Pastor Steve Mechem
Mark 7:24-30 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 28 But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
Pastor Steve Mechem
Mark 5:21-43 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
A Girl Restored to Life and a Woman Healed
When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23 and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” So he went with him.
And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.
Has anybody seen the documentary, “Period. End of Sentence.”
It recently won an Oscar for best documentary short.
You can find it on Netflix.
It is the story of a group of women in India who decide to fight the stigma around menstruation as they start a business that makes and sells sanitary pads. In rural India, a very small percentage of women use manufactured sanitary pads and this plays a significant role in the diminishment of women in that society.
Young women are forced to stay home from school during their periods. They fall behind in their schoolwork, and many eventually drop out. And in the workforce women lose days because of their menstrual cycles, leading to the errant assumption that they are less reliable.
The introduction of the manufactured sanitary pad in rural India is making a big difference, as women are more confident to integrate into society, even during their periods.
Check out the documentary. It’s pretty cool.
Question. Does it make you uncomfortable that I am talking about women’s menstrual cycles, in church, or at all?
Get used to it, I reckon, because the story we hear in scripture today is the story about a woman who has had a continual period for 12 years.
Jesus has just recently turned from the other side of the lake where he had the encounter with the demon possessed man in the cemetery. As he gets off the boat in Galilee he is immediately met by a man named Jairus, whose daughter, who is 12 years old, is sick and dying.
He begs Jesus to come to touch her and heal her. Jesus consents to walk with the man to his home.
Along the way, a woman quietly approaches Jesus. Now, a large crowd has gathered around Jesus and his followers, which has become the norm as Jesus has achieved rock star status as a teacher and healer. So the woman has to finagle her way through the dense crowd.
This woman has had a continual menstrual flow for 12 years- interestingly, the same number of years as the lifespan of the sick girl Jesus is going to see. The woman has some condition which has controlled her life for a lifetime.
The constant flow of blood means that she is continually weak and tired. The discharge creates continual discomfort and periodic pain.
She has gone to all the doctors, healers, and quacks she can find. They have prescribed painful, horrifying, embarrassing remedies and have taken all of her money.
Now, in United States in 2019, a woman with such a condition might see her doctor, or go to Planned Parenthood, or visit an urgent care place.
A Physician will order some tests.
Depending on what the tests reveal, there might be surgery, or some medication, or some hormone treatments.
And unless the tests reveal something devastating, the treatments will help and the woman’s life just might return to normal.
For a woman in Jesus’ day, there is no such hope. A return to normal seems impossible.
And beyond the physical struggles, there is an emotional toll that is downright unbearable. It is a reality that all menstruating women in Jesus’ day experience, only amplified to the extreme.
For a woman who has regular menstrual cycles, the Levitical law says, “Whenever a woman has a discharge of blood that is her normal bodily discharge, she will be unclean due to her menstruation for seven days. Anyone who touches her will be unclean until evening. Anything on which she lies or sits during her menstruation will be unclean. Anyone who touches anything on which she has sat will be unclean.
Whenever a woman has a bloody discharge for a long time, which is not during her menstrual period, or whenever she has a discharge beyond her menstrual period, the duration of her unclean discharge will be like the period of her menstruation; she will be unclean.
When the woman is cleansed of her discharge, she will count off seven days; after that, she will be clean again. On the eighth day she will take two turtledoves or two pigeons and bring them to the priest.”
When a woman has a period she is deemed ceremonially unclean for the time of her period and the seven days following it.
So, for every woman who is menstruating, up to half the month is spent in the Quasi-seclusion of uncleanness.
But for this woman, this seclusion, this isolation, has lasted for twelve straight years, as long as Jairus’ daughter has been alive.
For 12 years, she has been unclean,
there has been no touching,
Everything she touches becomes unclean,
Everybody she touches becomes unclean,
She Can’t touch her husband or be touched by him,
She can’t touch her children or be touched by them,
She can’t touchher friends,
She can’t reach out in compassion to another human being.
No serving her household,
No cooking for her family,
In fact, she has probably had to move away from her family.
There is no gathering at the city gates with the other women.
There is no Sabbath worship at the synagogue.
There are no trips to the temple in Jerusalem for festivals with family.
After 12 years of uncleanness, the woman is isolated, broken, Ionely.
And ready to act. What is there to lose?
So she slips through the crowd, edging her way toward Jesus. Not caring that every person she touches in the crowd becomes unclean.
