Thursday, 13 March 2014

A real let-down?

Jesus said to the paralysed man, "Son, your sins are forgiven."  Mark 2:5
Over my years as a minister I've known sermons interrupted by various things - a baby starts to cry, someone is suddenly taken ill, a phone goes off, and yes, just occasionally, there's the sound of gentle snoring. But somebody dismantling the roof to let down a man on a stretcher...? Not yet, I'm thankful to say.

Of course Jesus wasn't in a church or synagogue - he was speaking in someone's home. The house was packed, which is why the four men carrying their paralysed friend decided this was the only way they could get him to Jesus. The house probably had a flat roof where you could go up to enjoy the cool of the evening, and opening it up wasn't too big a job. (I wonder - did they pay later to have it repaired?)

It must have been one of those hold-your-breath moments. Can you picture it? - there's a scraping noise... everybody looks up to see what's going on... a hole appears in the roof... someone's face comes into view, sussing out the situation... the stretcher is slowly let down into the middle of the room. Can you see the crowd shuffling awkwardly backwards to make space? ("Hey, you're treading on my toes!") They quickly take in what's happening - the paralysed man was probably well known in the locality, so they knew how desperate his need was.  

What will Jesus do? How will he handle this odd, slightly comical, situation? Total silence.

And then (roll of drums) Jesus speaks... "Get up! Take up your stretcher and walk..."

Well, no actually - that is exactly what Jesus doesn't say. Not yet, anyway. He says what must have seemed the biggest let-down of all time: "Son, your sins are forgiven". Oh.

I wonder if the man on the mat was tempted to put Jesus right? "Er, Jesus, it's really nice of you to offer me forgiveness. Please don't think me ungrateful. But actually that isn't what I came for. You may not have noticed it, but (ahem) the fact is that my legs don't work. To be honest, it was healing I had in mind... Forgive me for pointing it out..."

But of course Jesus knew exactly what he was doing and why. He knew, putting it simply, that the healing of the soul matters far more than the healing of the body. Oh yes, he spent a lot of time curing people's physical ailments and diseases. But that was never his top priority. He came to deal with humanity's big problem: sin, separation from God. That was why he suffered and died on the cross. 

And he promised that all who put their trust in him will indeed be perfected one day, even if not in this earthly life: sinless souls and brand new bodies fitted for eternal life in the kingdom of God.

"How are you?" we say to one another. "Oh, not so bad," we answer (let's face it, none of us are completely well). But the question that really matters is different altogether: How is your spiritual health? Can you say your sins have been forgiven? Are you at peace with God? If our answer is "Thank God, yes!" then our physical ailments, however serious they might be, fall into their rightful place.

The fact is that that man on the stretcher had a let-down that was anything but!

Lord, I confess that my aches and pains can get me down. I get frustrated that my body seems sometimes to be my enemy rather than my friend. But thank you for the promise of an eternity of perfect well-being. In the meantime, help me to bear with the frustrations, knowing that my sins are forgiven, and that my soul is in your loving hands. Amen.  

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