When he [Jesus] 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 paralysed 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!’
Jesus went out again beside the lake; the whole crowd gathered around him, and he taught them. As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him.
And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax-collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples—for there were many who followed him. When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax-collectors, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with tax-collectors and sinners?’ When Jesus heard this, he said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’
Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, ‘Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?’ Jesus said to them, ‘The wedding-guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day.
‘No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.’
Our reading for this morning reminds me of the one about a blind man, a paraplegic, and a deaf man who all decided to visit a healer high up a mountain. The blind man went up the trail first while using his white cane. Arriving at the top, he asked the healer to be healed and so it was. He threw his cane off the mountain and came back down a man with sight. The paraplegic went up the mountain next with great difficulty and eventually asked the healer to be healed and so it was. He threw his wheelchair off the mountain and came back down a man who could walk once again. Finally, the deaf man pondered the situation. He figured he was gonna need an interpreter to help him at the top so the two of them set off to the top. At the top he, too, asked to be healed and so it was. He threw the interpreter off the mountain and came back down a man who could hear on his own yet again!
Probably not how God or whoever was at the top of that mountain would have liked the deaf man to react! Sing a song or yell out at the top of your lungs…anything but throwing your interpreter off the side of the mountain! Certainly not a very gracious way to show your appreciation! Nor a very likely way one would show their appreciation. But funny to envision…
Not that I imagine the parapalegic in today’s story would have thanked his friends in similar fashion for daring to lower him through the roof to receive his healing. No, I imagine the man was beside himself with gratitude for his friends. Just as I imagine the tax-collectors and sinners were terribly grateful to be eating with Jesus. This world can be terribly cruel and judgmental towards the sick and outcast. And it seems like it’s getting crueler and more judgmental each and every year. I haven’t quite figured it out, what might be causing the world’s growing animosity and cruelty. Is it simply the result of a growing world population and dwindling resources? Are we just having to fight more for our survival? On the other hand, is it simply a reaction to our cultural emphasis on tolerance and hospitality? Because our culture demands we play nicer with each other, our free spirits can’t help but defy such demands and act meaner towards each other. Maybe, just maybe, civility is an antiquated concept. Maybe nature doesn’t want us to be civil towards each other. Of course, nature invariably rewards cooperation and coordination but maybe we can achieve such interaction without civility. It does seem strange how nature can reward those who fight for their survival while at the same time reward those who work well together. And God rewards those who work well with others, who serve others. He doesn’t condone fighting amongst ourselves and He especially dislikes when we ignore him or fail to heed his will for our lives. God wants us to live in harmony, in cooperation with each other and the world around us. Our God wants us to love and serve each other and our beautiful world around us. We are mere caretakers of all that God has created. We must take care of everything and everyone. But again, I don’t know why He allows for a growing population and dwindling resources. Perhaps it’s his way of getting us to explore other worlds but that’s a whole nother discussion…let’s stick with our reading for this morning!
Last week we began our new lectionary by looking at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Almost immediately after his baptism, Jesus set about doing the work he was called to do in this world: preaching, teaching, healing, performing miracles, and setting people free. Our reading picks up in those early days of his ministry when he has these powerful healing and teaching moments, first with the parapalegic being lowered through the roof of him and then with the meal with tax-collectors and sinners. In both instances, the scribes took great offense with Jesus’ methods. According to the scribes, no one but God could heal sinners and no one ought to share meals with tax-collectors and sinners. Both acts de-legitimized Jesus and his authority with the scribes and defied their authority so right off the bat Jesus made himself an enemy of the religious order. Probably not the wisest thing to do in a world that greatly treasures religious order. Now, rather than focus on Jesus’ healing and teaching as anti-authoritarian, I want to dig deeper in an element of the encounters that can’t be overlooked. You’ll notice that Jesus doesn’t just randomly heal or share his meals with anyone. No, he’s very deliberate in who he heals and eats with. Jesus healed the man because of the persistent faith of man’s friends. Jesus ate with the tax-collectors and sinners because of their persistent faith and hope that he might heal them. Both encounters illustrate an important aspect of God and God’s world: healing comes to those with faith. There is great healing power with faith. Is it the only healing power? No, of course not. Does it heal all sickness? No, of course not. Is it guaranteed to heal sickness? No, of course not. But faith can be a source of great healing. And not just for known sickness. Faith can heal unknown sickness just as well. And faith heals in unexpected ways. Just as faith is revealed in unexpected ways, so, too, does it heal in unexpected ways. Too many people write off or minimize the power of faith in the overall healing process. Faith can do things that nothing else can do. This is because it allows for God to enter into the healing process. And nothing is impossible for God. God can overcome ALL sickness.
Faith is a tool with uses that can’t be understated. Faith opens new opportunities for growth and healing. Just hear what Scripture tells us about the power of faith. In the book of Hebrews, we hear, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” (11:6) Through faith, we illustrate our seeking out of God and his healing powers. We acknowledge our own limitations and acknowledge his absolute sovereignty over our lives. God responds to faith…God is pleased with faith. In Ephesians, we hear Paul write, “for by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” (2:8) It is faith that saves us from death and sin, faith in what Jesus did on the cross on our behalf. All we have to do is believe that Jesus was without sin and chose to die for us. All we have to do is believe that Jesus rose from the grave and walks among us today. Nothing but faith will allow for such belief. Nothing but faith will allow for salvation. Nothing but faith will allow for God’s grace and mercy to pour out upon us. The power of faith cannot be understated!! Recall what Jesus said to his disciples after he exorcised a demon from a boy and they were wondering why they couldn’t have done it. Matthew writes, “He said to them, ‘Because of your little faith. For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there”, and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.’ (17:20) Even the smallest amount of faith can move mountains, let alone heal a parapalegic or tax-collector or sinner.
Ultimately, Jesus’ healings and teachings both reveal and reward faith. There is great power in faith…there is great healing power in faith. And if you think you don’t need healing in whatever part of life you’re in, you’re sorely mistaken. We are ALL sick and we ALL need healing, some more than others. Let us seek out the healing that can be found in Jesus. Let us nurture and grow our faith in him. There is great healing to be had through faith. In Romans, Paul writes, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (8:28) Let us love God, place our faith and trust in God, and rejoice in the goodness that results. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.