A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 19th October 2008, Wai Ji Sunday, by the Rev. Kwok Nai Wang. The scripture readings that day were Psalm 146 and Matthew 5:38-42.
The New Testament lesson this morning is about the virtue of not to seek revenge. This is on the negative side. Positively, it is about make extra efforts to go a second mile. Jesus’ teaching certainly is very radical. Do you find it extremely difficult to follow?
“When someone wrongs you, you do not take revenge. When someone slaps your face on the right cheek, let him slap your left cheek too. When someone take you to court to sue you for your shirt, let him have your coat as well. When one of the occupation troops forces you to carry his pack one kilometer, carry it two kilometers. When someone asks you for something, give it to him. When someone wants to borrow something, lend it to him.”
This turns out to be the core of Christian ethics. As Christians or followers of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, we are commanded to go the extra mile all the time.
The extra mile or the second mile is never in the secular code of conduct; while “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” is the norm the great majority of people would accept. Traditionally, all Chinese accept if you are a gentleman, you have to take revenge (有仇不報非君子).
Go for a mile, perhaps; but never go for a second mile!
Not too long ago, I listened to a radio program about the conduct of civil servants in Hong Kong. In sum, it says most civil servants do as little as possible. It is because one of the safest ways to avoid making mistakes is to follow the book to the dot. In fact, following the manual and not to do anything extra is the predominant mindset of most of the people to-day. Go the second mile – no way!
But in reality, go the second mile or make additional efforts, is the only way to go forward; the only way to improve on the present situation, and enrich our life.
Most of us watched some Olympic games. Hong Kong and Beijing are in the same time zone. This enables us to watch quite a lot without having to lose sleep. During those two weeks, I had a ball. I spent hours watching the games daily. There were many memorial events and happenings which drove me to think a lot. One of the very young gymnasts was interviewed about her success story. She said she has worked extremely hard for the past 10 years. When others practiced the same move or manouver 10 times, as expected or demanded by the coach, young as she was, she decided to do it 15 times! The badminton gold medalist also told her story. She was considered old in her sports and for several years, she suffered injuries one after another. She had thought of giving it up. But she decided to overcome all her physical and mental difficulties and go the second mile. Finally, she succeeded.
Go the second mile or make extra efforts is never easy. But many of you have done it!
It is very difficult to live as the mentally challenged people, especially adults, to live and work in Hong Kong. It is because Hong Kong is not a modern and progressive city which caters to your special needs. But you have endured it and have done well.
I wish to pay tribute this morning especially to the parents, teachers and caretakers for the mentally challenged children, young people or adults. I know you have been doing it, and doing it so well for years. It makes your job even harder as many of the children you have cared for for years have grown up. But please don’t give up. Continue to go the second mile with love. You will be rewarded.
One of my former colleagues who has migrated to Portland, Oregon came back for a visit recently. We had tea together. She told me that there were three people who have influenced her life: her father, myself and her 30-year-old mentally challenged son. It was rather difficult to work full-time as a secretary and take care of a mentally challenged son for 30 years! But she did. Through taking care of her son, she said, she experienced the bliss of life; and especially the rich meaning of love, patience and sharing. She has grown and matured since she worked with me some 30 odd years ago.
Yes, life is all about love and sharing. Only a shared life is worth living. In sharing with the people in need, our horizons can be expanded tremendously. Consequently we can experience so much more.
The most crucial need for the mentally challenged people is that they be totally accepted by society and that they themselves be totally involved in society. This is a long journey, miles and miles down the road. Parents, workers and concerned people need to go this journey together. We must press the government to allocate more resources. But more importantly we must try to change the mindset of the government officials and the general public. Their concern must be changed from caring to developmental; from passive watching and researching to active public education. The advocacy role is the common task we all must take. It is to carry our burden a second kilometer so to speak.
To-day is Wai Chi Sunday. Every year our Church allocated one Sunday to celebrate with you from Wai Chi. We at KUC remember very fondly that Wai Chi Christian Service Centre was started here by a few members of KUC three decades ago. We are always very proud of the achievement of your teachers, caretakers, parents and hundreds of mentally challenged individuals. KUC always stands by you.
To conclude this homily, let me read to you once again part of Psalm 146 which is the Old Testament reading for this Morning:
“Happy are the people whose hope is in God who made heaven and earth, the sea and all there is in them.
God executes justice for the oppressed and gives food to the hungry.
God sets prisoners free; open the eyes of the blind; lifts up those who are bowed down.
God loves the righteous; watches over the sojourners, uphold the widows and the fatherless.
God reigns for ever.”
God never gives up on you as long as you do not give up on yourself and your loved ones.
Praise be to God. Amen.
A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 12th October 2008 by Rev. Kwok Nai Wang. The scripture readings that day were Genesis 12:1-9 and Mark 2:1-12.
