What would you be willing to do to bring relief to a friend with constant pain? Bedridden and forced into inactivity, despair and depression lurk in the shadows of the soul as the body atrophies. The doctors have poked, prodded and prescribed but have not helped. Homeopathic remedies are ineffective. You stand by helplessly watching your friend live in constant torment. How far would you go to bring comfort?
Mark 2 gives an interesting account of this exact situation. It might have played out something like this. A remarkable teacher comes into town and stays at a bnb owned by Peter’s mother in law. On His last stay she was sick, so He healed her and she resumed her work feeding and caring for the household, blown away by the power and wisdom of her guest. But today when she looks out the window as she is washing the dishes, to her amazement she sees what looks like the whole town in her yard! And the religious rulers were there too! What in the world? They were trampling the lawn, pressing in to hear what this man had to say about the kingdom of God. She probably didn’t see four people carrying a paraplegic person on a bed at the back of the crowd, unable to get through to the door to alert Jesus to their friend’s great need. She did notice, perhaps with disbelief, debris and dirt falling on to her freshly washed floor as part of the roof was torn away. An immobile man is lowered down right before Jesus. There is stunned silence. Apparently these five individuals had the audacity to risk propriety and property to insist on Jesus’ attention to their friend. Their faith in Him was undeniable. The obvious but unspoken request would logically have been for physical healing and relief from his totally debilitating life, but Jesus offers forgiveness of sin instead. Perhaps He was, in part, tweaking the religious legalists in the group. His unexpected response dramatized the superiority of spiritual health over the physical condition. Jesus prioritizes curing the root, not merely treating the symptoms.
I have heard ministry lauding the faith of the four, but I am struck with the plight of the helpless man in the story. Imagine the discomfort, the embarrassment, the pain and fear that he must have been experiencing as his friends hack through the roof of a house and perhaps awkwardly wrap the ropes around him to let him down. It is likely he had given up hope of ever having a normal life. There was no Mayo clinic back in those days. When his friends had come up with the outlandish plan he must have considered the possible futility of the effort. Yet he consented, his heart reaching out in desperation for a cure. He stands in stark contrast to the heartless religionists who question Jesus’ intention. I imagine that the forgiveness offered him so personally and lovingly was thrilling, the tender solution for his unseen but deepest malady liberating his twisted soul. This man offers a picture of what propels us from paralysis to vitality, the force of faith that connects us to the Eternal. Recognizing one’s desperate need is the catalyst. It is not insignificant that it was a joint effort. The brazen insistence of the man’s friends can only be explained by their utter certainty that Jesus was indeed able to help. That would be an amazing story if it ended there.
But thank God for the cynical religionists, staunchly defending their convictions about God. Without this part of the story we would have to merely hope that Jesus actually had the power to forgive sins. Others in the crowd probably wondered at Jesus’ response too, perhaps thinking Jesus was a bit nervy to make such a proclamation without the appropriate animal sacrifice. For us it is common to think of forgiveness as something easily appropriated, but there were authorized procedures in Jesus’ day for that – rules that God Himself had prescribed, and even then it was only a temporary fix. We shouldn’t be too hard on these guys. We probably would have been skeptical at such an audacious claim. Our familiarity obscures the radicalness of Jesus and His ways.
When Jesus looked with love at that helpless man and said “My son, your sins are forgiven”, a profound joy probably washed over him as he marveled at this unexpected offer. Still reeling from this gracious kindness, he hears Jesus challenging the unspoken questions of the scholars. “Jesus realized instantly what they were thinking, and said to them, “Why must you argue like this in your minds? Which do you suppose is easier—to say to a paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven’, or ‘Get up, pick up your bed and walk’? But to prove to you that the Son of Man has full authority to forgive sins on earth, I say to you,”—and here he spoke to the paralytic—“Get up, pick up your bed and go home.” Mark 2:8-11 jbp
The forgiven man sprang up, picked up his bed and walked out to the amazement of all! The curious in the crowd were satisfied, the faith of the five was rewarded, hearts were won, disciples were further persuaded, and the skeptics left frustrated. I wonder where I would have been in that crowd. Of course, with the benefit of knowing the end of the story I think “of course I would have been a believer”. Jesus is presented to us today with similar trappings – incredible promise, skeptical rationalism, fear of misplaced faith, the feeble witness of the people who profess discipleship, the radical behavior of a few followers. Well, as a soul-paralyzed sinner I choose to accept His offer of forgiveness! And I want to bring people with me. How about you?
I wonder who fixed the roof!