Audience or Congregation? (January 19, 2019)
Mark 1: 40 – Mark 2: 5, 12
Audience or Congregation
So today we have two stories of Jesus beginning his ministry. We have a story of Jesus healing a leper that is come to him, and then the story of Jesus healing a paralytic man who has been brought to him by his friends. There’s a lot that goes on here. And these aren’t the only stories of healing that Mark puts here at the very beginning of his gospel as he’s introducing us to who Jesus is. I think these are the most influential stories of healing that we have in the midst of the stories though; the ones that tell us the most about what is happening around Jesus as well as ramifications for the future. So today I’m going to look at these stories and what they tell us about Jesus, about how people are responding to Jesus, and also what how might be showing us is little hints as to what’s going to happen when we get to Jerusalem and the Cross.
So as we get to this first story, we see that Jesus made somewhat of a name for himself but he’s not overly famous right now. He is famous enough that a leper knows who he is knows and what he’s done, and has enough belief in it, or at least hope, that it’s true to come to him. But not so much that there’s a ton of people around him. He’s come back from the desert, he’s had a sermon in Nazareth that didn’t go overly well, and now he’s over in Capernaum. He’s healed some random people, and then he healed Peter‘s mother in law as he was staying at Peter‘s house, and he is now here’s kind of building a name going around doing rabbi stuff. And as he’s doing this, and a leper comes to see him.
The leper has faith. We see that the leper has faith as he is coming to him for healing. He states, “Jesus, if you were willing, you have the power to heal me of this disease.” That’s the sense of the words that I find to be the most accurate to what is really going on. And then either Jesus has compassion upon the leper or anger at the situation, we don’t really know which one is the oldest. And Jesus says “I am willing to. Go, your faith has made you well.” And we see that Jesus has this amazing ability to heal as he touches the leper and the leprosy runs away as Jesus chooses to heal.
And this idea of Jesus touching the leper is important. The law is important to this story. The law is not always important when dealing with Jesus, in Galilee especially as it’s far away from the temple so people are not always caring if you were ritually pure since they were not near the Temple anyway. But here it is important. Jesus immediately tells the leper to go to the priest, and tell him that he’s been healed of the leprosy, and to do what was necessary by law to be declared clean. In short, Jesus tells him to go follow the law.
I think it’s also important in this story to remember that if a person who is unclean for these kind of things touches anything else, by law the uncleanliness goes from them to the thing. So if a person had leprosy or something along those lines, some kind of uncleanliness from something exuding from the body, then the uncleanliness would go to the thing. So if I was unclean with leprosy, and I touched a person, then that person was now unclean and they had to go wash and they were unclean until the morning. If I sat down on a chair, then the chair was unclean; and if anyone then subsequently sat down on the chair, they were unclean. By law, the uncleanliness overcame the cleanliness.
But with Jesus, Jesus touches the leper and the leprosy goes away. Instead of him becoming unclean by touching the leper, Jesus was so pure that the leper became clean by touching him. And that’s huge to the readers of Mark. And it is not the only time we see that in this kind of story. For instance, there’s the woman who’s been bleeding for many years, and she touches Jesus; and rather than Jesus becoming unclean, she becomes healed. You can see this happen time and time again: that Jesus is so pure that he makes the unclean clean. And we will see that that continues in the church as the church grows, even after the resurrection and the ascension later on in the book of Acts.
After this, Jesus does something that sounds really strange to our Protestant, evangelical ears. We’re trained to go out and tell everyone we know about Jesus. And we should; we have been told the end of Matthew’s gospel to make disciples of all nations. But here, Jesus says “don’t tell anyone.” Seems strange to us. And we try to explain it away in various ways. What I will say is that this man does not obey anything that Jesus says to do. Jesus tells him to go to the priest and do all the rituals; to follow the law, and then don’t tell anyone. Not only does he not go to the priest, he runs around the town telling everybody what Jesus has done.
And I understand what he’s doing and why he’s doing that, but there’s some consequences of his actions for Jesus. and Mark shows us this immediately. Jesus suddenly, overnight, becomes a celebrity in this town. If he can heal leprosy, then what can’t he do? He can heal anything! And suddenly people start showing up, crowds are showing up all around him, wanting him to heal what ails them. You can imagine this, right? Crowds continue to show up. And the crowds get larger, and larger, and larger, and larger.
