A Sermon by The Rev’d Peter Jin

Gospel reading: Mark 1:29-39

This morning I am going to make one point: Why Jesus healed so many. My understanding is: Jesus, the Messiah, Yahweh in flesh, gathers his people.

In the Old Testament, God is seen as a gathering force. God’s answer to human disorder is to form a people. God chose and shaped Abraham and his offsprings by the law to be a nation. God’s purpose was that Israel as a magnet would gather to Godself the rest of humanity. But the tragedy was that Israel was unfaithful to its calling and became a scattered nation. The country was conquered by many nations. But the prophets continued to dream and hope. The prophet spoke of Israel as sheep wandering without aim on the hillside, but then he prophesied that one day Yahweh Godself would come and gather in God’s people.

Now we can begin to understand the behaviour of Jesus,’the good shepherd’. Jesus practiced open table fellowship with sinners, prostitutes, the handicapped, the tax collectors. He was not simply practising the virtue of ‘inclusivity’ which is valued very much today; he was acting in the very person of Yahweh gathering in his scattered children.

This helps to explains why he healed so many. In the society of Jesus’s time, physical illness was seen as a kind of curse. Sickness stopped one from worshipping with the rest of the community. Curing the blind, the deaf, the lame, and the leprous, Jesus restores them back to communion.

Jesus turned upside down many of the social conventions of his time. Among first-century Jews, the family was most important socially and culturally. 

In Luke chapter 11 a woman says, ‘Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed’. But Jesus dramatically responds, ‘Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it’. Another time, a man said that he was willing to follow Jesus but he had to bury his father. But Jesus responds: ‘Let the dead bury their dead’. Once again, he was not being insensitive to a grieving son, rather he was insisting that the in-gathering of the tribes into God’s family is the most important thing. He makes much the same point in another scene in the Gospel. ‘Do you think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth? I have come to bring not peace but the sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’. As you know my mother in law has been happily living with us for one year due to travel restrictions. She is not a Christian; she is a disciple of Confucius. She said Jesus is crazy. He came to bring trouble not peace. My mother in law is a very peaceful woman. She worried that I had joined a cult. She sweeps leaves at the Cathedral Close. She learnt that that was also part of her daily job! She often sees Dean Frank and Canon Jenny Wilson and has said to me many times ‘Frank and Jenny do look normal’.He would break up even the most revered social and religious system if it took priority over the new community of the kingdom. 

In first century Palestine men did not speak to women in public, Jews also didn’t have anything to do with Samaritans, and righteous people would not associate with sinners. But Jesus spoke to the woman openly at the well. Jesus, the in-gathering Yahweh plays by an entirely different set of rules.

A pious Jew of that time would have been made ritually unclean by touching a dead body, but Jesus touched the dead body of the daughter of Jairus to raise her back to life. All of the rituals and practices of the Jews, he was suggesting, are less important to and in service of the great task of bringing Israel back to life.

Again and again Jesus is portrayed as breaking the sacred command on the Sabbath. His disciples pick grain on the Sabbath, and many times he cures people on the Sabbath. When he was challenged, he proclaimed himself as the Lord of the Sabbath, and he made clear that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath.

He chose his 12 disciples and then 72 as his missionaries to preach and heal and gather in. He was forming a new gathered Israel. So it is the early form of the church, which has the mission of drawing new people into the community of Jesus.

Once we understand that Jesus was not an ordinary teacher and healer but Yahweh moving among people, we can begin to understand why he repeatedly speaks and acts in the person of God. By the way, the gospels are not there to say, look, what a wonderful ethical tether Jesus is! The gospels are there to say, this is the one who is GOD!

Jesus is very different from Confucius, my one-time hero. Confucius formulated a series of ethical recommendations that compose a balanced way of being in the world. He always says to his followers, ‘There is a way I have discovered. There is a revelation I have received from Heaven. Ancient Chinese did believe in a god of heaven not the God of Israel.

And then there is Jesus. Jesus consistently speaks and acts in the very person of God. ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’. ’Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away’. “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me’. We might easily imagine a religious founder to say, ‘You should love God more than your very life’ or ‘You should love my teaching more than your mother and father’, but to say: ‘unless you love me more than the highest goods in the world’?

Brothers and sisters, I became a Christian in my early 30s, as a convert from Confucianism. Jesus, the Messiah, has brought me into fullness of life. The early church fathers summarise Christian belief: God became human so that humans might become God. Only Christianity has made such extravagant claim about human destiny. We are called to be transformed by the renewing of our minds into the likeness of God. It echos what the Eastern Orthodox fathers’ theology which is we are called to transformation into God. Amen.