Let us pray:
O Lord our God, from whom all good things come; grant to us your humble servants, that by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we may think those things which are good; and by the merciful guiding of the same, we may do the things which are pleasing in your sight. Though Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
This morning, we will concentrate our reflections on Chapter 2, verses 1-12 of the Gospel according to St. Mark..
The Gospel of Mark portrayed Jesus as the One who brought forth a new era to humanity. A new era – this is not a matter of time; but a new look about life as defined by God’s intervention. Life in the old era is life with broken relationships. Life in the new era brought forth by Jesus Christ is life which is in full communion with God.
At the time of Jesus, the old guards like the priests, rabbis, Pharisees… who were the leaders of the Jewish community resented Jesus’ teaching and preaching. They considered Jesus had come to disturb their law and order. It is because all along for a thousand years, they thought they were God’s messengers. If people would follow their teaching, that is, their rigid interpretation of the Law and the Prophets, people would be fine.
That explained why Mark’s Gospel is formed by 15 controversial stories and sayings as its backbone. In these 15 controversies, Jesus stood on one side while the Jewish leaders stood on the other.
The first of 7 controversies happened in Galilee. They were about Jesus or his disciples who did something which seemingly contravened the Jewish law and customs. For example, Jesus healed the sick on the Sabbath (Mk 3:1-6). For the Jews, keeping Sabbath was a part of their creation faith – for God has created the world in 6 days. The 7th day was a day of rest. Nobody should work on Sabbath. But Jesus insisted that it was important to help people even on Sabbath. Furthermore, according to Jesus, being the Son of God had the authority to interpret the Law. The Sabbath was made for the good of man; man was not for the Sabbath (Mk 2:27).
Then when Jesus and his disciples were on their way to Jerusalem, the centre of Judaism and the Jewish society, the priests, the rabbis and the Pharisees, were impatient with Jesus’ acts and teaching, so they began to challenge Jesus by asking difficult questions. For example, they asked, as Jews, should they pay taxes to the Roman Emperor? (Mk 12:13-17). These 8 controversies were meant to be traps to Jesus, in that whatever Jesus’ answer, they would find Jesus was at fault and would then be able to get rid of him or at least to discredit him. No wonder both in the very beginning as well as near the end of the Gospel, it was recorded the Jewish establishment wanted to make plans to kill Jesus (Mk 3:6 and 11:18).
This morning the New Testament reading Mark 2: 1-12 was also found in Matthew 9:1-8 and Luke 5:17-26. It was a healing story: a paralytic was cured by Jesus. But quite unlike other healing stories, there were many scenes, (altogether eight) and many people were involved in it.
Scene One: The setting. Jesus was at home in Capernaum in Galilee, where he grew up. Jesus had been busy in his ministry. Matthew 4:23 related the fact that, Jesus went all over Galilee, teaching in synagogues, preaching the Good News about the Kingdom, and healing people who had all kinds of sickness.” However, Jesus came home not to rest, but continued his preaching ministry. “Jesus was preaching the message to them” (2:2). This message presumably was: “The right time has come, and the Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe in the Gospel” (Mk 1:15).
Scene Two. Many people gathered where Jesus was. The Scriptures did not mention why so many people came. Probably some came to hear Jesus preached; others to see how Jesus performed miracles. Obviously words had come around about the wonderful things Jesus had done. Mk 1:34 recorded, “Jesus healed many who were sick with all kinds of diseases and drove out many demons”. So many people came. In fact there were so many people that not only there was “no room left” in the room where Jesus was, but also “not even out in front of the door”.
We cannot judge whether this big crowd came for the sake of curiosity. But the fact was that their “selfishness” had prevented other people with real needs to approach Jesus.
Scene Three. There were four friends who carried a paralytic. Their intention was clear. They had wanted this paralytic friend to be healed by Jesus. That was why they took the trouble. First of all, they had to carry their friend for a distance. Then as they approached the room where Jesus was, it was full of people both inside and outside. So they had to climb up to the roof and make a hole. Then with great efforts brought the paralytic friend to the roof; and finally from the roof with a mat they lowered his friend carefully to where Jesus was.
Scene Four. When Jesus saw how much faith these four friends had, Jesus said to the paralysed man, “My son your sins are forgiven”. Here lies the core of this very unique healing story. It was not the faith of paralysed man which touched Jesus. But rather it was the faith of his four friends which caught Jesus’ great attention or even admiration.
What a big contrast between the crowds who for various selfish reasons had prevented the paralytic and those who really need the help of Jesus from approaching; and the four friends who took the big trouble to make sure that his paralytic friend would be cured by Jesus! Where do we stand between the unfaith of the crowds and the faith of the four friends?
The Christian faith is never for the enhancement of self benefit. It always implies our caring of other people, especially the less fortunate. Indeed as the young German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer described Jesus Christ as “a man for others”.
The way Jesus healed the paralytic was also very unique. Jesus said, “My son your sins are forgiven”. What does sin have to do with sickness?
