19 February 2006

Seventh Sunday after Epiphany

Texts: Isaiah 43:18-25; Psalm 32; Mark 2:1-12.

The story of Capernaum centers on the forgiveness and healing offered by Jesus, whose actions first grasp our attention. By forgiving the man’s sins, Jesus does something quite audacious in the eyes of the religious establishment. When he is questioned about this, he performs a miraculous healing of the man’s illness. The miracle is striking, because it is a revelation of Jesus’s full potential as a teacher and a healer. At the beginning of this season of Epiphany, Jesus was recognized by the magi as an infant. Here, at Capernaum, Jesus is recognized by people throughout Galilee as someone of significance. This is reinforced by his ability to respond to the challenge of the scribes with healing.

The miracle is obviously the most amazing part of story, but I am fascinated by how the people respond to Jesus and his message. We first hear of the crowd, those who have gathered to Jesus. They are present for a variety of reasons, either to hear him speak the word, to have a chance to see something miraculous, or to wait for Jesus to betray himself. Some of the crowd believes in the message of repentance that Jesus is preaching, but it is also a group that includes curiosity seekers and watchful enemies. Imagine, for a moment, this crowd, gathering around Jesus: excited, in awe, and hopeful. They might be jostling for a better angle, standing on a chair. The crowd has gathered to Jesus, filling the house and spilling over into the doorway. They are so eager to hear Jesus that they have set aside the work they need to do in order to learn from him. Their interest in Jesus and his message has prompted them to seek him out. The crowd is a mixed group, but they all recognize the power of Jesus’ call.

Jesus’ ministry at this time involves speaking the good news to the children of Israel, friends and enemies alike.

The second side of the story belongs to the four friends, who have also traveled far to meet Jesus. By this point in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus has been preaching and teaching throughout Galilee, so that many have heard his message and seen his ability to heal. This message has spread, and the people have responded, with enthusiasm and hope. The friends are part of this response, and they have carried their friend to hear Jesus and to be comforted by the good news. When they arrive, they cannot even get in the door. The friends differ from the crowd in their persistence in the face of obstacles. Many of us might go away discouraged or wait for room to be made. Instead, the four friends are proactive. Their persistence is what brings the rest of the story about.

In the people seeking Jesus, we have two examples of how we can respond to the message of the Gospel. Both the crowd and the friends have great faith, which moved them to travel and gather to Jesus. The crowd's response emerges from curiosity and interest, but they lack the same deep need that motivates the friends. It is the illness of the paralyzed man that gives them an increased vigor. The crowd's interest in Jesus is what gathers them to hear the message, but it also acts as a barrier to the profound faith and greater need of the friends.

The contrast here is between plain enthusiasm, which gets the crowd to Capernaum and into the house, and enthusiasm joined with motivation, which causes the four friends to dig through the roof. Enthusiasm and motivation translate into action, and it is because of the four friends that the remainder of the story takes place.

Their strong motivation to help comes from the connection and friendship they share with the man who is lame. Their recognition of his need underlies all the efforts they make on his behalf.

More than telling us about the forgiveness and healing found in Jesus, this is also a story about how we respond to the message of Jesus in our lives. This has resonance even today, because we are still called by the good news of Jesus Christ. In prayer and worship, we find a connection with Jesus. For me, it has always been amazing to find that moment where my relationship with him takes shape. It gives me energy and strength, but it also centers on my personal experience, on my need for God in my life. The challenge of Capernaum for me and for all of us is to see ourselves in the crowd, and to look toward the example of the friends to translate our energy into action. Through action, our energy and excitement for the gospel becomes visible to the world. This has great power, in how we can share the message of Jesus with others. The story of Capernaum offers us an insight into how we can respond to the callings Jesus has for us as individuals and as a community. It shows us how to follow Jesus: with enthusiasm and with persistence, recognizing those around us who are in need.

In Jesus, we find forgiveness and healing. Each day, he is doing a new thing in our lives, calling us to seek him. Let us recognize what Jesus is doing today in our lives, so that we can respond with all the enthusiasm of the crowd and the persistence of the four friends. With this enthusiasm and persistence, we can translate the gospel message of hope into action. Amen.