I’ve been thinking lately about what is means to say that God is love. St. Thomas Aquinas teaches, “Love is willing the good of the other as other.” If God is love, then God’s very nature is to will the good of each of us, at all times and eternally. A couple weeks ago, the story of the hemorrhaging woman from St. Mark’s gospel struck me as a profound illustration of what this looks like in our world.
You’ve heard the story: Jesus is traveling with a large crowd of people to the home of Jairus, whose daughter is dying. With the crowd pressing from all sides, a woman suffering from hemorrhages for 12 years approaches Him from behind, with profound faith in who Jesus is and a deep hope that if she can just touch His cloak, she will be cured.
She succeeds in touching Him and is instantly healed.
Mark 5:30 tells us, “Jesus, aware at once that power had gone out from him, turned around in the crowd and asked, ‘Who has touched my clothes?’” Unlike other gospel healings, there was no initial conversation between Jesus and the woman before the miracle takes place. So did she somehow heal herself by tapping into His power while He wasn’t looking? Of course not—the God of the Universe is not commanded or controlled by His creatures.
So what happened here?
They came bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. Unable to get near Jesus because of the crowd, they opened up the roof above him. After they had broken through, they let down the mat on which the paralytic was lying. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to him, “Child, your sins are forgiven.”Mark 2:3-5
[At the time of this writing] I’ve spent the past 10 days quarantined due to a positive COVID test. Aside from one rough evening, I felt pretty good overall—the usual post-holiday fatigue and January congestion. But it doesn’t take much. When sick or injured, I am a pretty poor patient. I never manage to suffer in silence for long, and I tend to put everything on hold until I feel better. The weaker my flesh, the less willing my spirit.
Mark’s gospel shares the account of four friends who bring a paralytic to Jesus. Unable to get close to him on the ground due to the crowds, they climb to the roof, open up the thatching, and lower the paralyzed man on his mat before Jesus. The Lord sees the man in his plight. He sees the great faith of the man’s friends. So what does He do?
Jesus forgives the paralyzed man’s sins.
Think about that for a moment. From the crowd’s point of view: They have gathered around Jesus with great expectations. They are listening to His teachings, but they have heard He is a wonderworker. No doubt they were holding their breath in expectation of a miracle for the paralyzed man. From the standpoint of the four friends: Can there be any doubt that their hope for their friend was physical healing? And from the paralytic’s point of view: Even if he was a devout man, I’ll bet there was a twinge of disappointment when Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven,” rather than, “Rise and walk.”
A few weeks back, I had a conversation with my sister Jill. Among other things, we talked about my distance from our folks in Michigan. I must have confessed my insecurity around being a good son and a good brother, and Jill called me on it. She told me she had heard me say that before and shared that while it may be true, I should be careful about repeating it too often, because we can’t progress if we stay tied to past problems, behaviors, sins, or weaknesses.
My mind has returned to the conversation numerous times since, and I believe she is right. My limp was becoming my crutch.
Let me say that again: My limp (insecurity, a problem I have that I struggle with) was becoming my crutch (something I lean on to help me excuse bad habits and get through the day).
Several years ago, when my spiritual director said I was insecure, I bristled immediately—a pretty sure sign. He warned me at the time that it would continue to surface, and that the important thing would be to acknowledge it and move on.
Somewhere along the way I forgot to move on. Instead, I lean into the limp: Instead of struggling against the insecurity, I resign myself to being insecure.
I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.Ezekiel 36:26
Life in this world seems to dispense blessing with one hand and heartache with the other. In the past few weeks, we’ve enjoyed weddings and worship, family, and friends, brewing and canning in abundance—and learned of the passing of friends, the decline of others, lost children, and struggling families.
Have you ever wished you couldn’t feel each loss so keenly? The joys of life are wonderful, but at times, the temptation to not feel at all becomes so strong that you harden your heart even against the good to avoid the pain of the bad.
Hardness is not a virtue. As a physical trait, it has the peculiar tendency of making a thing seem solid and strong, while rendering the thing more brittle and fragile. (Diamonds are a rare exception, and the conditions required to create one in nature are extraordinary.) Scripture warns specifically against hardness of heart, and many people know from experience that the thicker the shell we build around our hearts, the more painful the blow and crack that finally breaks it open.