What sort of things can you now claim on your health insurance that you couldn’t 20 years ago? This is not a rhetorical question! Pilates classes, yoga, naturopathy. You can even buy a new pair of running shoes because you might just run around the park once or twice! Aren’t these things a sign that are our society has been changing its mind about what it means to be healthy and what healing involves? Over the last 20 years or so we have seen the development of the “holistic health” movement. That is to say many medical practitioners now believe that all aspects of people's needs, psychological, physical and social need to be part of their medical care. But the idea of holistic health is not just restricted to medicine is it? Many alternative forms of non-Christian religion and spirituality are now part of many people's health care—the Mind Body Spirit movement. I would like us to do two things together today. The first is to look at Jesus’ healing of the paralyzed man in Mark chapter 2. The second is to ask these questions: What does it mean to be a “healthy” person? What does it mean to be healed? How does Jesus healing of the paralyzed man influence our Christian understanding of healing? Then I want to tell you about something Gus said. If you don’t know Gus I will tell who he is and what he said at the end of the sermon.
Someone has worked out that at least a quarter of the four Gospels are about Jesus’ healing people. Obviously healing was a very important part of Jesus’ ministry. And throughout his ministry people looked to Jesus to heal them. Today we heard the unforgettable story of the four people who bring their friend to Jesus to be healed of his paralysis. Many of us probably remember it from Sunday School. They were so desperate to get him to Jesus that they dug a hole through the roof. Are we that desperate to bring people we know to meet Jesus?
1. HEALING AND SALVATION
The Gospel reading says in verse 5 that, “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Child, your sins are forgiven’.” Why doesn’t Jesus say to the man: “Your body is healed”? Why does he say: “Child, your sins are forgiven”? It seems to me that it is because healing and salvation are not divided in the Bible the way we divide them. In the Bible a person cannot be properly healed unless their relationship with God has been healed. This does not mean that physical healing doesn’t matter. Physical healing does matter. Jesus heals the physical problem of the paralysed man. But just because we are physically healthy does not mean we don’t need to be healed. In the Bible to be completely well we also need to be at peace with God. Many times in Mark’s Gospel we see that Jesus heals people physically and spiritually. Another very good example of this comes in chapter 5. Jesus heals the woman who touched his coat to be healed from the bleeding she had suffered for 12 years. What did Jesus say when he realized that the woman touched him? “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your disease” (verse 34).
2. HEALING AND GOD
The result of her healing is that she is healed from her disease and at peace with God. Of course this does not mean that because God forgives our sins he will heal all our physical or psychological problems. Both spiritual evil or sin and physical evil like disease will only be wiped away when we are with Jesus in his kingdom. We see that in the book of Revelation. Not all cases of sickness in the early church were healed. In fact both Paul and Timothy had to live with physical problems.
If we go back to today’s reading, verses 6-7 say that, “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?’” Of course the religious leaders understood that people need spiritual healing. And they knew that only God can heal people spiritually. And that is why they had a problem with Jesus.
3. HEALING AND JESUS (THE SON OF MAN)
So Jesus said to them in verses 8-9, “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?’” What’s Jesus saying here? I think he is saying this: I can’t heal this man unless God is with me. But God is going to heal this man when I say he is healed. So you can believe that God also forgives this man when I say he is forgiven. In verses 10-12 Jesus tells them, “‘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.” Did you hear what the reason for the healing of the man was? So that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. The healing is a sign that God really is at work in Jesus. Jesus makes this point many times in Gospels. For example, in Luke chapter 11, Jesus says: “If it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you” (verse 20).
THE POWER OF FORGIVENESS
Let’s go back to the questions I asked at the beginning. What does it mean to be a “healthy” person? What does it means to be “healed”? Jesus’ healing of the paralyzed man was about the healing of his body and his soul. So I believe we can and should agree with people who say that good health involves our mind, body and spirit. But I also believe we have something distinctive to say. The holistic health movement, especially where it involves alternative spiritualities, is saying that we need a bigger understanding of human health. What I believe we have to say is that their understanding of people is actually still too small. It ignores a basic spiritual health problem that we all have. And that is the problem of forgiveness. The idea that we need to be forgiven is not very popular today. We don’t want to admit it. But deep inside I think most of know that we need it. Unless we let God heal the things that divide us from him we will never be completely healed. And it is through Jesus that God heals the divide between us. Only Jesus can say to us: “Child, your sins are forgiven.” Only Jesus can say to us: “Daughter, or Son, your faith has made you well.” And what an amazing thing it is to know that Jesus has said those words to us.
Now let me tell something Gus said. Gus diZerega is an American Pagan. And by “Pagan” I don’t mean just someone who doesn’t believe in God. I mean someone who practices modern forms of Pagan religion. Gus rejected the Christianity of his youth. But he is an intelligent man with a genuine concern for human welfare. He has PhD in political science from the University of California-Berkeley and has taught for sixteen years at American universities and colleges. He is a frequent public speaker and writer on environmental issues, politics and religion. Last year I was asked to review a book about A Pagan and Christian in Dialogue. The Christian in this dialogue was an Australian. The Pagan, of course, was Gus. I thought the most remarkable sentence in the whole book was when Gus acknowledged what he called “a profound truth in the Christian way, a truth much less emphasised by Pagans: the power of forgiveness.” The power of forgiveness! We may think that we could never engage in a debate with someone who has a PhD from the University of California-Berkeley. Maybe we couldn’t. But I think all of us can say: “What about forgiveness?” The power of forgiveness is a profound truth in the Christian way. Isn’t that why we are here today? Isn’t that why this church exists? Isn’t that the also the heart of the good news we have to share?!