Tell me please, if President Obama were going to visit Greenville, would he just drive down from DC, park on Main Street, get out and start to shake hands with people? Huh? C’mon, new topic. Answer the question. No, there’d be a lot of people around him. Yeah, like who? Secret Service guys! OK, so they would all show up in a bus together? No, the bodyguards come first and check things out. Yes. When an important person comes to visit, other people come ahead of him to get things ready, to “prepare the way” as John the Baptist said. That’s what John did, get people ready for Jesus. In the Greek churches they call him John the Forerunner; I like that. But now Jesus has started his public ministry, and John’s job is done. In fact, two of Jesus’ first followers, his first two apostles Andrew & John (not the Baptist) came to him from John the Baptist. A bit later, “Jesus and his disciples went into the land of Judea; there he remained with them and baptized. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there; and people came and were baptized.” So both Jesus and John were baptizing at the same time; and people said to John, “he who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you bore witness, here he is, baptizing, and all are going to him.” John answered, “I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him (the Forerunner, see?)…He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3) So John’s ministry is winding down and he is content. Notice that Jesus is baptizing along with his disciples; they are sharing that responsiblity.
But later on, “when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again to Galilee.” (John 4). The Pharisees were starting to worry more about Jesus than John. Notice that Jesus isn’t doing the baptizing now…who does it? The disciples? Yes. I suppose he’s trained them well enough to take care of business. So if you went to Jesus to get baptized, what would he say? Go get them to baptize you? Yes. What does that tell you about the disciples? Jesus put them in charge? Yes. Jesus authorized them to do this work for him. You can’t go straight to Jesus anymore to get baptized…you have to…go to his guys! Ummm, yes, the men that Jesus authorized. Later on we’ll see other examples of how Jesus put the apostles in charge of his new Church.
Can anyone tell me Jesus’ first miracle? He turned the water into wine. Yes, at a funeral? No, a wedding! Yes, at the reception; where’d this happen…y’all may know this…Cana! Yes. Were they drinking Cokes at the party? No, wine, but they ran out! And? They told Mary. Yes, and Mary said to Jesus “I’m your mom and I’m telling you, make this right.” Huh? I don’t think she told him what to do. No, she didn’t. She just said, “They have no wine.” But then Jesus says, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour is not yet come.” Jesus isn’t fussing, he’s just giving Mary a chance to set a good example for the rest of us. What does she say to the wine stewards? Do what Jesus says. Yes, “do whatever he tells you; ” that would be good advice for anyone, to do what Jesus tells you. So then? They fill up big jugs with water. Yes, and? Then they taste it, and it’s wine. Yes, the best wine they’ve ever had; and there were 6 jugs, each one could hold about 20 gallons of wine. So Jesus made way more wine than they started with, and better wine, too. That’s how God blesses people: with more than they imagined. My life is like that: I’ve been blessed better than I could have imagined for myself. And did the hosts go ask Jesus for this big fat favor? No, Mary did. Yes. That’s called intercession, like when Moses asked God not to wipe out the Israelites for worshiping the Golden Calf. God the Father and Jesus both did favors for people who didn’t even ask for the favor, because another faithful person asked for them. And that still happens today as we’ll see.
Now, when Jesus changed water into wine, he was hinting at something he’d do later. What did he do with wine at the Last Supper? Changed it into his blood? Yes. I bet the apostles thought, “Well, if he turned water into wine at that wedding a few years ago, he can turn this wine into his blood.” Jesus first works miracles that people can see, so they’ll believe it when he works miracles later that…they can’t see? Yes. Physical miracles prepare people for spiritual miracles. Let’s look at a great example.
Hey, I need two sturdy volunteers, you and you get up here, I volunteered you…no whining. OK, now daughter, you volunteer next. Lie down over there on the floor. What? Lie down, it’s carpet, it’s clean. Don’t be fastidious. What’s fastidious? It means fussy. Lie down. Why? You’re paralyzed, all you can do is lie down, stop arguing with Jesus. You aren’t Jesus! That’s right, but I’m playing Jesus right now. Hey y’all, what is this story we’re about to do? When Jesus heals the paralyzed man! That’s right! So you’re the paralyzed man, lie down. But I’m a girl! Yes I know…you’re light so these two friends of yours can pick you up. C’mon y’all, why do they pick him up? To put him through the roof! Yes. OK you two, get ready to pick up your friend…don’t pick him up yet! You’re still outside the house where Jesus is. Paralyzed man, is Jesus a miracle worker? Yes. Why don’t your friends just stand out here and pray for Jesus to fix you? Umm…I don’t know. That’s OK…friends, why do you think you have to go through the roof? Cause it’s crowded? Yes. Let me ask it this way: why do y’all have to get your friend right in front of Jesus? If Jesus is God, he must already know you’re out here, right? Yes. In fact, why didn’t you just stay home and pray instead of toting your poor friend across town in the hot sun? Anybody in the crowd? No guesses…it’s a tough question. Let’s move on. The Bible says: “And they came, bringing to him a paralytic. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. OK two friends, go through the roof and put Mr. Paralysis in front of Jesus…hey, you’re interrupting my teaching, Jesus is busy! We’re sorry! That’s ok, maybe Jesus can turn this into a teachable moment. Mr. Paralysis, what do you want? I want to be healed! Yeah? From what exactly? Well, I’m paralyzed, fix that. Two friends, what do you want? Well, the same thing, heal him please. Crowd, whatcha want? Heal him! Let’s see what happens: “…they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. And Jesus saw their faith…” Crowd, look at these two friends: do they have faith in Jesus? Yes! How do you know…can you see their souls? No we saw them make a hole in the roof and put their friend through. Yes, you know they have faith because of…what they did! Yes. That’s how Jesus and everyone else could see their faith. Body’n’Soul go together. Crowd, can you imagine the paralyzed man’s friends thinking, “let’s lower our paralyzed friend through the roof so Jesus will forgive his sins?” That sounds weird. Yes. Everyone expects Jesus to heal the man, that’s why they put him through the roof.
