Brokeness and Restoration: Reading from Mark 2:1-12

Brokenness and Restoration: Reading from Mark 2:1-12

If I were to tell you that Jesus does not heal people what would your reaction be? If I told you that he does not heal people but restores them spiritually what would be more or less significant to you?

One of Jesus’ most popular healings is the disabled man who’s friends was so desperate to get him to Jesus that they opened up the roof to the house to let this disabled man into Jesus’ presence. What has however for a long time dumbfounded me was that Jesus’ original response to the faith of these friends was not to heal the man, but simply to say to him: “Child/Friend, your sins have been forgiven.” I have thought about it, but most of the time I have skipped to end to have my feel good story ending where the man walks out healed. Yet there is something hidden in these words that is so much more powerful than a just another healing at the hands of Jesus.

The self-identity of the disabled man

To understand what is really happening here we first have to understand something of how ancient culture looked at this man and how this man would most probably have viewed himself.

In ancient Capernaum being disabled was generally perceived as a judgement from God on one’s sins. Either your parents were sinners or you were a sinner. You are disabled due to your sins. You were unholy and not worthy of anything. You are not welcome in the presence of other people and much less welcome in the presence of God. God has turned his back on you and wants nothing to do with you.

Much worse though is that this man probably believed these people, or at least wondered if they are maybe right, because it is obvious from his physical condition that God is against him. God does not love me, He does not see me. Why else would I be disabled? This man was broken due to his own perception of his standing before God and others support of this theory of illness and disability.  It didn’t matter whether this was a correct view of God’s providence or not. This would have been this man’s identity, accepted by himself, believed by others.

This was a broken man, not just physically, but also spiritually.

Child (τέκνον/teknon), your sins are forgiven

The key verse in this whole drama is in Mark 2:5. Jesus uses the Greek word τέκνον, literally translated as child. In this case it does not refer to a child of blood relations,  since we know that this was an adult man. τέκνον/teknon is often used as a term of endearment.

By using this term of endearment Jesus says to this man, I see you, I know you, you are not invisible to me. And I want to tell you, your sins are forgiven.

What powerful words to a man whose whole identity was that of a sinner on whom God has turned His back. Was this not the reason why his friends brought him to Jesus? Not so much to receive physical healing, but to see this man restored in the eyes of God and men. Make no mistake, they were hoping for physical healing, but not for the reasons we often think. It had nothing to do with suddenly being independent and having the freedom of getting everywhere on your own two legs. It had everything to do with people being able to see that you are OK, pure, restored. If people saw this miracle they would not be able to do anything else than acknowledge that God sees you and blesses you. If God has changed His view, then so must they as people.

But even before Jesus heals this man, he gives him what he and his friends were looking for: Spiritual restoration in the eyes of God.

It is only when the spiritual leaders proclaim their disdain and outright disgust with these words of Jesus that Jesus sets out to let them know that this man is indeed restored and without sin before God. He heals this man to show that what he has said has already happened in those few simple words. He also challenges those readers to how simple it is to forgive someone (even though this man was no sinner in the sense that the people had in mind) and to restore them, rather than breaking them down.

Restored physically and spiritually

Jesus is on the side of those broken by people and circumstances, and anything else.

So in the end of the day Jesus has healed this man, but He has done much more than just a healing, he has restored a man spiritually. This is what Jesus is so good at, restoring people, not simply healing them.

But what is more significant to you?

  • If you had to choose would you want to heal people, or restore people?
  • Can we restore people to God even when there is no miraculous healing to confirm this?
  • Are we willing to look beyond our prejudices of sinful people and see the brokenness of another human being, even if their lifestyles are not what God desires? Read John 8:1-11.
  • How do we break down people today? How do we restore people today?
  • Listen to “Does anybody hear her” by Casting Crowns (Lifesong).

Synods: Witness not with your words, but your actions.

