January 2023 Reverend Reflections

Hello First Presbyterian Church,

Recently I was re-reading the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4 and it struck me that in Cain’s famous rhetorical question he reveals the loss of obligation and responsibility for others that comes with humanity’s fall from a state of perfection. Cain killed his brother, Abel, out of jealousy. God was pleased with Abel’s sacrifice but not with Cain’s. We are not told the reason for God’s preference, but Cain was filled with rage at the perceived slight. Rather than look inside his heart for correction he eliminated the competition. As if in Abel’s absence God would somehow be content with Cain’s offering. Such is the twisted logic of sin and a self that fears looking inwards. After the deed was done, God came “looking for Abel.” He knew he was dead, but he wanted to give Cain the opportunity for confession and repentance. Instead, he found a defensive, callous man in Cain. God asked Cain, “Where is your brother, Abel?” Cain responded, “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” It was a rhetorical question that claimed a lack of responsibility for anyone other than self. Cain claimed no obligation for the status and well-being of even his brother. It was a clear sign of the deep inroads sin had quickly made in the heart of humanity. We look out only for ourselves now.

On the other hand, you come to a place like Mark 2 and there you read a much different story. It is a story of four men fulfilling their obligation to their neighbor and God commending them for their faithfulness by intervening in their neighbor’s life, regardless of his faith. There, in the city of Capernaum, Jesus was teaching to a standing room only crowd. The house where he was speaking was full to overflowing. People were standing at the windows and doors in order to listen in on the words of the man who “taught with authority.” 

In another home in Capernaum lay a man who was unable to walk. We don’t know much about him other than that. We don’t know if he was a religious man. We don’t know if he was a good man. Nor are his sins listed out for us. We only know that he was paralyzed and that he had four neighbors who took seriously their God-ordained obligation to help their neighbor. God made all people in his image therefore everyone is deserving of care and keeping. These neighbors decided to carry this man to Jesus, for, whether he believed or not, they certainly thought Jesus could heal him. We don’t know if the man protested the idea or if he was grateful for their kindness, but these four men carried him to see Jesus nonetheless. 

When they arrived, they must’ve been disappointed to find the place flooded with people and Jesus inaccessible to their faith and their neighbor. However, their love for the man and their faith in Jesus were so strong that they took extreme measures. They created a hole in the roof of the house large enough for the man to be lowered in before Jesus. The story goes that “when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’” First he forgave his sins and then he later healed his body. The latter, visible action was intended to validate and prove the effectiveness of the former, invisible declaration. But the thing to note in this story is that Jesus healed the paralytic man on account of the faith of his neighbors. Jesus made no mention of the man’s faith. We still don’t know what the man thought of Jesus before he was healed, but Jesus forgave and healed him anyway, because of the faith of his neighbors.

Now, this has great implications for the way any Christian should view their role in this world and in their particular community. One of those implications is that as those who believe all of humanity was created in God’s image, we are the “keepers” of all people. We have an obligation to pursue the security, peace, and well-being of everyone, regardless of their religious or political positions. That was God’s expectation when he approached Cain and he was dismayed to find Cain had so readily abandoned this fundamental responsibility of humanity. 

A second great implication is that God will deal graciously with others simply because we bring them before him in faith and love. We likely won’t be able to do this in the physical way the men in Mark 2 did, but we certainly can do this in prayer. Every day we can “carry” before God a man, woman, or child who needs God’s intervention regardless of their feelings towards him. Prayer is an important and daily way we can fulfill this obligation to be a keeper of all people. We can pray for people who need God’s wisdom, healing, correction, or comfort. In view of our faith, he might just give it to them

When Jesus calls Christians the salt and light of the earth, this is what he means. We are to be preservatives—“keepers,” if you will—and we are to show a better way. We are to be a people whose actions are not directed by the selfish impulses of sin. In that way, we are to stand out in our love and advocacy for our neighbor and our constant invitation to Christ for healing. We are to be remarkable for the time we spend in prayer—bringing people day and night before Jesus. 

On our account, God will preserve and keep the world for himself. 

Grace and peace,
Jonathan +