Jul 21, 2018

Jesus Restores Our Whole Selves (Mark 2:1-12)


In Immanuel Prayer, we pay attention to a number of things: not just our thoughts and God’s thoughts, but also our emotions and body. Then we share our stories with others, incorporating the community.


As you also know, the name “Immanuel,” given to Jesus, means “God With Us.” Jesus is the image of invisible God (Col 1:15). I love how John opens his first letter, describing the physical reality of God in flesh:


“We declare to you what we have heard, seen with our eyes, looked at, and which our hands have touched. The eternal life, which was with the Father, has appeared to us.”


Jesus was in his physical presence – and is now by the Spirit - manifest in a way that touches every aspect of human life: spirit, thoughts, emotions, body, and relationships.


We see Jesus’ impact on each of these aspects of human life very clearly in Mark 2:1-12. It’s the famous story of the paralyzed man whose friends cut open the roof to bring him to Jesus:

A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. 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 paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”


Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”


Jesus Engages with Thoughts, Spirit, and Emotions


This story shows Jesus interacting with every aspect of human life. First, he addresses thoughts. Jesus perceives the inner thoughts of the scribes – their beliefs and assumptions, their (true) claim that only God has the authority to forgive sins. He does not ignore their question but addresses it. I’ll come back to this in a minute.


Second, Jesus interacts with the human spirit. Notice it says the scribes were questioning. There is no suggestion here that the paralyzed man was questioning whether Jesus had authority. I don’t think he had any doubts. When God speaks, something happens.


Have you ever experienced that - when you knew that you knew that you knew that what you heard was God and that it was true? It’s an amazing experience I’ve had, and seen others have, through Immanuel Prayer. Or do you remember what it was like when you first understood that you were forgiven, that all your sins were washed away? It’s hard to ignore that kind of experience. So when Jesus says the man is forgiven, I believe the man must have experienced that forgiveness in such a way that he knew it was true, knew he was free.


Something in his spirit was clean and fresh and new. If he wasn’t sure of that immediately, I bet he became sure pretty quickly when his body was healed, too!


Not only does Jesus address the thoughts of the Pharisees and the spirit of the man, but the man’s emotions must have been affected. Beyond the forgiveness itself, and the freedom and awe that brings, is the fact that Jesus sees the man - not just his physical body, but his inner self. And he addresses the inner self first.


How often do you think people saw beyond this man’s body? Most would look and see only his physical disability and dependence. But Jesus looked and saw the disability of his soul, the need of his heart. Do you know what it feels like to be seen in this way, by a safe, kind person – by a safe, kind God? Vulnerable? Yes. Naked? Yes. Terrifying? Often. But along with those things is the sheer relief of being seen for one’s real self, of being known and loved right in the midst of all the disability, dependence and sin of the soul.


Jesus Interacts with Bodies


Now that we have looked at Jesus engaging with thoughts, spirit, and emotions, let’s go back to the scribes for a moment to see how Jesus engages with the physical body. Jesus doesn’t dismiss their thoughts, their demand for proof, as unnecessary or petty. Rather, as with doubting Thomas, he stoops down to their level and responds on their terms. He says, in effect, “You want proof that I have authority in the spiritual realm to forgive sins, to restore a broken soul to wholeness? Okay. I’ll show you what that looks like in the physical realm. I’ll restore a broken body to wholeness.”


In John 3 he tells Nicodemus, “If you don’t understand the earthly things, how will you believe when I tell you about heavenly things?” He uses the natural to demonstrate the spiritual there with a Pharisee just as he does here with the scribes. The restoration of the man’s body is not just for a symbol of spiritual reality. The body has value in and of itself. Jesus lived in a body, died in a body, and rose in a body – and we will too. He came to redeem our bodies as, well as our souls. The man now has use of his body for work and play, for its own sake.