At the Eastern Synod the following values are proclaimed:
1. Praising and worshipping God
2. Taking care of other believers within our faith-communities
3. Witness to those outside our faith-communities.
These are common values that most Christians would agree with, but I would like to qualify something about the third value of wittness to those outside our faith-communities.
a. Are we willing to die for this witness?
b. Do we also take care of people outside our faith-communities?
In the first three centuries of the Christian era Christian communities grew from 120 worshippers in Jerusalem to a few million across the Roman Empire. This happened despite the fact ….
 that Christianity were first viewed only as a sect within Judaism,
 that they were later viewed as an illegal religion because Jewish believers made it clear that Christianity was not to be seen as a form of Judaism,
 that Christians were accused of eating human flesh and drinking blood (Baptism and Communion/Eucharist/Nagmaal).
a. This happened despite the fact that from time to time Christians were persecuted and killed for their faith.  It is generally accepted that one of the major reasons Christianity grew was the way in which Christians accepted death by martyrdom. It was Tertullian (one of the big early Latin Church Fathers) that made the statement that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church”. It is interesting that the word martyr (μάρτυς) that we use so often for referring to somebody who died/suffered for a cause originally meant witness. This shows how willing many early Christians were to die for their witness, and did not just witness with words.
b. It is also generally accepted that if we look at the first three centuries of growth in Christians despite the persecutions was due to the willingness of Christians to reach out to the destitute, the cast-aways, the sick of ancient society. This was probably because of Jesus’ own willingness to reach out to these people despite cultural rules prohibiting this. Christians cared for widows, the poor, thrown away babies, ill people like lepers. Christians started ancient hospitals to care for poor even after it became the religion of the empire. When Julian, son of Emperor Constantine, became emperor he wanted to bring back the old Roman religions. The problem he had was that these religions did not care for these destitute people. He knew that the Roman religions would not be able to reassert themselves if they were not willing to act like the Christians of the first three centuries. Christians took care of people outside their faith-communities through their love and care for non-Christians, not only by witnessing through words.
Ancient Christians did not do this so that there numbers would grow, but simply because this was part of their human DNA (in flesh and spirit). Similarly Future Christians should re-sequence their DNA. Christians are not to witness only in words, but by their actions.
In fact I would propose to restate the first mentioned three values as follows.
1. Praising and worshipping God
2. Taking care of other believers within our faith-communities
3. Witness by Words, Suffering and Taking care of those outside our faith-communities.
What do you think?
At the Eastern Synod the following values are proclaimed:
1. Praising and worshipping God
2. Taking care of other believers within our faith-communities
3. Witness to those outside our faith-communities.
These are common values that most Christians would agree with, but I would like to qualify something about the third value of wittness to those outside our faith-communities.
a. Are we willing to die for this witness?
b. Do we also take care of people outside our faith-communities?
In the first three centuries of the Christian era Christian communities grew from 120 worshippers in Jerusalem to a few million across the Roman Empire. This happened despite the fact ….
 that Christianity were first viewed only as a sect within Judaism,
 that they were later viewed as an illegal religion because Jewish believers made it clear that Christianity was not to be seen as a form of Judaism,
 that Christians were accused of eating human flesh and drinking blood (Baptism and Communion/Eucharist/Nagmaal).
a. This happened despite the fact that from time to time Christians were persecuted and killed for their faith.  It is generally accepted that one of the major reasons Christianity grew was the way in which Christians accepted death by martyrdom. It was Tertullian (one of the big early Latin Church Fathers) that made the statement that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church”. It is interesting that the word martyr (μάρτυς) that we use so often for referring to somebody who died/suffered for a cause originally meant witness. This shows how willing many early Christians were to die for their witness, and did not just witness with words.
b. It is also generally accepted that if we look at the first three centuries of growth in Christians despite the persecutions was due to the willingness of Christians to reach out to the destitute, the cast-aways, the sick of ancient society. This was probably because of Jesus’ own willingness to reach out to these people despite cultural rules prohibiting this. Christians cared for widows, the poor, thrown away babies, ill people like lepers. Christians started ancient hospitals to care for poor even after it became the religion of the empire. When Julian, son of Emperor Constantine, became emperor he wanted to bring back the old Roman religions. The problem he had was that these religions did not care for these destitute people. He knew that the Roman religions would not be able to reassert themselves if they were not willing to act like the Christians of the first three centuries. Christians took care of people outside their faith-communities through their love and care for non-Christians, not only by witnessing through words.
Ancient Christians did not do this so that there numbers would grow, but simply because this was part of their human DNA (in flesh and spirit). Similarly Future Christians should re-sequence their DNA. Christians are not to witness only in words, but by their actions.
In fact I would propose to restate the first mentioned three values as follows.
1. Praising and worshipping God
2. Taking care of other believers within our faith-communities
3. Witness by Words, Suffering and Taking care of those outside our faith-communities.
What do you think?

Synods: On a journey together.

