By Dr. Randy L. Hyde
“The honeymoon is over.” You’ve heard that expression before, haven’t you? I’m sure it applies to other areas of life, not to mention marriage, of course, but it’s a common term in my profession, let me tell you. Every pastor dreads when that fated day comes around.
When you first come to a church, there is that period of time when people want to get to know you and you want to get to know them. Everything comes up roses and is just peachy keen. It’s called “the honeymoon period.” Every pastor relishes it, enjoys it, takes advantage of it.
The sermons you preach are largely positive in tone, and certainly steer clear of controversial scripture passages or subjects. You attend receptions and other get-togethers and carry on pleasant conversations with the folk to let them see your best side. You don’t reveal your affiliation with any particular political party. You don’t want to offend. You don’t comment on the peculiarity of someone’s behavior out of fear that you might just be talking with his brother-in-law. He may completely agree with you, but he doesn’t want you saying it. You’re careful because you haven’t yet learned who “the players” are, so you walk and talk very carefully. In other words…
You don’t rock the boat. That’s the honeymoon period.
Every preacher knows the honeymoon doesn’t last, that there will come the time when the going gets a bit rough. It always has, it always does, it always will. But, you want to delay that certainty as long as you possibly can. And then – finally – it happens. One day, when you find your critics nipping at your heels or the Personnel Committee is meeting to discuss your peculiarities, you finally have to admit it… “It was nice while it lasted. But, the honeymoon is over.”
Well, there is some solace – not much, but some – in the fact that the preacher is in good company. It didn’t take Jesus long at all for his honeymoon to be over. In fact, Mark, in his gospel, tells us that Jesus reached this point early in his public ministry. Chapter two! That’s as far as he gets before things really start heating up and going downhill.
Jesus has established his headquarters in the fishing village of Capernaum, on the northwest edge of the Galilean Sea. He calls his disciples, performs a few miracles, takes his ministry on the road for awhile, and then returns to Capernaum. When it comes to his public ministry, this is Jesus’ honeymoon period. He has developed a rather strong following and his miracles prove to be very popular, at least with the common folk, for whom it is easier to believe in such things.
But then the trouble starts. In fact, Mark puts together five stories… the one we read a few moments ago – the one we’ve known and loved since we were children – and four others that reveal Jesus getting deeper and deeper into trouble. Time and time again he runs into difficulties with those who don’t appreciate the way he is doing things. The honeymoon is over.
Actually, the people in the village are delighted that Jesus has come back home. He had left town rather hurriedly with unfinished business on his hands. There were still plenty of people to be healed, evil spirits to be exorcized, and stories to be told about the kingdom of heaven. Jesus had work to do, and he had plenty of customers. So many customers, in fact, they crowded around the door of the house where he was staying and clung to every word he spoke and every deed he accomplished.
Forget that other places had people just like them… crippled, blind, deaf, leprous. Jesus had established himself in a short period of time as a resident of Capernaum. He was theirs. They had their very own miracle worker. They’re not yet to the point that they would call him Messiah, or even elect him mayor, perhaps, but he’s getting there real fast. As far as they are concerned, he didn’t have to be the Messiah. He had already revealed what he could do, and that was enough for them. Let the other towns get their own worker of miracles. The people of Capernaum have theirs, and they are planning on keeping him for awhile.
His popularity is building, to the point he’s attracted the attention of the big boys from Jerusalem. Some scribes have come over to listen to him and check him out. When they find out where he is, they head for his headquarters and use their muscle to get front seats to the show. It’s kind of like the Galilean version of luxury suites overlooking the action down on the arena floor. They’d heard the stories, and it is their job to determine whether or not he’s the real thing. So, they have gone to Capernaum to see what all the fuss is about, to see what this young guy is made of.
It didn’t take long to find out, and that’s when things start to unravel for Jesus. When it comes to Jesus and his ministry, the honeymoon is over.