As she approaches Jesus from behind, she reaches out and touches his robe.
In that moment, she feels the flow stop. She can feel the healing.
Jesus stops in his tracks and says, “who touched me?”
His disciples step in, “Jesus, There are people all around you touching you. “What do you mean, who touched me?”
“Someone needed to touch me, on purpose, who is it?”
The woman steps forward, physically shaking, fearful of what might happen to her once her uncleanness is revealed to this crowd.
She says, “It was me, Lord and I’m healed.”
Jesus responded with compassion, “yes, you are. Now go in peace!” My sense is that he reaches out and touches her face.
Notice, notice, please notice!
Jesus’ response to the woman is not,
“Yuck, you touched me, unclean troll!”
Nor is it,
“You broke the rules. Shame on you.”
His response is compassion. And the proclamation of healing is made by Jesus so that everyone in the crowd would know that this woman, who’s condition so separated her from everything and everybody she cared about, would no longer be isolated, be broken.
For this woman, the tragedy is not just her condition, but the loneliness that results from the rigid rules that bound her.
Mother Teresa said, “The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love.”
In Jesus’ response to this woman, we see compassion and love that not only brings physical healing, but also potentially frees her from the bondage of loneliness.
Jesus doesn’t care about the rules that bind her.
Jesus cares about her.
Now, before the celebration can break out, word comes that Jairus’ 12-year-old daughter is dead.
Jesus comes to Jairus’ house and enters the young woman’s room where she lies in death. Reaching out to her, taking her by the hand, Jesus says quietly, “Come on now. Get up.”
And she does.
She has lived 12 years and now her life is restored.
And, the woman with the 12 year period, she had lost 12 years and now her life is restored.
Now the scripture doesn’t say this, and it doesn’t allude to it in the slightest, but I would like to think that as Jesus goes to Jairus’ home, the woman who has been healed goes along with him, and when Jesus restores this girl’s life, the woman is close by, perhaps one of the first to reach out and comfort her with her touch. After all, there’s nothing to stop her.
Pastor Steve Mechem
Mark 5:8-19 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
For he had said to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” He begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now there on the hillside a great herd of swine was feeding; and the unclean spirits begged him, “Send us into the swine; let us enter them.” So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and were drowned in the sea.
The swineherds ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came to see what it was that had happened. They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the legion; and they were afraid. Those who had seen what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine reported it. Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighborhood. As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might be with him. But Jesus refused, and said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.”
This is the second part of the sermon that began last week.
There is a very simple way to understand the story of a possessed man in a cemetery. And that is to read it as it is written.
Jesus and his disciples have crossed the sea of Galilee and have found a demon possessed man who lives in a cemetery. The man, filled with demons, begs Jesus to leave him alone.
Jesus doesn’t. He casts the demons out. As he does, he asks the demon for its name. The man tells Jesus that his name is Legion because there are many demons possessing him.
The demons beg Jesus not to send them out of the country, so Jesus sends them into a herd of pigs that are kept on the hillside. As the demons enter the pigs, the pigs go into a frenzy, and rush down hill into the sea of Galilee, drowning.
2000 pigs fly off the hillside to their deaths.
The pig farmer tells the story of the pigs to anyone who will listen and soon the whole town, it seems, comes out to the cemetery to see what is going on.
There they find Jesus, his disciples, and the formally demon possessed man who is now restored to health, dressed and calmly sitting beside Jesus.
The townspeople beg Jesus to leave and as he is about to, the formerly demon possessed man asks if he can go with him. Jesus tells him that he needs to stay here in the town where people know him. “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.”
That’s the easy way to hear the story, to take it at face value, and just accept it as is.
But for many people, taking this story at face value just doesn’t work. Demons, thousands of them, possessing a person, flying through the air into the pigs, causing the pigs to jump into the sea and drown. Come on. Sounds like a great horror movie, but not a realistic story of redemption.
Well, for those folks, there is an alternate way to hear the story which still respects the biblical account while recognizing that not everything is as it seems.
This alternate reading begins, not so much with Jesus, but with the man from the cemetery. Last week’s sermon was basically the telling of a possible backstory for this man. A man who is dealing with severe mental health issues, psychological trauma, and physical illness. His conditions would be diagnosable in 2019, but in Jesus’ day, such conditions are almost always credited to the presence of Satan in the form of demons.
