Healing of a Leper by Niels Larsen Stevns

Every time I consider Jesus’ miracle stories I think someone in the congregation is thinking, “Yeah. That’s Jesus. I can’t do that.” Because we can’t, can we? Jesus performs miracle after miracle, and I have to tell you, I’ve never performed one single miracle!

But reading Ched Myers (Binding the Strong Man and “Say to This Mountain,”) instead of feeling overwhelmed by Jesus’ power (that I don’t have!), I’ve been asking, “Why is Jesus healing these people?”

This Sunday’s Narrative Lectionary text opens with Jesus healing the paralytic man who is dropped into the house through the roof. In fact, this is the last of four healing episodes in a row—the man with the unclean spirit, Simon’s mother-in-law, a leper, and now the paralytic man.

Ched Myers says, “This series of episodes exhibits the three essential characteristics of Jesus’ mission: the healing and exorcism of marginalized people, the proclamation of God’s sovereignty and call to discipleship, and the resulting confrontations with the authorities.”

So why does Jesus heal these people? It’s all about liberation and condemnation of the systems that marginalize the people. The dramatic exorcism in Mark 1:21-28 isn’t about a healing. It’s about showing Jesus’ authority against the religious rulers. The healing of Simon’s mother-in-law is about liberating her—and about her leadership. She’s the first woman in the gospel, and when she is touched by Jesus, “she began to serve them.” Lest one think this is preparing dinner, Myers’ points out that the same word used as “to serve,” is where we get the word “deacon.” Then, in the last healing story of the chapter, Jesus heals touches a leper and declares him clean. Jesus subverts the purity code! And then goes one step further. Jesus insists that the former leper “confront the system that keeps him marginalized (Ched Myers),” by sending the man to the priest.

Do you see? Liberation and confrontation. Not just healing.

So how do we approach the story of the paralytic in Capernaum? Again, Ched Myers’ who says, “The deeper issue this time concerns the debt code, under which the physically disabled held inferior status in the community because of their ‘flaws.’ Rather than simply ‘curing’ his body, Jesus chooses to challenge the body politic by releasing him from debt.” That’s what Jesus was doing when he said, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

Liberation and confrontation.

Jesus is freeing the people marginalized by their culture.

As I thought of a way that this translates into my culture, mass incarceration and returning citizens (ex-felons) came to mind. Most states in the United States refuse voting rights to returning citizens, thereby ensuring that they have no voice against the system. The prison-for-pay people get richer, and those with the most knowledge of the system, those who understand the horrors of prison, can’t exercise their voices against it.

What about you? Can you think of a way that the healing work of pastoral care is also a work of liberation and confrontation?

Where will you go with the text?

Here are some more ideas:

  • Consider the friends of the paralytic man. How much faith would they have had to open a hole in someone’s roof? How much love did they have for their friend?
  • Angela Dienhart Hancock, at WorkingPreacher, gives some ideas as to why Jesus says “Take up your mat” to the healed paralytic. She says, “Does he mean: don’t forget where you came from? Does he mean: bring your testimony with you? Perhaps this is also about the old and the new, the past and the future, somehow, thoughtfully, related.”
  • This is the 2nd story of Jesus calling disciples. What does the call to discipleship look like today? Who are today’s tax collectors and sinners? And when was the last time you had a meal with them?

Rev. Lia Scholl is not-that-kind-of-Baptist preacher and pastor in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (U.S.) and is the author of I Heart Sex Workers (Chalice Press, 2013).

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