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Jesus was teaching in the house and was right in the middle of a story when a commotion was heard overhead. It seems that a group of people had this friend who was crippled, so they brought him to Jesus for healing. When they arrived at the house, however, they couldn’t get close to him. There were simply too many people blocking their way, some of whom were those scribes we’ve been talking about. These were tenacious fellows, however. Confronted with a problem, they didn’t stand around and mope or curse or talk about how unlucky they were. They came up with a solution.
You’ve gotta like them for that, don’t you? It was a pretty radical solution, to be sure, but it was the only way they could get Jesus’ attention. It was the only way they could get help for their friend, and that was their prime objective. So, they carried their friend up to the roof, dug a hole in it, and with ropes lowered their friend down to where Jesus was. What they didn’t know was that, unwittingly, they were getting Jesus into some real trouble.
But, it was going to happen anyway, sooner or later. Actually, truth be told, Jesus got into trouble all by himself. He didn’t really need anyone else’s help. And he did it, not by healing the man on the pallet, but by what he said to him. Jesus had already done similar miracles. In fact, by this time the folk would have been surprised if he couldn’t do it. What got Jesus into trouble was what he said to the crippled man. “Son, your sins are forgiven.” That’s what Jesus said. However, you know what I think he was thinking? I think Jesus was probably saying to himself something like this… “Oh boy, the honeymoon is over.”
Why? Because he knew what he had to do, and he knew how the scribes, the religious authorities who had come out from Jerusalem, were going to react to it. You see, to their way of thinking, only God has the authority to forgive someone his sins. Only God. Not Abraham, not Moses, not even the Messiah. Only God. And anyone who takes that ability onto himself is a blasphemer, whether he can perform miracles or not. They weren’t disturbed that Jesus acknowledged the man’s sin. After all, he wouldn’t have been crippled, as far as they were concerned, if he weren’t a sinner. What got their goat was that Jesus took upon himself the authority to forgive the man his sins. “He can’t do that! Only God can forgive sin!” But they’re not surprised at all that Jesus pointed out first that the paralytic is a sinner. Everybody knew that. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be crippled.
They lived in a cause-and-effect world. If a child died at birth, it was because his parents had sinned. If someone became blind, it was because he or she had done something wrong. If calamity of any kind was visited upon any person or town, it was God’s judgment. That was the kind of world in which they lived, a world in which the operative word was “No.”
No, you can’t do this. No, you can’t do that. No, you caused this terrible thing to happen. No, God doesn’t want you doing that. No, you can’t worship here because you aren’t one of us. No, you’ve got nobody to blame but yourself. No, no, no. Aren’t you glad our world isn’t like that?
In the play A Thousand Clowns, by Herb Gardner, the main character is a rather affable fellow named Murray. Murray has discovered that he can offer a simple apology to almost anyone, even a complete stranger, and he will be forgiven. So, one day he stands on the corner of 51st and Lexington in New York City telling people as they walk by, “I’m sorry.” Amazingly, he finds that almost everyone to whom he apologizes forgives him.
Debra Farrington, in recounting this story, wonders what would happen if Murray had stood on the street corner telling passers-by that he forgave them. “The responses probably wouldn’t have been so warm,” she says. “Some might have brought on downright hostility. Though most of us can readily imagine that we’re owed an apology for something… admitting that we’ve done anything that requires forgiveness comes less easily.”1
You know what that means? It means we live in a no kind of world too. No, you can’t do this. No, you can’t do that. No, you caused this terrible thing to happen. No, God doesn’t want you doing that. No, you can’t worship here because you aren’t one of us. No, no, no.
Some things never change… that is, unless forgiveness takes place. We are often willing to forgive others, but don’t think we have done anything for which we need to be forgiven.
The Apostle Paul, who at one time had been known as a Pharisee named Saul, grew up in a no kind of world. He had embraced it, thinking it was the only way to be close to God. But then this very same Jesus, the one who stood over the paralytic in Capernaum and forgave him his sins, accosted Saul on the Damascus Road and turned his no world into a yes world. And that is why, years later when writing to the church in Corinth, Paul was able to say to them, “For in Jesus [him] every one of God’s promises is a ‘Yes’” (v. 20).