So Jesus looks down at the paralyzed man and says what? Get up and walk! No! Trick question! I win again! Jesus said, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Mr. Paralysis, is that what you want, forgiven sins? Are you happy now? Well, I guess so…but I’m still paralyzed. Oh. I’m sorry, I must’ve fixed the wrong thing! Friends, crowd, how about it: good news? I guess so.
But “some of the scribes said to themselves, “Why does this man speak thus? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And they are right! Could John the Baptist forgive sins? No! Elijah? No! Isaiah? No! Right. And we know that Jesus came to free us from…..sin? Yes, Jesus could forgive sins, take away sins. But like the scribes said, only God can forgive sin. So Jesus…must be God? Yes, or at least acting with God’s authority. But watch now: “Your sins are forgiven, Mr. Paralytic!”…see any difference? No. Mr. Paralytic, do you feel any different? No. So can any of you tell if Jesus really forgave his sins or not? No. Right. It’s an invisible miracle, forgiving sins. Why would it be hard for the crowd, or any human being, to believe in an invisible miracle? ‘Cause we can’t tell it really happened. Yes, we want some physical evidence, because we’re made of a… BodynSoul! Yes. But sins are invisible…it’s a problem.
So now Jesus asks a question. That’s what Rabbis, teachers, do. They don’t just answer questions; they ask them, and make people think. Jesus says, “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, “Rise, take up your pallet and walk?” Well? Your sins are forgiven. Why? Because nobody can tell if you did anything or not. Yes. And so the harder thing to say is…get up and walk! Yes, because…if he doesn’t walk people know Jesus was just saying stuff! Yes! “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins, I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home.” And? He gets up and goes home! Yes! Go on home, Mr. Used-to-be-Paralyzed, well, back to your desk. Do you feel any different? Yes! I bet you believe in Jesus now even if you didn’t know who he was 15 minutes ago. So Jesus has done the hard thing, cured a paralyzed man; crowd, do you think maybe Jesus can forgive sins too? Yes! Because…we saw him walk! Uh-huh. Jesus works these visible miracles to help us believe in the…invisible ones! Yes, and this won’t be the only time.
Tell me again, why do people die, get sick, have zits, all that bad stuff? Because of sin. Yes, back in…Eden. Yes. Now, how exactly did Jesus make this man’s arms & legs start working all of a sudden? I don’t know, it’s just a miracle. Yes, but let’s think a bit. Did Jesus first say, “I heal you from your paralysis”? What? Did Jesus first heal him physically? That’s what people were expecting, right? Yes. But what did Jesus heal first? Well, he forgave his sins. Yes, what kind of healing is that? Huh? Is that physical healing, to have your sins forgiven? No, it’s spiritual, your soul. Right. Jesus was making a point: the man’s physical sickness was related to…his umm, spiritual sickness? Yes, genius, and spiritual sickness is called….sin! Yes. But even if the paralytic got his sins fixed and also his body fixed, would he still die? Yes. Would he still sin again? Yes! Creation is still messed up by sin. Now, one thing is for sure: everyone in the crowd is glad they aren’t…paralyzed! Yes. Y’all felt sorry for him and you’re happy that being paralyzed ain’t your problem, thank ya God! But Jesus wasn’t too concerned with the man’s sick body; he was concerned about his…sick soul! Yes. That’s why Jesus forgave his sins and didn’t make a peep about his paralysis until the scribes complained. But crowd, even if you were relieved that your bodies weren’t sick…our souls are sick! From…sin! Yes, so actually all of us sinners are as spiritually sick as the paralyzed man…maybe even more sick, it’s hard to tell with sin, you can’t see it. So instead of us just being glad the man was healed, we’d also be excited that Jesus could forgive our sins: “When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.” What men today have authority to forgive sin? Priests! Yes, and the authority comes from…Jesus! Yes.