Through the restoration of his body, the man is restored to the physical and social life of the community. Clearly he has friends who have loved him and included him in the community even when he was paralyzed. But now he can walk to synagogue on the Sabbath, climb into the boats and fish with the men, play with the children, and travel the crowded, dusty road to Jerusalem to participate in the great feasts. The community is also touched by him, seeing his wholeness, receiving a taste of God’s heart, and glimpse of His vision for the restoration of all things.


So this is our hope in Immanuel Prayer: that we encounter Jesus in a way that allows our whole self to be touched by his whole self – thoughts, spirit, emotions, and body – in a way that also touches our community with God’s heart and power.


- Jessie

New Posts
  • Someone recently asked me why we start every Immanuel session with a connection experience – either a time when we felt close to God, or a time when we felt gratitude. As he asked, I heard a song from Vacation Bible School begin playing in my head: “I will enter his gates with thanksgiving in my heart! I will enter his courts with praise!” There’s a technical reason why we start Immanuel sessions with connection and gratitude: God designed our brains to relate to Him and others better that way. (You can read more about the brain science behind gratitude in Dr. Karl Lehman’s book Outsmarting Yourself .) But brain research aside, consider what God says about gratitude: From Psalm 50:  I have no need of a bull from your stall, or of goats from your pens, for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. [Rather,] sacrifice thank offerings to God. Fulfill your vows to the Most High. Those who sacrifice thank offerings honor me.  From 1 Thessalonians 5:  Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. From Psalm 118: Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his mercy endures for ever! From Psalm 100: Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him and praise his name! Think for a moment about what thanksgiving does in us. If you didn't just skim those verses but actually read them, did you find your heart lighten at all? Did you sense a shift in your thoughts or feelings? I often notice an inner change when I give thanks. It turns my focus away from my problems and toward all the good things in life - and maybe even the bad things that God has or will turn to good. Where my focus goes, my feelings and actions follow. When I spend more time giving thanks, I treat others better and offer myself more grace (I tend to be pretty hard on myself.) But thanksgiving changes more than how I feel and act. It is not just saying thanks for some thing but saying thanks to some one . I'm turning my attention to the Giver of all good things (James 1:17). In fact, if I stop to listen for his response, then I'm going beyond giving attention - I'm initiating conversation. It still amazes me what I actually notice when I stop to sense his response. Sometimes I actually sense his smile or feel his appreciation that I noticed. It's like suddenly I'm aware of another Person who's enjoying my company. And that - as we know through the teaching of the Life Model Works team  - is joy, a good fruit that produces more good fruit. Now let’s look in more detail at this movement toward recognizing and paying attention to God’s presence. I find it interesting – and probably not a coincidence – that the Lord associates thanksgiving with the entrance to his temple. Every year Jews from all over Israel processed up to Jerusalem singing psalms of praise and thanksgiving (probably specifically Psalms 120-134). They literally entered the temple gates with thanksgiving and the courts with praise. And, just as some of them moved from the courts of the temple into the temple itself, so do many Immanuel sessions progress from thanksgiving to a much deeper encounter with the presence of God. The temple provides a very apt image for the trajectory of our interactions with the Lord. Ruth Ward Heflin has described the progression of entering God’s presence as moving from thanksgiving and praise to worship to glory. These steps match the temple - and some of the most powerful Immanuel sessions I’ve witnessed or participated in. Consider this progression: We begin with a time of thanksgiving, analogous to entering the temple courts where the altar and bronze washbasin stand. After we enter, we become aware of things that hold us back from God – sins, lies, wounds. We are covered with the debris of walking through life in the world. We offer these to him in sacrifice at the altar, and he washes us clean at the bronze basin. We respond to his grace with deep gratitude, awed afresh at his mercy and faithfulness. This state of worship parallels entering the temple itself. Here we encounter the Bread of the Presence, golden lampstand, and the altar of incense. We come face to face with Christ, our Bread, our Light, our Everlasting Intercessor (Ps 141:2; Lk 1:9; Rev 8:3-4). As