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Jesus the Game Changer / Second Sunday after Pentecost

Mark 2:23–3:6

And He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So, the Son of Man is LORD even of the Sabbath.”

Jesus is determined to save us from anything that can hurt or destroy us: physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually. He’s a game-changing healer in the field of mental and spiritual health, and we should call on Him for help.

A few years ago, Olympic gymnast Simone Biles surprised many people by withdrawing from the tournament. Her decision for refusing to participate in an initial press conference, she said, “The truth is that I have suffered long bouts of depression [and] I have had a really hard time coping with that.”

Her decision led to a barrage of criticism. A British broadcaster called her a “petulant little madam.” Australian journalist wrote, “The immaturity [of] Simone leaves me speechless.” Others were sympathetic to her struggles, including Serena Williams, who said, “I wish I could give her a hug because I know what it’s like.”

The Bible doesn’t say much about being depressed, but it does mention people suffering from a variety of afflictions. From the beginning of the Gospel of Mark, Jesus encounters people in need, and He responds with compassionate: curing the sick, casting out demons, cleansing a leper, and healing a paralytic. Jesus launches His ministry in the first chapter by saying that “the kingdom of God has come near.” Then, He shows that deliverance from affliction is a sign of the kingdom.

Jesus and His disciples are walking through the grain fields on the Sabbath, and the hungry disciples begin to pluck heads of grain. The Pharisees called them out by saying, why are doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath? Jesus tells them the story of David and his companions breaking the laws of the temple to eat bread when they were hungry, and then Jesus says, “The Sabbath was made for humankind and not humankind for the Sabbath.” He wants them to know that the laws of the Sabbath are created to benefit humans. When they are not beneficial, these laws can be broken.

Then, Jesus enters the synagogue, sees a man with a withered hand and asks the Pharisees, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to kill?” They don’t answer Him. Jesus gave them the LOOK. Then He says to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” The man does, and his hand is restored. The coming of the kingdom of God is seen in doing good, saving lives and healing people, even on the Sabbath.

Jesus makes it clear that His mission is to heal the sick and cast out demons by the power of God, helping people to be restored to physical, mental, and spiritual health. Concerns about details such as healing on the Sabbath are insignificant, says Jesus, since He, the Son of Man, “is LORD even of the Sabbath.” Jesus is committed to human restoration, in every time and place, and He sees healing as a sign that the kingdom of God has entered human life. Of course, not everyone agrees. After Jesus heals the man with the withered hand, the Pharisees go out and conspire against Him.

Keeping the Sabbath was a comfortable part of religious life in the time of Jesus. And why not? A day of rest is a good thing to human beings, in ancient times and today. But Jesus warns us not to use Sabbath-keeping as an excuse for failing to feed hungry people or help those who are physically or mentally ill. In fact, He becomes angry with us when we don’t help people in need, when we show “hardness of heart.” He wants us to move beyond our comfort zones.

Mental health is an uncomfortable area for many of us. We expect ourselves and others to be able to steer clear of problems with depression, anxiety, and other crippling mental difficulties. We hear messages such as no pain, no gain. Push through it. Just do it! And, if we have these expectations of ourselves, we have even higher expectations of superstar athletes. A psychologist says that there is “this stereotype that an athlete is a kind of gladiator, a kind of hero. That they are comfortable being out of their comfort zones.

Well, guess what? Professional athletes are not comfortable with mental difficulties. Neither are we. None of us wants to be to open to discussions about mental health in sports.

We now have generation that defines our identity by what is accomplish on the field. Athletes are valued for what they do, rather than who they are, children of God. That’s created a culture that prioritizes winning above everything else. It sets the stage for massive mental health issues. Fortunately, athletes are beginning to talk about this. None of them has the ability to handle all of the pressures of their sport entirely on their own. They need help. They need support. They need healing.

Fortunately, Jesus is a game-changing healer in the field of mental and spiritual health, and we should call on Him for help. Jesus is determined to save us from anything that can hurt or destroy us: physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually. Jesus appears in Mark as a man of action, determined to rescue people from whatever is afflicting them, from hunger to demonic possession. The work of Jesus is framed as a conflict between two kingdoms: The kingdom of Satan and the kingdom of God.

When we follow Jesus, we choose between these kingdoms, knowing that if “a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.” When we choose the kingdom of God, we choose the feeding of hungry people, even on the Sabbath. We choose the healing of physical or mental illness, even on a day of rest. We choose to do good and save lives, using all the resources available to us. We choose love and compassion over hardness of heart.

Within the kingdom of God, professional athletes are not heroes or gladiators who are defined by what they accomplish on the field. Instead, they are children of God, with their value based on who they are instead of what they do. They are people who, like all of us, need to be saved from massive mental and spiritual health issues. Jesus was a game changer because He desired healing and wholeness for everyone He met, and we should follow His example.

The hungry disciples, the man with a withered hand, a crowd full of sick people, all found their helper and healer in Jesus. They were saved by the one who carries the power of God into the middle of human life, and who wants to rescue young and old, men and women, superstars, and amateur athletes. Clearly, Jesus has been put on earth to save us from illness, sin, and death. When He does this, “the kingdom of God has come near.” The kingdom of God is not so much a place as it is a spiritual reality in which God rules over human life with saving power.

We enter this kingdom when we trust Jesus to be our healer. This means that we call on Him in times of trouble, and we rely on Him to guide us and help us. We make an effort to be loving and forgiving because Jesus has always been loving and forgiving toward us. And we choose the kingdom of God over the kingdom of Satan, putting time and energy into doing the work of healing and helping in our divided, sick and broken world.

When we have faith in Jesus, we follow His example of stepping away from certain activities as a form of self-care. Jesus says to His disciples, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” Each of us will feel, from time to time, a need to withdraw from activities to maintain our mental, emotional, and spiritual health. We all need to do this, whether we are pastors or engineers, teachers or attorneys, students, or gymnast superstars.

At the same time, we can follow Jesus by seeking professional medical help, because He desires that we be saved from anything that can hurt or destroy us.

Each of us can do a better job of discussing issues of mental health with others, as we choose the kingdom of God and its focus on health and wholeness. And, as a community, we can work together to overcome the taboo of mental illness. All of this is part of calling on Jesus, the one who is our game-changing healer.