But what sort of sins could a paralyzed man have? Suicide? Yes, good guess. He might’ve been so miserable for so long he’d wish he were dead. Maybe he was angry with God, hated God because he was paralyzed, that’d be a serious sin, too. We can be sure he had sins that needed to be forgiven.
OK, now let’s go back to question y’all haven’t answered yet…why didn’t the paralyzed man’s friends just stay home and pray? No guesses. Listen to this about Jesus: “…he had healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed upon him to touch him.” Over and over in the Gospels we’ll see people try to touch Jesus or his clothes to get healed. Are they superstitious? No. OK…so? Remind me why Moses had to hit the rock with a stick instead of just pray for water. ‘Cause the power went through the stick! Yes, God’s power; and Isaac laid his hands on Jacob because…his blessing went through his hands. Yes, and so sick people would touch Jesus because…Jesus’ power went through his body? Yes. So in the Gospels, God’s power still goes through something physical, but it’s not a stick, or manna, it’s…Jesus’ body? Yes. So why did the paralyzed man’s friends go to all that trouble to plop him down through the roof instead of staying home and praying real hard? To get him close to enough to touch Jesus! Yes. The Gospels don’t say if Jesus touched the man or not, but the man still heard Jesus through his ears and saw him with his eyes; maybe even smelled him with his nose. We call that having a physical encounter with Jesus. Jesus has a body and a soul, and we have…a body and a soul, too! Yes. So people who want to know, or encounter, Jesus completely want to do it in spirit and…with your body? Yes, physically. Now I need a genius to tell me how we can have a physical encounter with Jesus. Well, God’s in all of us? Yes, but be more specific…it’s at Mass…oh, Communion! Yes, why? Because it’s Jesus’ Body and Blood! Right. Just having a spiritual encounter is only half of the deal, as the paralytic’s friends perfectly understood, as well as everyone else in the Gospels who wanted a miracle. Praying wasn’t enough.
Another question: did the paralytic man have faith? Did he believe in Jesus? Yes?… No? Let me ask it this way: who do we know had faith? His friends! Yes. And Jesus healed the man because “he saw their faith;” he saw what they did, just like the crowd could see. Tell me again how the wedding party at Cana got new wine. Jesus made it out of water. Well, yes, but why did he work that little miracle? Mary told him they didn’t have any more wine! Yes, Mary interceded. So what did the paralytic’s friends do? They interceded too! Yes. We don’t know if the Paralytic or the wedding party had faith in Jesus or not. But Mary and the paralytic’s friends did, and that was enough. The Gospel are full of intercession stories, you’ll see. And we still intercede for each other both in daily life, like “Honey, don’t be too hard on Junior about not taking out the trash; he’s feeling bad because he was teased at school today,” and in our faith life. Y’all remember my daughter almost died in a bad fall this past Spring, and sustained serious brain damage; well, we ask people we know on earth to pray for her, and people in heaven too. I especially ask my grandmother in heaven to pray for Francie’s complete healing. I ask Mary and my buddy saints to pray to Jesus for her healing too. Yes? How do you know your grandma is in heaven? Good question…I don’t. But if she isn’t, I believe Jesus lets another saint hear my prayers for intercession. We’re all part of the same family. And if I pray to my grandma, do I worship her? No, you’re just talking I think. Yes. Praying is just communicating; it’s not always worship. Whom do we worship? God. Yes. Not Mary or saints or grandmas. That reminds me, y’all know Pope John Paul 2, JP2? Yes. He died a few years ago from Parkinson’s disease, which slowly destroys your nervous system so that your brain can’t control your body. There’s no cure. People just get worse & worse until they die. Many people think JP2’s a saint, that is, he’s…in…heaven! Yes. One way the Church figures out if someone is a saint is to see if the person in heaven intercedes for someone on Earth. In JP2’s case, a French nun had Parkinson’s disease just like the Pope; she prayed to JP2 for his intercession, and she was miraculously healed. So the Church concludes that he is indeed in heaven and interceded for her. How do they know it was a miracle? Good question. The Church does an investigation, doctors testify; it’s a long process. Because of this miracle, JP2 will be called Blessed John Paul 2. If one more miracle is attributed to him, the Church will declare him Saint John Paul 2. So intercession works; the paralytic’s friends believed in it, and we can too.
Finally, this whole paralytic business aggravated the scribes. What’s a scribe? Someone who can write! And…read! Yes. They were religious authorities, they worked at the temple along with the priests. And like the Pharisees, they knew the Scribe-tures, the Scriptures, very well, and made their living from it. So when Jesus shows he has more authority than they do, that’s a problem for them. We’ll see Jesus aggravate them even more on other occasions, but that’s it for tonight.
Class is over 15 seconds early!
Image of Jesus and the Paralytic by John Armstrong.