we encounter Christ, our interaction may shift from conversation to quiet. We rest from our work and distractions, gaze upon him, and simply but deeply share the experience of being together. And as we do, we discover we have entered behind the veil into the Holy of Holies. The mystics identified union with God as the highest goal. In this place we, too, may discover the reality of the words “Whoever is united with the Lord is one spirit with him” (1 Cor 6:17) and “Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:39). Every Immanuel session is different, but if you want to see what the kind of experience that I’m talking about, try watching  Joanne’s session . And of course this movement doesn’t have to happen in Immanuel Prayer. It can happen in church, personal devotions, or any place where we set out to seek the Lord or where he decides to make himself known. What would it be like if our church services were like this? I think a lot more of us would look forward to Sunday mornings – and a lot more of us would have something powerful to share with our friends and neighbors who don’t know the Lord. So why do we start with gratitude? Because God told us to do it, because it shapes our attitudes and actions, and because it opens us up to the kind of interactive relational connection with God that produces good fruit, increasing intimacy, and powerful witness! - Jessie
  • By Rien Poortvliet "The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood." (John 1:14, The Message) My step-Dad has a beautiful picture book about Jesus' life called He Was One of Us by artist Rien Poortvliet . I can stare at the faces for hours, paging through scenes of Mary, Nicodemus, Peter, the woman caught in adultery, and the crowds - all of them reacting to Jesus. You can read their hearts on their faces: surprise, hope, anger, fear, shame, curiosity, exuberance. And Jesus' face, too, reveals his heart: joy, compassion, steadfastness, anger, anguish, love. I feel particularly happy when I spend time on the two-page spread of Jesus as a boy (pictured above).  I am delighted by his openness and wonder, just like I am with my nephews and nieces, and with the baby whose mother has been bringing him to Immanuel Lifestyle class. In these pictures of Jesus, I see the full range of childhood emotions and activities: nursing, listening to Daddy's stories, discovering a dog, learning to eat with his own hands, developing eye-hand coordination and a sense of satisfaction for a job well done. Here is Jesus presented to us as a real boy growing into a real man. The Bible doesn't tell us much about Jesus' boyhood, but we can make some good guesses - like those in the picture - simply because we know he was fully human, the Word made flesh (John 1:14). He was not only a man intellectually and physically but also emotionally. It's all part of being "flesh and blood." As World Religions Professor and Community Care Pastor Val McIntyre explains, "Empathy begins with our own experience and then moves beyond it. We start by imagining how others feel based on how we feel. Because we are made in the image of God, we can imagine how God feels towards us. And because Jesus is fully human, we can imagine how Jesus felt based on what we have experienced as human beings." Val's comment reflects not only scripture but also the theology of the Church Fathers. Irenaeus of Lyons, likely only one person removed from the apostle John, wrote near the end of the second century, "Jesus ... sanctified each stage of life by making possible a likeness to himself. He came to save all through his own person; all, that is, who through him are re-born to God; infants, children, boys, young men and old. Therefore he passed through every stage of life. He was made an infant for infants, sanctifying infancy; a child among children, sanctifying childhood.... So also he was a grown man among the older men" (Adversus Haereses, II, xxii, 4). Two centuries later and across Europe from Irenaeus, Gregory of Nazianzus extended this train of thought. Gregory wrote, "What has not been assumed [taken on by Christ] has not been healed" ( Epistle  101, 32). That is, everything Jesus has become - infant, child, and adult; mind, body, and emotions - is able to be healed through Him. As we approach Jesus in Immanuel Prayer and Immanuel Journaling, we use our imaginations along with our thoughts, our emotions along with our five senses. In so doing, we are not going beyond the scope of Jesus' redemptive work. In fact, just the opposite: we are learning to experience our humanity and Jesus' humanity in its fullness. We can learn not only to think like Jesus thinks but to feel as he feels. Based on Jesus' words and deeds as recorded in the Bible, we can make good guesses about his emotions. The more time we spend imagining how Jesus felt when he healed the lame man or asked the woman at the well for water, the more our emotions come into alignment with his. We are moved to compassion by suffering, to anger by injustice, to joy by restoration. Thus