To purge the man, back when he was a boy, of these things, he was punished, beaten, mistreated, tortured.
This traumatic body altering physical abuse, alongside His other conditions, creates a violent, uncontrollable persona which the man accepts and exercises. Being told he is possessed by demons all his life has created a reality for him that he is indeed demon possessed and the thing that a demon possessed person should do is act demon possessed. Banished from his community, he lives in the cemetery, and has become somewhat of a legend throughout the area with his howling and yelling and the terrorizing people.
Into this man’s life strolls Jesus. I tend to think that Jesus has heard the legend and has crossed the sea to this specific locale for the specific purpose of meeting this man. Jesus doesn’t need to go looking for long, because as soon as he arrives the man comes to him, howling and yelling and out of control.
This is how the man approaches all comers to the cemetery, but as he approaches Jesus he immediately knows there is something different is afoot. Perhaps he has a sixth sense about this, or maybe as he approaches Jesus he hears the conversation going on among the disciples and immediately realizes who Jesus is.
‘You are the Messiah. Stay away from me,” says the man who is convinced he is full of demons.
Jesus, using a voice loud enough for everyone to hear, declares “Demon, come out of him!” Is it possible that when Jesus says this, he knows that the only way the man, and the community, will recognize his healing is if they believe the demons have been exorcised.
Jesus follows up his command by asking the question “Who are you?”
The man who thinks he’s full of demons replies, probably with the guttural demon sounding voice, “I am Legion.” Legion isn’t so much a name as it is a number. A Legion of Roman soldiers could number as many as 11,000. So convinced that he is devil controlled, when the man describes himself as Legion, he is saying he is chock-full of demon activity.
After stating his name, the man speaking for the demons, requests that Jesus will not cast them out of the country. It seems that a common belief in Jesus’ day is that demons are bound to a specific geographical location. So to send them out of the country is to destroy them.
Jesus sees another way to emphasize the departure of demons that will help convince the man and the villagers of his healing.
So Jesus acquiesces to the request and says, again loud enough for everyone to hear, that they can go into the herd of pigs on the nearby hillside. With Jesus words, the man has, what might be called, a fit. He screams at the top of his lungs. He howls with an other worldly voice, He lashes out. He runs madly. Finally, he passes out. At the same time, in a crazed frenzy, the pigs run off the side of the hill and into the sea and drown. In the context of the first century, anyone who saw this happen would believe the demons were destroyed as the pigs drowned.
So what in the world happens to the pigs? What causes the stampede, Would the demons really send them off the hill to their own deaths, or did Jesus in some sort of supernatural way instruct them to fly off the hill?
It it is a mystery for be sure. There has been the suggestion that as the man is acting out in the process of his exorcism, his actions are so loud and disorderly with such ferocity that the pigs are startled and experience group panic behavior. In a moment of panic they run off the hill and plunge to their deaths. I don’t know, it makes as much sense as anything else.
I wonder if Jesus and his disciples get a bill from the farmer for the lost pigs?
The farmer sees what’s happened to his heard and runs into the city to report the news. In no time at all, the entire city has converged on the cemetery to find the previously demon possessed man who is now whole, and calm, maybe for the first time in his life.
Perhaps, if not for Jesus’ pronouncement of exorcism and the sad ending to the pigs, no one, including the man himself, would have believe he is healed. But he is. This becomes a story of physical, mental and emotional healing, but not necessarily of a story of exorcism.
The villagers ask Jesus to leave, perhaps nervous about the fate of the pigs, or nervous about the devil in the cemetery who is now healed, or perhaps guilty for their own behavior in this whole ordeal.
As Jesus is about to get back in the boat, the formally demon possessed man asks if he can come with him.
But he has so much more to offer here, says Jesus, as he is now able to be reconciled with his family, and with his community, and begin to function as a person once again.
The point of story:
Seems simple to me – Jesus meets us where we are, and loves us more than our defenses, more than our weirdness, more than our contradictions.
Jesus loves us even when we feel unloved, and rejected, and cast out.
You, my friend, are loved by God through Jesus Christ. Period.
Pastor Steve Mechem
Mark 5:1-8 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain; for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones. When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; and he shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he had said to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!”
