Summary: Jesus heals a paralytic and eats with tax collectors.
Often times our images of heaven are peaceful and serene. The books, Heaven is for Real and Ninety Minutes in Heaven, certainly underscore this thought. Heaven is a place to be reunited with family and friends. There is no struggle between good and evil in heaven. These are wonderful pictures, but I think they are a little boring.
Mark has a more down-to-earth picture of heaven. Heaven has entered into human history in the person of Jesus Christ. Heaven—or the kingdom of God—is where God is and in the midst of God’s people. Heaven is seen and experienced in common and practical ways.
PEOPLE LOVING PEOPLE
One of the stories that Mark uses to illustrate what heaven/the kingdom of God is like is the story of the paralytic and his four friends. These four men want their friend to be healthy and whole. They bring him to Jesus, but there is a crowd and they can’t get near Jesus. Undeterred, the men climb to the roof, make a hole in it and lower their friend down to Jesus. They believed that Jesus could heal their friend and they wouldn’t stop until Jesus had done just that.
I admire the tenacity of the men’s faith. They didn’t let a few obstacles prevent them from helping their friend. There are times when we learn of a person’s need and we limit our response to “I’ll pray for you.” Certainly prayer is important, but the men of the story were not satisfied with that response. They made the effort to be channels through whom God could answer their prayer.
We haven’t perfected this, but I think that Desert Streams is on the right track. Through our “Caring Hands” ministry meals are provided for people who are recovering from surgery or journeying through grief. Sometimes chauffer service or the simple ministry of presence is offered. Instead of merely being appalled by homelessness or hunger, we become part of the answer to our prayers by collecting bottled water or gathering food for the food bank.
I find it interesting that Jesus didn’t respond to the men’s faithful actions in the way that they expected. Jesus first tells the man that his sins are forgiven. I suspect that the men’s thoughts were something like, “Jesus, he needs to be healed more than he needs to be forgiven.” In reality Jesus is reminding us that we all need to be healed both inside and out.
The next story that Mark includes in his gospel is Jesus calling the tax collector Levi to be one of his disciples. Jesus follows up this action by sharing food and drink with tax collectors and sinners. The religious people were askance at Jesus’ actions. They couldn’t understand how Jesus could associate with such low lifes.
There is a tendency for religious people to separate themselves from others—from the non-religious. We like to gather and listen to good music and allow it to both sooth and inspire us. We enjoy going to conferences and nurturing our faith by gathering information. We love pot-luck meals, small group Bible studies and doing things with our congregational friends. All of these things are good, but they are not the extent of living in God’s kingdom. God’s love and grace doesn’t just gather us, it also sends us out.