The gospel reading for this Thursday, the occasion of my ‘first preach,’ is Matthew 9 verses 2-8.
I was delighted when I saw this as I felt that it to be a passage that dovetailed with my path to ordination. Of course to be ordained into the Church of England you need to be both baptized and confirmed. I was both baptized and confirmed as a young adult. I wanted to belong to the Christian Church and to make an explicit witness to my faith because, in part, I had finally settled on the question posed in this passage: ‘who exactly is this Jesus,’ good man, itinerant healer and moral teacher, or the one with the power to forgive sins, to restore the lost to life?
‘Some’ (but not all) of witnesses to the miracle of the healing of a paralytic, as told, in the gospel passage are deeply offended by Jesus initial diagnosis of the paralytic’s problems, ‘take heart, son, your sins are forgiven.’ For ‘some of the scribes’ this is pure blasphemy. The passage indicates that the ‘some’ change’ their minds about Jesus, when he then tells the paralytic to ‘stand, take your bed and go home.’ The ‘some’ it seems are more impressed by Jesus’ power than by his character. Surely, this stands as a warning to us all. Over the long-term faith can never be contingent on witnessing, experiencing, increasingly impressive acts of power. I suspect that those who judge God by what he does probably fall into the trap of setting God ever more challenging goals in order to prove His divinity, ignoring the basic theological fact that His divinity is revealed through His humanity. To base faith on what ‘God does’rather than who ‘God is’ might lead us ultimately into disbelief. It is interesting to note that the most vehement of atheists tend to argue exclusively from the stand point of works, dismissing God for His failure to act. You see fundamental atheists, just like fundamental theists, pine for a transactional, empirically proven God. (Fundamentalists also tend to read Scripture in exactly the same way, it is just that they come to a different conclusion).
But this account is not simply about Jesus and the double miracle He performs (i.e. healing the paralytic both physically and spiritually). For the story also reveals something about the tenderness of Jesus, his character in other words, and, the part we are called on to play in effecting modern day healing.
First, lets look at the tenderness, or character of Jesus, as revealed through His language: ‘Take heart, son.’ I suspect that the paralytic had for a long time felt downcast and depressed. I know that I would have done in his situation. So what does Jesus do? He tells him that his heart is to be restored to health. This is Jesus first priority. Then to show that he really cares he addresses the paralytic, the outsider, as ‘son.’ Jesus’ purpose is to ensure that the paralytic knows that he can find fulfillment in relationship. Awesome!
Now what about the paralytics friends? Well, they are central to the story for it is they who carry the outsider to Jesus. It is not the Scribes, the religious folk, who do so but the paralytic’s ordinary mates.
In this passage a timeless question is posed, ‘who exactly is this Jesus?’ This is a question that all must answer. But an enduring pattern for mission and ministry is also presented, for our responsibility is to bring people into the vicinity of Jesus, the great redeemer and restorer.
I am glad that this is the passage for my ‘first preach.’
‘Who do you say Jesus is?’
‘Are you bringing others into the vicinity of Jesus?’