360° around Jesus

Mark 2:1-12

‘…3 Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them.Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralysed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven..”.’

This passage is from a visually striking passage that is sometimes quoted to show how God is moved by our faith to act. Today I’m struck that this little episode show us so much about who Jesus was to them and to us. He was a life-changing person to be around, and our reactions to what he does are the same today as they were then.

We can learn lots from this passage, but I’m interested in what we can glean from how the crowd reacted to him.

For many people – many in those large crowds – Jesus was the source of amazement and delight. They wanted to travel to inconvenient places just to be near him. They brought their little ones to be blessed by him. They brought their sick. They brought their questions: some of the Jewish leaders came, waiting until the Sabbath was over so they didn’t break the law of Moses; but they were drawn because Jesus had something that they had not seen before.

I love the relative sparsity of the writing of the New Testament. It invites us in to pore over those words that describe a moment in a day. Through them we can glimpse this extraordinary Jesus at the centre of the amazed crowds.

This passage about the paralysed man with his friends is particularly eloquent, or inviting. Allow your imagination to place you in the scene. Where are you? On the roof top concerned about the logistics of the situation but glad of the cooler breeze up here on the roof? Perhaps you’re digging away the roof surface…with what? Your hands? Did you bring tools?

Perhaps you are in the room, standing right next to Jesus, with little lumps of ceiling starting to fall on your head as you try to concentrate on what Jesus has been saying. What happens next?

Maybe you’re the one on the stretcher. How long have you been paralysed? Where did you first hear that Jesus has been meeting the needs of the sick in extraordinary ways? When did you hear that he has not been judging them but healing them? Which of your four friends has been most excited about coming?

Believe it or not, Jesus still heals today –  his spirit is at work as believers obey his command to heal the sick and do all that he taught his disciples to do. Where are you at in today’s picture? Is this all quite challenging, as it was for some people then? Do want to ask him about something else that’s been bothering you? Would you like to seek him out somewhere a bit quieter once he leaves the house? Go after him.

Jesus was amazing to the crowds then, and he still is. His actions can still affront the intellectualism in us that wants to explain something away. Human nature doesn’t change very much: as we read the faces of those crowds described in the gospel accounts of Jesus, we find ourselves face to face with people like us.

“O taste and see how gracious the Lord is! Blessed is the man that trusteth in him.” Psalm 34:8

 

Whenever I come across these words from psalm 34, they are not silently spoken. They are sung, in a high, rich voice in my head. It is impossible not to hear this music. The melody provided the emotional connection when I was a teenager in the church choir. Now that I have lived a little and seen some ups and downs of life, and seen how God dealt with me through them, it is the power of the words and their truth that arrests me.

Those words would have perhaps seemed pious to my teenage self, but they are not the words of a teenager. They are the words of someone who has experienced God’s graciousness, the long view of his steadfast kindness over time.

Nowadays I am more familiar with the Bible in modern language, and the NIV puts it like this:

“Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.”

As I look back over what has endured and what is reliable and the source of life in my life, it is the connection to the living God, to Jesus and the Father and the Holy Spirit, renewed and tested and renewed again, that has proved to determine how good life has been.

Today ‘taking refuge’ took the form of time with a friend who reminded me who am I, who helped me stop obsessing over my weaknesses, reminded me of my strengths and why God created me that way, with purpose in mind.

Yesterday, ‘taking refuge’ meant worshipping God with my colleagues, and allowing God’s thoughts to bubble up in us as we meditated together on the truths we had been singing about.

These days the music is more likely to have been written by United Pursuit than Ralph Vaughan Williams, but it still means stepping into a very special place where I get to be emotional about who God is, and about the journey we’ve been on together. As the music forces us to reflect on what has been, I know that God has been faithful.