Eighth Sunday after the Epiphany

by Crossings

Well-Healed [Sic]
Mark 2:13-22
Eighth Sunday after the Epiphany
analysis by Lori A. Cornell

13Jesus went out again beside the sea; the whole crowd gathered around him, and he taught them. 14As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. 15And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples — for there were many who followed him. 16When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 17When Jesus heard this, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” 18Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 19Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 20The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day. 21″No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. 22And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.”


Step 1-Initial Diagnosis: Safe, and loving it
Contrary to popular opinion, the Pharisees and their followers weren’t fanatical pietists, they were just trying to adhere to the religious laws that encouraged holy and healthy living. In fact, when the Pharisees and other devout Jews confronted Jesus about observing the law (2:16, 18), they were just trying to insulate their lives against unhealthy influences (like unclean conditions and sin). Similarly, we try to insulate our lives (perhaps not out of religious motivation, but the effect is the same): We keep our distance from unsanitary conditions, and we try to avoid the company of people who are contagious or infected. We stay away from those parts of town that have been labeled “unsafe.” We avoid the company of people who use profane language or violence. We lock our doors and carry mace (or guns) to protect ourselves against criminals. We even guard our children against the secular culture and its atheistic influences. “Better safe than sorry,” we say.

Step 2-Advanced Diagnosis: Susceptible
The effect of our insulation is that we remain relatively unharmed. Oh, sickness and distress may creep into our lives here and there; from time to time we even may be forced to face the ugliness and sickness of the world. But mostly we have no regrets; we’ve been careful — we’ve done what we could to remain unscathed by the world. But just because we know how to avoid what ails the world, that doesn’t mean that we aren’t susceptible to its problems. Furthermore, being “well” doesn’t make us the Physician either (2:17); as Jesus say, we may be “well” — even “well-healed” by worldly standards — and, apparently, have no need for a physician. And, like a doctor, we may even be able to diagnose some of the world’s problems — religious and otherwise. But we certainly don’t have the ability to cure what ails it. That doesn’t stop us from trying though. Assuming the role of divine doctor, we speculate (in not so many words): “If I were God, I would.” We may be able to diagnose the world’s problems — even able to question God’s intervention (or lack of intervention) in them. But, pathetically, we are more like hypochondriacs diagnosing a friend’s illness — we may recognize her symptoms, but we still can’t cure what ails her. (Actually, it even may be that our ability to diagnose others’ problems, but miss our own, is its own kind of sickness.) And when we pretend we can treat such sickness, we become an obstacle to true healing.

Step 3-Final Diagnosis: Sick at Heart
Our vain attempts to “play doctor” with the world aren’t just pathetic, though. They expose that (like a “healthy hypochondriac”) we are sick at heart. The world’s sickness is God’s domain, not ours. And when we “play doctor” we are assuming a job that is not ours. We put ourselves in the place of God, and fail to fear, love, and trust God above ourselves. Our lack of trust in God (the divine Doctor) is like a lethal injection of poison coursing through our veins. It is a sickness that results in death — a sickness for which the world has no cure.

PROGNOSIS: Well-Healed

Step 4-Initial Prognosis: The Patient Physician
But the sickness that the world can’t cure, God chooses to cure. In Jesus Christ, God has brought his divine doctoring down to earth. In Christ, God made himself susceptible to the human sickness of sin; Christ didn’t insulate himself from sin or sinners. In fact, unlike any earthly physician, Jesus the Physician actually takes on the poison of our sin in order to relieve us of its lethal effect. Jesus takes his place on our deathbed — trades places with us, becomes the patient — so that we may become well with God.

Step 5-Advanced Prognosis: Welcome Relief
In Christ’s care we are made well with God. No longer do we need to build up safeguards against the sickness of sin; no more do we have to insulate ourselves against the world. We are well in Christ, and that is a welcome relief. We can leave the world’s diagnosis and treatment to God, and focus on what we are truly able and called to do: We can pray for the sick, serve the poor, love the neighbor — whether it seems safe to do or not. All this change in our lives is taken by faith, and is welcomed relief for us as it may be for others.

Step 6-Final Prognosis: Making Referrals
We even can dare to sit at table with known sinners, (alcoholics and other addicts, homeless people, non-Christians, and IRS agents), in hope that Christ might join in the dinner conversation. And when someone else is sick-unto-death, rather than judging them, we can offer an enthusiastic referral; we can point them in the direction of Jesus — place them and their sickness in the hands of Christ, the divine Physician. And then we can rest assured because, with Christ, their prognosis is good.


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