Superficially, when we look at sin and sickness together, there is little in common between them. Sickness is deficiency in the physical and/or mental dimension of life; sin is spiritual. But in deeper analysis, sin is more than any wrongdoing. Sin is even more than the good things which you ignore to do. Sin is your alienation with God, with other people and even with yourself. Sin is disrelationship or relationships broken at all levels. Similarly sickness is also about separation. When you are sick not only you feel the pain or discomfort physically; but also mentally you fall into a state of fear and uncertainty. Moreover socially you would feel you are being isolated or excluded. For instance because of her sickness, Peter’s mother-in-law was unable to host Jesus (Mk 1:29-31). In ancient times, lepers were not allowed to go into town. Therefore both sin and sickness indicated a state of being not “wholesome”. So broadly speaking, when Jesus told the paralytic, “my son, your sins are forgiven”, it was synonymous of saying, “my son, let me restore your wholeness”. Indeed Jesus came to make us physically, mentally, socially and spiritually wholesome.
Scene Five, on hearing what Jesus said to the paralytic, “your sins are forgiven,” some leaders of the law who were sitting there thought to themselves, “How does he dare to talk like this? This is blasphemy! God is the only one who can forgive sins!”. (2:7)
Are the thoughts of the learned Jewish teachers of law questioned Jesus in their minds because of the curiosity in searching for the truth or the plain fact that they were pondering about how to find faults in Jesus and were trying to find ways to discredit Jesus?
To me what these rabbis were trying to do rooted from their unfaith. Like the crowds, they had their own agenda. In carrying out their agenda, they prevented the people who really need Jesus’ help from getting near Jesus. Faith is helping people to connect and ultimately to relate to God. Unfaith is the opposite. It prolongs people’s pain and anxiety.
The rabbis, who formed the core of the Jewish leadership wanted to assert their authority. The Torah or the Law only gave priests, their counterparts, the authority to represent God to pronounce a person clean or sins forgiven. Since Jesus was not one of them, so what Jesus said was a blasphemy.
But Jesus was the Messiah. He was the Son of the Living God. Jesus as the Holy One of God (Mk 1:24) was the representative of God on earth. So he had the same authority as God. The rabbis refused to accept this.
Scene Six. Jesus healed the paralysed man. Jesus’ healing was not ordinary. He ordered the paralytic, “I tell you, get up, pick up your mat and go home” (2:11). Jesus words were never empty pronouncements. For Jesus, to speak was to act. Jesus was not merely a miracle or wonder-worker, he proclaimed and enacted the good news of Salvation.
Scene Seven. The paralytic was cured. The paralytic was excluded from participating in the ordinary activities. He could not walk and move freely. He had to depend on other people. But he had faith in Jesus. So on hearing Jesus’ command, he obeyed, “he got up, picked up his mat and hurried away” (Is 12a).
Scene Eight. The lives of the crowd were transformed. “They were all completely amazed and praised God saying: we have never seen anything like this”.
Remember in the beginning of this story, these people came for selfish reasons. Now after their encounter with Jesus, in witnessing what Jesus had done, they went away with their lives renewed: from self to God; from seeking for self-interest to praising God.
Perhaps this is one of the most enlightening healing stories of Jesus. The story especially demonstrates that Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the Living God does not only have the authority to heal; but also in healing the paralytic Jesus showed that He came to the world for the salvation of the humankind, so that our broken lives may be whole again.
This story is about the human struggle between faith and unfaith as well. Faith is the absolute obedience to Jesus. When Jesus told the paralysed man to get up, pick up his mat and walk; he did just that. So the paralytic regained his wholeness in life again. Faith in Jesus must have life implications. The four friends of the paralysed man had faith in Jesus. They were convinced that Jesus could heal their friend. So they took the great trouble of bringing their friend to Jesus with the full confidence that Jesus was able to help. Faith and love or caring go hand in hand. The four friends cared for their paralysed friend and they also had faith in Jesus. So as a result the impossible became possible. Their friend was healed by Jesus.
On the other hand the arrogance of the religious leaders had prevented them from accepting Jesus Christ as their Saviour. Not only that, they tried to use their positions and influence to prevent people to approach Jesus. This is unfaith. What a big contrast to the faith of the four friends!
Finally, when people are open to Jesus, their lives would be transformed through the encounter with Jesus. In facing Jesus, the paralytic was able to stand up and became an independent and free person. The people who originally came for their own purposes and interests, in the end became God-centred. They began to praise God…
This healing story, like any other stories in the Bible serves as a minor to us. We can see ourself more clearly by reading any Biblical story. In studying this healing story of the paralytic, let us do a bit of self-examination. Are you one in the self-serving crowd? Or one of the four friends? Or one of the religious leaders? Or plainly the paralytic?
Let us pray:
Most Gracious God, you are the source of love and justice; enlighten our minds and our hearts with your presence, that we may both know your will and be enabled to perform it. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.