Even though Paul was no longer with the congregation in Corinth, they looked upon him kind of like the people in Capernaum considered Jesus. Paul was theirs. He didn’t belong to anyone else. And right now, more than anything else, they are mad at him. Ask Paul and he will tell you… in Corinth, at least, the honeymoon is over. It doesn’t take much, sometimes, to incur the wrath of some people. Evidently he had promised them he would come back and see them. It didn’t happen. So, some of them began speculating as to why Paul hasn’t returned. This is what they have come up with…
Paul is real strong in the letters he writes them, telling them to do this, not to do that. He calls them spiritual babies and admonishes them for not being more mature. He criticizes them for the way they treat one another, setting himself up as the example for them to follow. He jumps on their case for letting immorality continue in the fellowship, and gives them advice in regard to marriage. He even goes so far as to tell the unmarried people to remain that way.
Paul’s just throwing his weight around all over the place. Some of them look at him as something of an ecclesiastical bully.
Issue after issue, Paul has something directly to say. “That’s easy when he’s not here,” some of the folk are saying. “But when he’s here Paul is weak. He sits with his friends and doesn’t have much to say. When he does talk, what he says we don’t like” (see 2 Cor. 10:10). Not only that, but Paul is undependable. He makes plans and then changes them. He says yes, then he says no, and speaks out of both sides of his mouth.2
Paul is finding himself in a no kind of world. So he does something that I would commend to you the next time you find your world saying no to you. He latches on to Jesus. Paul may not have been perfect. In fact, I would imagine that some of the things the folks were saying about him may have at least been partially correct. But what was true of Paul was not true of Jesus. “In Jesus [him],” Paul says, “it is always ‘Yes.’” And in Christ, another word for “yes” is “forgiveness.”
How does that happen? Well, how many times have you come to Jesus thinking you needed something, only to discover that he already knows more about you than you know about yourself? Jesus is more attuned to your needs than you are. So you find yourself receiving, not what you want, but what you so desperately need. You don’t know it at the time, but when the dust is settled and you have an opportunity to look back and see what has happened to you, you are aware that the path down which you were walking led to a big fat no. The direction Jesus gave you led to yes.
That is what Jesus did with the paralytic. The man came to Jesus – okay, more accurately, he was brought to Jesus – thinking that what he needed more than anything else in all the world was the ability to walk. Obviously, that’s what his friends thought too. But Jesus knew better. He was aware of something deep down in the man’s heart and soul. First of all, he needed to be forgiven. Of what? We don’t know. But Jesus did. And so did the paralytic.
He doesn’t argue with Jesus. He simply does what Jesus tells him. He stands up, Mark tells us, and immediately takes his mat and walks out. As George Mason says, he “went from paralytic to peripatetic.”3 Just like that.
You may have come to worship today thinking that what you needed was an uplifting song or a good sermon. You may have come here today thinking you needed the fellowship of other believers. You may have come here today, frankly, not really knowing what you needed. Maybe you didn’t think you needed anything at all. You just came because that’s what you do on Sunday morning.
But what all of us – every one of us – needs more than anything else is forgiveness for what we have done wrong. We need it, says Barbara Brown Taylor, “as much as we need food or water or air.” And “if there is shame in this,” she says, “it is redeeming shame.”4
And having been shamed in such a way, we need to go out of this place to be God’s yes to others who live in a world of no, offering them forgiveness in the name of Christ. There are people you see every day who live with nothing but no’s. They need to know that in Jesus the answer is always, always yes. Are you willing to show them how to get up and walk? Well, are you?
Lord, forgive us our sins and show us how to offer the hand of forgiveness to others in Jesus’ name. Use us to turn your created world into a yes kind of place. Amen.
1Debra Farrington, “Healed, Not Cured,” The Christian Century, February 7, 2006, p. 17.
2Carl R. Holladay, et. al., Preaching Through the Christian Year: Year B (Trinity Press International, 1993), p. 108.
3George Mason, “Breaking Through,” (unpublished sermon, February 23, 2003).
4Barbara Brown Taylor, The Preaching Life (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Cowley Publications, 1993), p. 71.