If find it very interesting that the same book can cause such different reactions in people. On the one hand, of course, the Bible has brought many people into the Christian fold. And on the other side we have Isaac Asimov who said, “Properly read, the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived.” On surveys, it does in fact turn out that atheists and agnostics have a higher level of religious knowledge than the religious themselves. Part of the reason for this is that the survey covers information from a variety of religious traditions and perhaps on our way out the door, we atheists investigated a little bit of everything looking for something that was believable.
It seems that in the same way, people on their way out of the faith have read more of the Bible than those in it. And even those who are in it, especially the preachers, are very prone to cherry picking. For example, I heard a priest on Irrelevant Radio say that he loved reading the new testament because Jesus was “always either loving someone or healing someone.” And to be honest, this would have been my view of the gospels when I was in high school.
So, I thought from time to time, probably not every day, I would take a peek at the daily Bible readings that are being used in the Catholic Church. I won’t use today’s reading because some people probably actually heard the Sunday reading, but I will go back to Friday (so I can cherry pick a bit) for a gospel reading that does actually tell of Jesus performing a healing. After the reading, just like in church, I will have a few comments.
Friday’s reading was from Mark 2:1-12.
When Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days,
it became known that he was at home.
Many gathered together so that there was no longer room for them,
not even around the door,
and he preached the word to them.
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.”
Now some of the scribes were sitting there asking themselves,
“Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming.
Who but God alone can forgive sins?”
Jesus immediately knew in his mind what
they were thinking to themselves,
so he said, “Why are you thinking such things in your hearts?
Which is easier, to say to the paralytic,
‘Your sins are forgiven,’
or to say, ‘Rise, pick up your mat and walk’?
But that you may know
that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth”
–he said to the paralytic,
“I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home.”
He rose, picked up his mat at once,
and went away in the sight of everyone.
They were all astounded
and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this.”
A very nice story, Jesus does some healing. Gotta like that. But when you look more closely, there are a few odd things about this story.
Now, I won’t even go into how some guys climb up on someone else’s roof and manage to cut a hole big enough to lower a man through without falling through themselves. I doubt I could figure how to do that on a modern roof, much less an ancient one, but that is just a quibble. Let’s look at the actual healing.
When the guy starts coming through the hole in the roof Jesus sees “their faith.” It strikes me that Jesus does not have a very good grasp of human psychology. What he is seeing, I think, is not “faith” but rather a combination of desperation and (false) hope. We have seen this in the severely ill throughout history, even today. People will try anything if they think it might help. Remember DMSO as a cancer treatment? Copper bracelets for arthritis? Psychic Surgery? I suppose those things show something that might be called “faith,” but I think desperation is closer to the truth.
And what does Jesus remove from the paralyzed man to cure him? His sins. That’s right, ’cause sins cause paralysis. Now, I would say that unless, say, this person got paralyzed during the act of adultery by an irate husband or something, not sure what sins have to do with paralysis. Sins cause physical illness? Then how come my mother got cancer and Hitler (as one wag pointed out) never so much as twisted his ankle? What a horrible thing to say to someone who is paralyzed — your sins paralyzed you, you filthy lout! Which further begs the question, “If sins cause physical illness and Jesus died for our sins, why do people still get sick” And why did the Catholics build so many hospitals when they already had plenty of confessionals?
And finally, here are a whole houseful of people who witnessed something that totally astounded them, something they had never, ever seen before and not one of them wrote it down. None of them even told someone else who then wrote it down. Not one. Wait…WHAT? That’s right, the guys who are most put out about this are: SCRIBES! Jesus performs a miracle right in front of the only guys in the county who could write and not one of them writes anything about it — not even to say to say that Jesus is obviously a fraud who shouldn’t being saying such things. Not word one.
And it isn’t it amazing that Mark, some 50 years after Jesus died, was able to read Jesus’ mind about reading the minds of the scribes in the house? That is not exactly “history” as we understand it today.
So, by all means, keep that Bible open. And maybe try opening your mind as well.