Jesus heals and forgives / forgives and heals
Jesus returned to Capernaum. Capernaum is also known as Tell Hum, Khirbet Karazeh, Bethsaida, Capharnaum, Chorazin, Kefar Nahum, Kafarnaum. Jesus made Capernaum his home during the years of his ministry: "Leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum" (Matt 4:13). (He goat His ane hoose there). Peter, Andrew, James and John were fishermen living in the village. Matthew the tax collector also dwelt here. Excavations have revealed one residence that stood out from the others. This house was the object of early Christian attention with 2nd century graffiti and a 4th century house church built above it. In the 5th century a large octagonal Byzantine church was erected above this, complete with a baptistry. Pilgrims referred to this as the house of the apostle Peter.
In the custom of the time, people opened their house doors in the morning and kept them open all day. People could freely go in and out of their neighbours' houses. They could see what they wir dae’in! In smaller houses there wis nae lobby so people walked in off the street straight into the living room. The house in Mark 2 had quickly filled up with visitors keen to see and hear the charismatic Rabbi from Nazareth, Jesus. A temporary house church was in operation with Jesus at the centre of the worship. No doubt people were standing round the doorway also peering in and some listening but not seeing everything. Family and friends of a paralysed man had brought him along in the hope that Jesus would heal him. Four of them carried him on his bed, strengthened perhaps by ropes. The roofs of houses were flat and by means of outside stairs were also used for many things, including meals, socialising, work and storage. Some may have been decorated with flowers and plants as we do balconies.
Roofs in those days consisted of flat beams laid across from wall to wall - usually three feet apart. The space in between was filled with brushwood packed tight with clay. The top was then marled over with smoother clay giving a good finish. A lot of earth was present in this compound and often grass grew on these roofs rather like these eco-friendly houses you see on TV programmes and, indeed, like the houses of crofters in the Hebridean isles in past decades and centuries. It was very easy to scrape away the top layer and lift the brushwood and so create a hole in the roof. The cross beams gave support for the paralysed man’s friends to lower him through the three feet space down into the centre of the living area where Jesus was seated, teaching.
Perhaps the first indication of this happening came with noise and pieces of brushwood, clay and dust falling down on top of the people including Jesus. It must have been an amusing sight also. But there was admiration on Jesus’ part for these men who had refused to accept defeat in their attempts to have Jesus heal their family member and friend. Jesus must have stopped his teaching discourse to look at this paralysed man. Then he said, “Son, your sins are forgiven”. It may be then, that this was a young man, certainly younger than Jesus Himself.
Why did Jesus say this? Why did he not say “Be healed!” or “Get up and walk!”. He must have seen into the young man’s soul. We do not know whether this man had been paralysed since birth but it seems probable that he had. Perhaps the young man suffered deeply from a sense of sin and sinfulness that Jesus quickly intuited. But there was also something much more significant in what Jesus said and why He said it. It was commonly believed at that time that if someone suffered it was because he had sinned. Jewish faith connected sin and suffering. This was what Job’s friends said to him. Some Rabbis said, “There is no sick person healed of sickness until their sins are forgiven”. Illness in Jesus time was a sign of God’s disfavour and even anger. Today, we know a lot about psychosomatic illness in which physical symptoms are caused by mental and spiritual states. We also associate some illnesses with particularly harmful lifestyles. But - we do not associate all illness with sinfulness. And though we do not think that each of us or anyone else is sinless or perfect, we also know that illness strikes good people also and that Christians are not exempt from the illnesses of this world.
We also say that “Confession is good for the soul” and if it is good for the soul it must also be good for the body. It is a fact that Christians live on average longer than others. Living a good life increases health and extends life for many Christian people. Having a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ is a life-giving and health-giving grace. Being at peace within is bound to encourage health. Stress, grief, guilt, worry and anxiety are all known to detract from health, mental physical. So - although the equation “illness means sinfulness” seems crude, we today are not that far removed from the same kind of understanding even if we clothe it in more secular language.
And we need to think not just individually but collectively also. What about the connection then between our national sinfulness and our national health? What about the way our society carries on and the prevalence of illness among so many young and early middle age people? What about the popular culture of permissiveness, alcohol and drug taking? Does it not affect the overall health of society and everyone in it? What about the rejection of Christianity? Do we as humans not need to have Jesus in our midst, blessing, helping, healing, forgiving us? If we have turned away from God as a nation - what good has it done us? Christianity is large enough and powerful enough to forgive us our national sins and social wrong doing. Those of us who gather each week in Church to pray do not do so just out of our own interest. We act as spiritual lungs for our sinful and diseased society. We are like spiritual trees creating spiritual oxygen to cleanse the polluted moral and spiritual environment of this world. We are not self-righteous Pharisees who think we are better than others. We confess our own need first. We allow Jesus to cleanse and forgive us and then we can be channels of His cleansing and forgiving for others. Our doors are open. We preach the Gospel of salvation and of eternal life. This is strengthening and empowering.
Perhaps this man was very conscious of his sin and perhaps he had done something sinful that caused his paralysis - we do not know. I think it is possible he had been paralysed from birth and that being a devout Jew - accepted that God was unhappy with him and perhaps even angry with him. He knew of no other explanation for his condition. He was probably a prayerful young Jew who remained faithful is spite of his physical affliction. You meet Christians like that today - who radiate faith in spite of physical debility and adverse circumstances. Some psychologists or psychiatrists today might even suggest that this young man had brought his paralysis upon himself by an healthy mental obsession with his sins and sinfulness. We do not know. We can all give up. We can take to our bed, mentally and spiritually if not physically. Many physical symptoms have psychological aspects to them. People can recover from illnesses when their personal circumstances suddenly change. So Jesus said to this young man “God is not angry with you - it’s all OK - you are forgiven”.
But everyone present had to learn the meaning and importance of what had just happened. Present there were some planted informers tracking Jesus’ ministry and reporting Him to the authorities. False teachers - false prophets were quickly identified and exposed and dealt with. It was basic to Jewish faith that only God could forgive sins. No man had this right and it was blasphemous to claim it and the consequence of that was execution by stoning. Anyone could say the words “Your sins are forgiven” but there may be no proof at all of it being true. There were false ministers and fake healers in Jesus’ time as well as in ours. Jesus knew that these informers were questioning and criticising Him. But He challenged them on their own terms. “You say that no-one can be healed until forgiven - watch this!”. And he told the young man to get up, roll up his bed, and walk home. Which he did. And then he could say, “You cannot according to the logic of our own law - deny that this man is forgiven because he is obviously healed”. And in this way Jesus proved that He was the Son of God and that He did have authority to forgive sins and to heal. This was a direct challenge to religious orthodoxy at the time. - one of many in Jesus’ public ministry that led to His crucifixion - which led to His resurrection - which led to Christianity - which led to the Church - which led to us being here today baptising a little one in His name. Make no mistake, Jesus’ forgiving healing life is now within Melanie’s. Jesus’ healing and forgiving life is within us who believe in Him. It is all true - that Jesus was God incarnate and that He is the Saviour of the world. Is He your Saviour? Do you want Him to be? You only need to ask Him.