“Jesus entered a ship, and passed over, and came into his own city. And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus, seeing their faith, said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee…”
Jesus’ “own city” that is referred to in the text was Capernaum where he had moved early in his ministry after the people of Nazareth tried to kill him. The first piece of information is an account of a sick man whose friends cared enough for him to bring him to Jesus. This is probably the same account and the same man, reported in Mark’s Gospel, whose friends had to remove part of the roof of a house to lower him down to where Jesus was teaching. The home referred to in the text was probably Peter’s and Andrew’s home where he healed Peter’s mother-in-law. Friendship is a wonderful thing.
Every week we are reminded that “love of neighbor” is so high a matter for Jesus that we have it repeated over and over again in the Church. Along with loving God with our whole being, love of neighbor is the fulfillment of all the Law. Yes, God is our happiness and only God himself is sufficient for the human heart. But it is not the case that nothing short of God awakens our love, our reverence, and our trust. Friends do that. Friends may open our hearts and it is sweet indeed when friendship meets at the feet of Jesus. But our hearts require, indeed long for, a permanence no man can promise, and friends know this to be true. True friends will not promise more, will not seek more from one another than Jesus has made us to be. We are created for embodied fellowship with one another and we are better for that fellowship. A true friend in Christ is a soothing comfort all because that friendship finds its end in Christ and his Kingdom.
“And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus, seeing their faith, said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee…”
Whatever these men understood about Jesus, he saw their faith and their obvious love for their friend. At any rate what this and other accounts like it in the Bible have in common is that Jesus acted on the faith of the sick person’s friends, not the sick person himself. Search the scriptures and you will find that Jesus frequently acted upon the faith and request of one person, for the benefit of another person. In the several cases where Jesus raised a person from the dead, it is obvious that the faith of the beneficiary of his miracle had nothing to do with it. Only three weeks back on Trinity XVI we had the Gospel account of a widow who was burying her only child:
“And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her Weep not… And he (Jesus) said, Young man (a dead man who was obviously not exercising personal faith), I say unto thee Arise. And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he delivered him to his mother.”
And frequently we see a father or a mother approaching Jesus on behalf of a sick child or a demon-possessed servant. In the Gospel for Lent II we have just such a story:
“And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.”
We see this sort of event repeated over and over again throughout the Gospels. It is a blessing and a comfort to have friends; it is especially a blessing to have friends who love us and with whom we share a love for Jesus. It is a mark of the importance of this sort of event for the life of the Church that we have it repeated several times throughout the Christian year. This poor man had intercessors that brought him to Jesus and that made all the difference in the world for him.
“and Jesus, seeing their faith, said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee…”
One take away from the Gospel today is the comfort, the blessing, and the necessity of intercessory prayer in God’s order for our life in the Body of Christ. But I want you to see in these specific events in our Lord’s earthly ministry that what is being described is not circumscribed by what we call intercessory prayer. Intercessory prayer is part of a whole, a manifestation of a way of life. We are all called to be intercessors in prayer. When someone asks you to pray for them they are asking you to take the role of these friends who brought the sick man to Jesus. Jesus honors intercessory prayer, yes – but there is more to it – the very order of the Body of Christ may be described as intercessory prayer – this is how we best live, most authentically live together as Christians. It is not merely that intercessory prayer works (which it does), that it is a tool we pull out of our tool box when it is needed like a power drill. Intercessory prayer is the way God has ordained that we must live together.
Baptism is the archetype, the spot on example: every little baby who is baptized into Christ has this beginning through the intercession of others who love him. He can only smile or cry and sleep as his parents and godparents not only intercede for him, but also as they mouth the words of the faith of the Church for him. At the moment of baptism the priest does not ask the parents and godparents if they wish to have the baby baptized. The questions of faith are posed, as it were, to the baby and the godparents answer in his name:
“Wilt thou be baptized in the Faith”
“That is my desire.”
“Wilt thou then obediently keep God’s holy will and commandments, and walk in the same all the day’s of thy life?”
“I will by God’s help.”
Intercession, friendship, fellowship, common prayer, common life. Listen to me: the same thing binds us to one another that binds us to Christ.
This past summer while we were at the beach, I read a lot of books on the Revelation, and I became interested in quantum entanglement. The idea of quantum entanglement has been around for a long time as a theory developed by Neils Bohr. According to quantum entanglement two particles may interact with one another such that they become entangled. If we entangle two photons of light and then separate them at any distance – you take one photon to the end of the universe we know and I will keep one photon here. Here’s quantum entanglement: if I do something to the photon I have here, the photon that you are holding, no matter how far away you are, will instantly respond. The entanglement has brought about a new state of being so that neither photon can be considered in isolation from the other. Albert Einstein hated the notion of quantum entanglement calling it “spooky actions at a distance.”
I want to suggest to you that this entanglement illustrates a principle of the Kingdom of God. By virtue of our baptism into Christ we are baptized into one body and we are from then on “members of Christ and members one of another.” We are not merely individual persons. Love of neighbor is the natural state of being in the Body of Christ. Friendship, fellowship, community in the Body of Christ is sacramental interconnectedness.
Let me suggest a practical way in which you may enter a little more deeply into our common life in Christ. Take one of those prayer lists home with you and everyday this week at 12:15 p.m. if you can’t be here, take it out and read the names of your fellow members out loud and use the prayer on page 18 of the BCP.
“Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee…”
If it were left up to us more often than not the good would root out the best. As important as physical healing is, especially to the ailing person, Jesus knows what is best for us, not merely what is good for us:
“Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee…”
Some may object to this because they think our Lord associated the man’s illness with personal sin. Maybe he is, maybe he isn’t. It is nearly impossible to tell from the text. But what is certainly the case is that the Gospels never argue that all sickness is a direct result of personal sin, albeit many in Jesus’ day and in our day believe that to be the case. In the New Testament, signs and wonders were the primary evidence of the breaking in of the Kingdom of God. Jesus corrects this mistaken notion that always linked illness to personal sin. Of course it may be that particular sins would naturally lead to sickness – alcohol abuse will certainly lead to a deterioration of health and morals and community. It is also the case that our world in every part of its life has been affected by original sin and actual sin and there is naturally a link between sin and illness in that sense. But it would be a mistake to always take illness to be a direct result of personal sin. But – and here is the point I want to make – whether my sickness is a result of personal sin or not, the fact of the matter is that Jesus wants what is best for his children.
“Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee…”
The good that we desire may fall far below the best that God wills for his Kingdom and his children. And so frequently – not always – but frequently Jesus and his Church will combine prayers for healing with absolution. So St James writes:
“Are there any sick among you? Let him call for the elders (the priests) of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven…”
A large portion of the Book of Common Prayer is dedicated to the Visitation of the Sick and prayers and Psalms for healing. And it is frequently the case that those prayers, as in the Unction of the Sick combines forgiveness and release from sin with restoration of bodily health. Here is a point I want you to take away: when Jesus heals a person’s body – whether it is a New Testament account or whether it is in this present day – that healing is also a vivid sign of Jesus healing human character.
There are two things I want you to take away today: first, friendship in the Body of Christ means that we are connected to one another sacramentally, and we love one another best when we prayer for one another. Secondly, God continues to heal the sick physically, but even more important than that, God is healing our broken character. He is renewing our life, growing us into his own children who manifest his character in this broken world.