws back a miracle: he heals the paralytic.
He gives a reason for that. Followers of Christ, do you remember why Jesus said he was healing the man’s paralysis?
“…so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…”
Despite what the scribes say, Jesus does have the ability to forgive sins – and it’s an important ability, so important that he’d offer a paralyzed man forgiveness before he got around to his legs.
Followers of Christ, what have you seen Jesus do so far?
- Jesus was motivated by compassion to heal.
- He didn’t want publicity for the healings – he wanted to keep them a secret.
- And he prioritized forgiveness over physical healing.
As I “follow” Jesus through these two miracles, here’s what I see:
Jesus is living into his identity as the Christ, the Son of God, the one whose purpose was to save us from our sins. Remember what the angel said to Joseph? Joseph was to name his fiancee’s baby “Jesus” because the name “Jesus” literally means “God saves. The angel explains why: “for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Saving people from their sins is Jesus’ M.O, his big goal, his primary operative.
That’s good, because the forgiveness of sin is also the most basic, most universal, most important way we need healing. Not long after humanity was made “in God’s image” Adam and Eve used their God-resembling free will to disobey their Creator. But we don’t have to read Genesis 2 to know that sin is a problem. We make mistakes. We screw up. We can’t seem to be good enough. Sometimes we feel like Paul: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15). Other times we willfully do harm – to ourselves, to our neighbors, or to our relationship with God. We feel incurably broken inside.
But, thank God, there is a cure: a complete sacrifice on a terrible cross; an empty tomb that makes a way for us even after death.
This is the most important way in which we need healed.
That’s not to say our physical ailments are inconsequential. Our suffering in this life is real. Body and soul are connected. Jesus was human, so he learned that lesson first-hand. He understood the terrible loneliness and suffering that can come with disease.
I think this is why Jesus was motivated by compassion to heal. It wasn’t his primary objective… but when he saw someone suffering, his compassion stopped him. He saw a leper and healed him, he saw a guy who couldn’t walk and healed him, he crossed paths with countless others and healed them, too. It’s like Jesus just couldn’t help himself, like he was thinking, “I know this isn’t what I’m ultimately here for, but here – let me fix that for you, just don’t tell anyone…” And maybe that explains all the hush-hush about the healings. Like a grandparent who lets the kids have ice cream on a weekday: “Just don’t tell your parents!”
So Jesus’ primary purpose was saving us from our sins… but his compassion motivated him to heal people along the way.
Now, followers of Christ: How do we follow that example?
This is a tricky one. We might even be tempted to dismiss it altogether, because we can’t heal. I mean, maybe you can – but that’s not a spiritual gift most of us possess.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t follow Jesus’ example in healing.
First off, we can pray. We do this at Andrews UMC every Sunday: naming aloud those who are suffering from physical ailments and committing to pray for them throughout the week. When we do this, it’s as much a mystery as it was when Jesus was physically present in this world. Jesus didn’t heal every single person then, and he doesn’t heal every single person we pray for. I don’t know why that is. But I do know we are lifting our prayers up to the same Jesus who was motivated by compassion, whose guts drove him to help anyone he could. I know that Jesus hears our prayers with tender compassion. So we pray and trust that Jesus will heal those who can be healed… and, ultimately, that Jesus has healed everyone from the sin that might otherwise threaten our eternal life with God.
We pray for healing… and then we are moved by compassion to act. When we pray for others, it changes our hearts. This happens to me each week: when people are added to our church prayer list I bring them to God each day, and when I name them to God each day my heart grows tender for them. Then, sometimes, God reveals to me a way I can help answer that prayer. I might not be able to heal the sick – but I can write a card, make a visit, give someone a ride, drop off some ginger ale and crackers. We do what we can, even when it doesn’t provide the full, miraculous healing we might hope for. We do those things because, like the Jesus we follow, we are motivated by compassion.
We pray for healing… we are moved by compassion to act… but always, like Jesus, we prioritize forgiveness. By saying that, I don’t want to be insensitive to those who need physical healing. When my mom was dying of cancer, I’ll tell you I was praying for the miraculous disappearance of that brain tumor far more than I was praying for her forgiveness. But that doesn’t change the fact that we are in desperate need of forgiveness. Forgiveness is like a sigh of relief for our souls – and we have the ability to offer it to others. We can teach people about the forgiveness that Jesus makes possible, and that’s good. But even better is to live into it, to show that we believe in forgiveness by “forgiving those who trespass against us,” as the Lord’s Prayer says.
We are followers of Christ – the Christ who was moved by compassion to heal but whose primary purpose was the forgiveness of sins.
And doesn’t the world desperately need that kind of healing?
So we pray for those who need healing.
We let compassion move us to do what we can to help.
And we extend the same radical forgiveness to others that Christ has given to us.