These next two days a few friends of mine and I will be blogging from the general assembly of the Eastern Synod of the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa. A Synod for those who do not know this term, as I said, is a bigger general assembly of spiritual leaders (ministers/reverends and elders) of congregations, in this case of the denomination of the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa, and specifically its Eastern Transvaal Province. The word Synod is derived from the Greek noun σύνοδος (Lust, Eynikel & Hauspie) and can refer to an assembly, a meeting or even a conspiracy.
What is probably more noteworthy is that in the New Testament two derivatives of this noun is used:
1. συνοδία is a noun referring to a group of people traveling together, a caravan (Louw & Nida).
2. συνοδεύω is a verb referring to the process of travelling together (Louw & Nida).
Maybe one should combine these three concepts when one refers to a Synod. Is a Synod not more than just an assembly? Should it not be viewed as a group of people coming together on a common journey, rather than a sitting of people doing just that, sitting together.
It is the difference at times between Christians staying at one station in life versus moving forward together. It is a caravan of people moving to new destinations, like the nomads we are in this world. We find places to put up our tents in this world. The difference would be that as a caravan we do not journey only to the Oases of rest and rejuvenation, where we find rest. But we also travel to the dessert, where we are to become an Oasis, where other can find rest in the bubbling fountain of life (John 4:14).

Imitators not followers (1)

When people talk about parenthood they often talk about parents telling kids not to do as they do, but to do as they say. We also know that this is never successful. It is simply not an effective way of teaching behaviour. Kids tend to FOLLOW the examples of their parents. Parents have to model new behaviour, which is taught by words and deeds.

But this post is not about parenthood. It is about imitating and following someone, usually a significant person like a parent or philosopher. When you think of the word follow what comes to mind?

  1. Someone literally walking behind someone else to where-ever they go.
  2. Someone following the teaching/wisdom of someone else.
  3. Someone following another person’s way of life- to imitate.

I must be honest that for me nr. 3 never came to mind. It was mostly nr. 2 and sometimes I unconsciuosly practised nr. 3.  I would characterise nr. 3 with the word imitate. When I think of the word follow however, imitation does not come to mind, though in Merriam Webster’s English Dictionary imitate is a category  of follow. For me imitation is however more descriptive of nr. 3 than simply to follow. Follow has a multitude of interpretations, while imitate is limited in its interpretation, and thus more specific in how we should understand a call to imitate vs. a call to follow. Do kids follow their parents or imitate them? Sometimes they do all 3 above mentioned options and it is fine to say follow. Other times they imitate and we should specify it as such, especially when referring to following someone’s actions.

People follow many people today and even imitate some. We have a culture of people following the actions of movie stars and singers. Some follow superficially by reading publications like People Magazine and watching Entertainment News. Some like what they hear stars say and might even structure their philosophy of life in accordance to this, some of it good and some bad. Some will follow these stars and be indicted as Peeping Toms. And how about those Elvis impersonators. Now that’s imitation. Such a pity that they can’t sell albums like Elvis did.

I read that the sales of Portuguese Water dogs are up in the UK due to Barack Obama and his family having one. Soccer fans in South-East Asia will have a David Becham haircut. Indian Cricket supporters will worship Sachin Tendulkar as a Hindu god due to his special cricketing abilities. However some follow, others imitate.

Recently I read John Chrysostom’s homily on 1 Thessalonians 1:6. John Chrysostom is probably one of the best known fathers of the Greek church living at the turn of the 4th century AD. His name actually means “John with the golden mouth”, which was a nickname he received due to his prowess in preaching. Apparently he had a way with words. Now it has to be said that I read an English translation of this homily by Philipp Schaff (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers).

But the translation tickled me since I could not remember reading this translation of 1 Thess 1:6 before. It was not part of my memory’s RAM or ROM. So I looked up 1 Thess 1:6 in the original Greek text (NA27/UBS4), and compared this to a few translations. Some translations said something like: “You are followers of us and of the Lord“. The NCV read: “And you became like us and like the Lord“. However the greek plural noun μιμηταὶ (mimētai) used here means “Imitators“. The original stem of the noun is the same as that of mime. According to Paul people are called not only to follow Jesus’ teachings, but to imitate Jesus, and others like Paul, who also imitated Jesus. Imitation is an action, not a concept (as sometimes intended by follow).

This in my opinion is a much richer understanding of Jesus’ call to people to follow Him. Next time I will continue to look at how/in what things it is that people are called to imitate Crist, but feel free to lay an egg or two.

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