Erik, the Phantom in the Phantom of the Opera,
Boo Radley in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird,
Sloth in the movie The Goonies,
Angelous on Buffy the Vampire Slayer,
Quasimodo in Victor Hugo’s classic The Hunchback of Notre Dame,
The Beast in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast,
Lennie in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Me,
The monster that Dr. Frankenstein built,
Yannis in the fifth season of Orphan Black.
Characters from literature and film that are locked away, isolated, left behind, secluded, exiled, secreted away, watched over.
Pushed away from society because of deformity, or a sense of developmental disability, or a supposed propensity to violent behavior.
Sometimes they are cast out by their families or their community. Sometimes they isolate themselves hoping to protect the world from their depravity.
On the page and on the screen, they are often the antagonist and sometimes the protagonist, but almost always in the end one ends up feeling something akin to sympathy for them and their plight.
Now I wouldn’t pretend to infer that you or I have ever felt like Quasimodo or Boo Radley or Yannis. But I would suggest that there are times when we feel isolated and alone and intentionally left out. I would further suggest that this kind of sadness is debilitating. It affects our relationships with other people and with our God.
There is one last character to mention as we have listed these characters who seem bent for shame. And let me suggest a backstory.
There is a village just up from the east shore of the Sea of Galilee. In fact, there are many villages in the flats before the hillside grows up. This one is a small village with a few handfuls of families. The villagers are primarily farmers and tradespeople. Into this small community a child is born. His parents love him, he is embraced by his neighbors, but by the time he reaches adolescence everyone in town fears him.
There’s something about him. He’s always in trouble. He’s always in scraps and scrapes. When anything goes wrong in that small community, this boy is accused. As he enters adolescence, his behavior becomes more erratic and violent.
He is punished by his parents, and by the community time and time again, but his inappropriate behavior and violent outbursts continue. Unfortunately, the punishments leave the boy physically and emotionally scarred and disfigured.
After one particularly heinous bout of behavior, the elders of the community come together to pass judgment on the boy, who has become a young man. They banish him from town. His parents beg for mercy but their ruling stands.
On a very sad day for the boy and his parents he is escorted, to the edge of town and told not to come back.
Well, he comes back. At first, it is under the cover of darkness when no one can see him, but the havoc that he creates is immediately associated with him.
His parents are warned to keep him away from town, but they can’t physically do that.
After a time, the man begins to enter town in daylight, creating numerous problems (think Ernest T. Bass with violent anger issues)
One day, he barges into town in broad daylight sparking mayhem and practicing violence on anyone who gets in his way.
Finally, a group of villagers tackle him, hold him down, tie him up, and lead him away to the cemetery just outside of town. Since there are numerous caves in the hillside that fronts the cemetery they drag him into one of those caves. They put chains around his waist and tie him to the stones outside the cave. He has shelter, and space to move, but is unable to wreck havoc on the community. His parents, and a few compassionate community members, bring him food and leave it within his reach.
The man is incensed, obviously, and fights and kicks and yells and howls to no avail. After period of time, the man breaks the chain, and lumbers towards the town intent on exacting pain and retribution.
His goal is to attack the elders but several of the younger men in town are able to wrestle him to the ground. They take him again to the cave at the cemetery and chain him up again. And again, after period of time, he breaks the chain and heads into the village.
Once more he is tackled by townspeople and this time he is brought before the elders. The elders confer and declare that the man is hopeless, incorrigible, irredeemable and full of the devil. Therefore, he should be put to death. His parents are overwhelmed with sorrow and beg for the elders to reconsider. They reconsider.
They bring the man into their presence. He is bound by rope and surrounded by six stout villagers. The elders new sentence, “We will take you back to the cemetery and leave you there. We will not put chains on you again. That clearly isn’t working.
But if you come back to this town, you will be put to death on the spot, and your parents will be exiled for life, their home destroyed and their possessions incinerated.”
The man looks at his parents, pain evident on their faces, and agrees to the sentence.
Well, several years have passed and the man has not returned to town. He lives in the cemetery where he sleeps in the cave, He spends his days pacing back-and-forth, yelling and swearing at the top of his lungs, crashing into stones, cutting and bruising himself. Between his self mutilation and the scars of earlier punishments, he now resembles a monster of some kind. At night he howls into the darkness. His shrieks and howls are heard throughout the village and in other villages as well. The rock wall behind the cemetery creates the perfect echoing board. The man and his howl have become somewhat of a legend around the northern shore of the sea. The devil in the cemetery is what they call him.
