Last night, a poet spoke to a rock in my mind, and the joy of the Lord rushed in like a stream.

I was doing some reading for the sermon on Sunday, which will come from Mark 2:1-12. In that passage, some friends lower a man afflicted with paralysis through the roof above Jesus’ head. Jesus looks at this embodiment of trusting prayer, sees their faith, and says to the paralytic, “My son, your sins are forgiven.” (Mark 2:5)

The man seeks healing; Jesus speaks forgiveness. As I searched for an image to preach forgiveness, my mind went to the metaphor of medicine. After all, Jesus’ forgiveness brings the man not only the deeper healing of reconciliation with God; it also leads Jesus to command the man, “rise, take up your pallet go home.” (Mark 2:11) And in the next passage, Jesus likens his ministry to medicine when he tells his critics, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17)

Wondering if the medicine metaphor was overly familiar, I read further and consulted James Martin, who offers some commentary on the scene in his book, Pilgrimage. Father Jim introduced me to Sister Irene Zimmerman, author of several collections of poetry. In a work called “Woman Taken in Adultery,” she vividly recreates the Gospel story from John 7:53-8:11, and even though that is not my passage for Sunday, she cracked open a petrified place in my thinking.

With a few deft strokes, Sister Irene retells the story of rival teachers attempting to trap Jesus as Jesus calmly writes on the ground. Then she describes Jesus asking the woman, “Has no one condemned you?” (John 8:10) and she imagines Jesus thinking of his own mother, who had lived with gossipy accusations, and his own father, who lived with anguish in regard to taking in a child born from “seed not his own.” Sister Irene imagines Jesus calling on those memories in relation to this hurting woman, and she writes, “Compassion flooded him like a wadi after rain.”

Caught up in the poem, I did not think: “Hey, I’ve got my metaphor!” Instead, I kept reading, and Sister Irene described the effect of Jesus’ forgiveness on the woman:

“Black eyes looked out from an ashen face,

empty, uncomprehending

Then life rushed back.

She stood before him like a blossoming tree.”

Actually, I still don’t know exactly what I’ll preach on Sunday. But as Sister Irene depicts Jesus working forgiveness and salvation, I feel gratitude flooding me “like a wadi after rain.” I feel myself standing “like a blossoming tree.” And I commend Jesus as someone through whom life rushes back to everyone in need of healing, which includes everyone.

Peace,
Joel Kok