A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”
– Mark 2:1-12
“Blaise Pascal, the French mathematician and philosopher who died in 1662, said, ‘Man’s sensitivity to small things, and his insensitivity to the most important things, are surely evidence of a strange disorder.’ English theologian G. K. Chesterton observed nearly three centuries later that big things sometimes have a better way of hiding than small things, and he used the shape of the earth to illustrate his point – that for years we thought the earth was flat, but its true form was hidden by both its size and ours.
Perhaps most of us would agree with Pascal and Chesterton in that there exists in our world a ‘strange order’ – that both the size of great things and confusion about what is great prohibit us from living life in a sort of spiritual awareness. I find I am often victim to the backwardness of this culture when an NBA trade catches my attention and rouses the emotions as I pass quickly over the smaller headline of a genocide in Sudan.”
– Joel Houston, ‘Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’?’, What Did Jesus Ask?
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.
– Matthew 18:1-5
“Someone said to me, ‘This is a growing day.’
“’Ah,’ I said, ‘I hope we shall grow spiritually.’
“’Which way?’ he asked, ‘smaller or larger?’
“Let it be smaller, that will certainly be the surest way of growth. If we can become less today, we shall be growing. We have grown up, as we call it; today let us grow down and become as little children, or else we shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
– Charles H. Spurgeon
Before we get started, I loved Joel Houston bringing up Pascal and Chesterton. To add to Houston’s description, Pascal was also a physicist. I read a short article in Following Him Beside Still Waters. It was about why bubbles are round. The science was very well described, but the article did not say what natural “Law”, in Physics and Physical Chemistry, was at play here. It is Pascal’s Law that states that something under pressure exerts the pressure equally in all directions. Thus, the air inside the bubble pushes equally, making the bubble round, perfectly round until gravity and motion through air start to act upon the bubble. (Talk about child-like wonder. Make some bubbles!) I had known Pascal’s Law for all my working life. I never knew Pascal’s Wager until recently. (I think from Help Me Believe.) Pascal’s wager is that if the Christian knows that he will go to a better place when he dies, and the agnostic or atheist is not sure of anything after death, would it not be better to wager on the Christian viewpoint? If you are wrong, you are risking nothing after death, but you gain so much if you a right. I’m not saying that we ‘wager’ on salvation, but it is a great philosophical point. And what a focus on Hope.
As for Chesterton, I like his theological work, but as an avid mystery reader, I think that Father Brown is priceless.
Both of these modern quotes, Houston and Spurgeon, deal with smaller or larger and the perception of each, but they approach the subject in different ways.
Houston, a pastor and songwriter, is using our obsession over the trivial to illustrate why Jesus asked the question regarding forgiveness of sins or healing the sick. To the Pharisees, who wanted to find fault in Jesus, the important thing was the blasphemy that a mere man would dare talk about forgiving the man his sin. To Jesus, he was focused on two things. For one, being God, He could forgive sins and He drove that point home here. For the other, He was concerned about the physical and spiritual health of the paralyzed man before Him. Religious purity for religion’s sake versus saving a man’s life and soul? Why would anyone have a problem with which was a larger issue. Yet, most denominations have their little sacred cow that seems to be more important than breathing.
To look back at the Houston quote, the person reading the newspaper would look at the larger printed headline of the NBA trade versus the smaller printed headline of genocide in Sudan. That is the fault of the newspaper and our perceived reality that trivial things are important. (It just dawned on me that a lot of people are obsessed by record-breaking winners of the television game show, Jeopardy. They talk more about how important a recent winner is because of his expertise in regurgitating trivial knowledge. How absurd.) Some people, the diehard fans, may be offended about calling the NBA trivial. For one, it is trivial regardless of the money spent on advertising, but this is news about a trade. Remember the NBA star, who ranted about practice? Practice?! This is less than that. If the trade is in any way a fair trade, you’ll never know if this article was significant in the NBA world until they play some games and see who gets injured first. And how much less in importance is the NBA trade to the real world where people are killed just to make room for other people who agree with the killer’s views?
Then we get to the quote from Spurgeon. He is not talking about us becoming childish. He is talking about that wide-eyed wonder of a child who sits at the feet of the Great Teacher, trying to absorb every word from the Master’s lips. (Another thought just hit me. The adults enjoy the children’s sermons during the worship service as much as the actual sermon, sometimes more. Yet, there were no children’s messages, performed by Jesus, ever recorded. Just imagine how wonderful they were. Ah, more child-like wonder.) We can gain that wide-eyed wonder at any age. We must simply check our ego at the door.
When I taught steel heating to furnace operators and hot mill personnel, there was a much-anticipated lecture on “Mill Scale”, usually near the beginning of the second day in a 2-day seminar. If anyone has been around a steel mill for very long, they know that mill scale in a PAIN. But I start the class with wanting to discuss whether scale is good or bad. Once the class participants know that I am being serious (maybe off my rocker, but…), they play along. In the end, after buying into considering two options, they are more motivated to make less scale when I teach them how to reduce scale formation than they would have been if I just read off a few simple rules. While my job was to pass along technical knowledge to the inexperienced workers, the focus was to motivate the seasoned worker that might have slipped into lethargy. They already knew the rules, for the most part. They just needed to be motivated.
Which brings us back to the newspaper. Are you attracted to the large print and ignore the small print? If you are, you are not alone. But when we look at the newspaper or the media feeds on the internet, it is up to us what we read and study. As a true Christian with Jesus in our hearts, we know what is important and what is trivial. Is it really as important as Spurgeon suggests – get that child-like wonder or never enter into Heaven? We have a choice. Which is larger to you (where your motivation lies)? We could sit at the Master’s feet or we could watch the latest NFL Draft – live on television. It is your choice. I must confess. I have done both, but one of the options is much larger than the other.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.