we bear more fully the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, etc.), which are not simply states of mind but states of heart. We can also come to imagine more accurately how Jesus might respond emotionally to us and our life situations. We can imagine his tenderness as we come to him in shame and fear, the sparkle in his eye as we tell him about our successes, his open posture and face as he invites us to work alongside him - even his gentle but firm correction when we've done something hurtful or selfish. Where some forms of spiritual and religious practice offer a state of tranquility or existence entirely devoid of emotional involvement and separated from the suffering of others, Jesus offers something more redemptive because it is intimately linked to real, human experience and a world that is undeniably in need of healing. Jesus offers a peace and personal connection right in the midst of the full range of human life and emotion. We don't have to "get above it" but simply find him emotionally present and understanding in the messy middle of it. And we don't have to respond to the broken world, either, by getting above it or away from it. Instead we can enter into the emotional, physical, intellectual chaos of life and help hurting humans find the fully human Jesus there. - Jessie
  • It works for everyone else, but not for me. Is there something wrong with me? Maybe I'm too messed up even for God to heal me. Maybe I'm not like everyone else. I must have done something wrong - a really horrible sinner. Or I'm just not one of the people God loves or wants. Now I really know there's no hope for me. With these questions, Ned Arnold recently opened an insightful reflection on the following passage from Mark, imagining what the half-healed man may have been thinking as he saw people like trees walking around: 22 And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. 23 And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” 24 And he looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.”25 Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. 26 And he sent him to his home, saying, “Do not even enter the village.” (Mark 8:22-26) Disappointment? Shame? Despair? Self-pity? What must the blind man have felt when he realized he couldn't see clearly, that he wasn't fully healed yet? It's likely, suggested Ned, that he felt the same pressure we often feel to please those who pray for us, or to put on a good face, when the reality is that the healing session didn't seem to work very well. How do we respond in situations like this? Based on Ned's comments, let me suggest a couple principles: Principle 1: Honesty The man didn't say, "Um, you know, it's pretty good. Better than it was. Thanks, Jesus, I appreciate your help." He didn't say, "Yeah, I can see fine. Good enough. You're a really great healer, Jesus," and head home. He told the truth: "I see people, but they look pretty strange. It's not quite what I expected. You know, they kinda look like trees walking around." Then he let Jesus figure out how to respond and what to do next. Let's be honest: honesty is hard, especially in situations like this. Being honest takes courage, because we may hurt or offend the prayer minister, or make them feel or look bad. But it's the only way to get real healing instead of "good enough." Jesus, of all people, can handle our honesty. And those who are following him need to learn to handle it too. Principle 2: Trust We could assume Jesus made a mistake, or that he's not as powerful or loving or knowledgeable as we'd hoped. Alternatively, we could assume Jesus is as powerful, loving, and knowledgeable as he claims to be, and that he did exactly what he intended to do. Given the way this story ends, he's certainly powerful enough and loving enough to complete the healing he began (cf Phil 1:6). What if we choose to trust that he knows what he's doing and has a  reason for partial healing? I recently facilitated an Immanuel session in which Jesus allowed a long-forgotten and very positive memory to come to the surface. He explained to the recipient, "You couldn't handle this memory before. You would have been overwhelmed. But now you have the strength to take in the full goodness of it." In Mark's story, this two-part healing precedes Peter's confession of Jesus as Christ and Jesus' transfiguration. Both involve partial "sight," moments in which Jesus' followers see more clearly than before but not so fully they totally comprehend the reality of Jesus' identity. Perhaps Jesus, Mark, or both, intended this healing as a sign. The point of the healing wasn't only to restore sight to a blind man but to model the way we often grow by stages in our ability to see and know spiritually. If Jesus truly has a reason for partial healing, are we willing to surrender to his decisions in trust, appreciating the gift of "halfway" without giving up on desiring and requesting and believing he can provide full healing? - Jessie
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