Fred Craddock, a famous teacher of preaching, was quoted as saying “healings create audiences, not congregations.” And I think that this is on full display right here. The people are responding to the leper and coming to Jesus the next time he shows his face. In the morning, to get some time by himself, you’ll notice that he has to sneak out. All throughout Mark, the crowds were building, gearing up to the feeding of the 5000 type moment. And in this next story with the paralytic, just to preview the next part of the sermon, we find someone was trying to get to Jesus, but the crowd is just too large. It is overflowing out of the house they are in. But when we get to Pentecost, when we get through the passion week and through the cross and into Easter, there’s 120 left. These crowds that form in Galilee have upwards of 5000; and if you listen to some scholars that’s just 5000 men, with women and children it would’ve gotten closer to 15 or 20,000. These crowds are gigantic. And by the time we get all the way through the hardship that comes, it’s 120. And I can’t help but wonder if maybe this is the same. This area is not ready yet, and he winds up with a bunch of audiences for his miraculous healing instead of congregations.
And one of the main differences I think is displayed in this story of the paralytic man. This man is brought to Jesus. We have four friends that are wanting to bring a friend to this awesome healer that they have heard about. What we see is that they have the same faith as the leper had. They have such a strong faith that Jesus can heal their friend that they will go to all lengths to get their friend in front of Jesus to be healed, because they know if he is willing that he has the power to do so. But the crowd doesn’t let them through. They are forced to go up on the roof and tear apart the roof (which isn’t actually as bad as it sounds to our modern ears). They’re forced to go around because the crowd wouldn’t part to let them in. And my hope as a pastor, and maybe I’m biased, but my hope as a pastor is that a congregation that is full of disciples would part to let them through. That when a seeker shows up in their midst, someone who really needs Jesus or who needs to get their friend Jesus, that a congregation full of disciples would let someone like that through, and let someone like that get closer than them to Jesus. But an audience is me first. An audience is all about them, and they’re trying to get as close as they can to Jesus regardless of anyone else. That’s the difference I see between who responds to Jesus then and who we hope to be as we respond to Jesus now. Who Jesus is calling us to be.
Now, I want to talk about the story of the paralytic man. And specifically, I want to talk about one of my favorite verses in all of Scripture. Several men, just some men in the Scriptures, we kind of believe there were four because most cots have four corners, but it may have been more; these men are moved by their faith that Jesus can help their friend, and moved with compassion for the friend so greatly that they carry this man up on top of a roof and lower him down in front of Jesus. And did you catch what the Scriptures tell us Jesus said? It says that when Jesus saw their faith, not the faith of the man like with the faith of the leper, but the faith of the friends that made him well. It was not the faith of the paralytic man, it was the faith of the friends that moves Jesus.
I’m reminded of the book of Job. I’m sure all of you remember the plot of the book of Job, but just in case there’s one person in here who doesn’t remember that book: one of the things that happens in Job, both the beginning and the end, is that Job is seen offering sacrifices for the sins of his sons. Not his sins, but the sins of his sons; offering sacrifices to God and doing what we would now consider to be praying to God for all the sins that his sons committed, both intentionally and unintentionally. This is credited to him as righteousness. I think when you look at that, and you look at what Jesus is saying here that the friends’ faith means his sins are forgiven, I think that when you or I pray for our friends or children, these verses say that’s not in vain. That when you are praying for your child, when you are praying for your parents, when you are praying for your friends who are not here; those prayers are not in vain. Maybe, just maybe, you can have enough faith for all. That doesn’t mean that you don’t you try and get them to have faith of their own, but those prayers are not necessarily in vain.
And the role these friends play is a role that we need to play. We need to be as Christians what some call “stretcher bearers” for others around us, like these men were. There are times where we have to pick up our friends and carry them to Jesus, even if it means we climb to the top of the house and tearing up a roof. And there are also times we’re the paralyzed man, and we need to have people around us to be stretcher bearers for us to carry us back to Jesus or bring Jesus to us. We need to surround ourselves with people who would do that for us and for whom we would do that. If you don’t have that right now, you need to try and find it. Stick around on the second Sundays just have a conversation with your fellow people in this room. You need to find it.
And lastly I want you to know that this last verse I threw in, verse 12, states that the people were talking amongst themselves saying “who is this? We’ve never seen anything like this.” Again what we see, just like last week, is that Jesus is different. There’s something different about him, something beyond the normal, something that drew in the poor and scared off the powerful. Because we see the differences in the crowd; where there are already people starting to accuse him of doing things wrong. And the question is: are you being drawn in or are you being offended when Jesus starts going to work? When Jesus is healing those we don’t think deserve it, when Jesus is forgiving sins of those who haven’t done what they’re supposed to do in order to earn that forgiveness, or to at least go through the motions “required” of getting that forgiveness; when Jesus starts to do this, are you being drawn in to this Jesus or are you being pushed away? When Jesus goes to meet with the tax collectors, and eat with the sinners, and hang out with the immigrants and the members of that other political party, what’s your response? Because I’ll tell you, the audience is pushed away while the congregation is drawn in. And we all know which side of that dichadamy we went to be on. So, where are you this week? Think on that question. Amen.