Now, I wouldn’t pretend that in your moments of loneliness, when you sense that you are somehow isolated from people and God,
when you look in the mirror and come face to face with your failures, when you’ve messed up, that you are in anyway like this man in the cemetery.
But then again, maybe the aching in your heart, and in his heart, and in Quasimodo’s heart, have the same root-
A sense of abandonment, being left behind and left out.
Jesus and his disciples, after a prolonged preaching and healing tour in Gallilee, cross the to the Eastern shore. The landscape along the shoreline is pretty simple, relatively flat land for a couple hundred yards and then a rock face that leads up to what is now the Golan Heights. In the bottoms close to the lake numerous towns and villages are located. Atop the rock face, is open ground, were farmers raise crops and livestock.
Jesus arrives on the shore and begins to walk toward town.
He hears howling. He stops,and listens. My sense is that Jesus has heard the legend, and this is one reason he wanted to come to this place.
The disciples hear the howling, as well, they look at each other with some panic and try to move Jesus quickly along the path toward the town. But as they are walking, the boy now a man, who lives in the cemetery comes running through the tombstones toward Jesus. As he comes to Jesus (the disciples have scattered a bit) he bows down before him. He shouts, perhaps because all he ever does is shout and yell. He proclaims Jesus to be the Messiah and begs him to leave him be.” The insight the man has concerning Jesus’ identity is profound, and his response to Jesus makes perfect sense.
For most of his life, people’s response to him has been fear and fear so often produces a violent response and so this man, for so long a giver and receiver of the violence anticipated the same from Jesus. Or as the story indicates, the demons don’t want to leave the man and beg Jesus to leave them alone.
Jesus looks deep into the man and he says, for all to hear, “Come out you unclean spirit.”
This is a two-part sermon, next week we will talk about pigs aflying and demons leaving, in this sermon, it seems important to understand that you can never be too outcast or too isolated or too broken to receive God‘s mercy.
When society rejects you because of who you are,
when your friends turn on you because you choose to be you,
when your classmates bully you,
when your neighbors ignore you,
when you are down and out with no hope of something better,
God loves you and accepts you through Jesus Christ.
That love is real and it is unconditional.
That love is never held back.
That love always embraces.
That love is encouraging and empowering.
That loves fills the voids and mends the brokenness.
That love guides and directs us into new hope and new life.
Pastor Steve Mechem
Mark 3:1-10 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
Jesus departed with his disciples to the sea, and a great multitude from Galilee followed him; hearing all that he was doing, they came to him in great numbers from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, beyond the Jordan, and the region around Tyre and Sidon. He told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, so that they would not crush him; for he had cured many, so that all who had diseases pressed upon him to touch him.
Pastor Steve Mechem
Mark 2:1-11 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. Then some people[a] came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.”
Before I begin retelling this great healing story, a word about construction and architecture in first century Galilee is in order.
Most homes in Jewish cities in Galilee were similar- simple, practical, functional.
The Roman cities of Tiberias and Sepphoris consisted of houses that were bigger and more ornate with more diverse building materials.
But the Jewish communities of Galilee were populated by common folks, the peasant class. Their homes were simple.
A typical house had two to four rooms. There was often a courtyard between rooms. The kitchen was located in the courtyard or outside the front door.
The houses were made of clay formed into blocks, and covered with more clay. There were no windows so that the walls were stronger.
Inside, each room had a low ceiling, 6 -7 feet above the floor. The floor generally was earthen, although sometimes, tile and rugs were laid down for special occasions.
The ceiling consisted of beams (or planks) with clay between them and over them.
On the roof, palm branches and tall were used to cover the clay.
The roof not only protected the inside of the house during rainy season, it also served as a patio, a place to hang out, to party, to drink, to be with family on warm Galilean evenings.
Clay steps were formed on the outside of the home to provide access to the roof/ patio.
Rooms seldom were used for a single purpose, a place to eat also served as a bedroom which also served as a place to store stuff. Parents and children and grandparents shared rooms and possessions.
Jesus has just finished his first preaching tour through Galilee. Highlighted on the tour was Jesus’ teaching (“like nothing I have ever heard before,” was a common response), and his healing ministry. Lepers, the demon possessed, the diseased and deformed came out of the proverbial woodwork hoping for a divine touch.
Galilee was an area that attracted the sick and diseased in big numbers.
Multiple sulphur springs promised healing, or at least comfort in the midst of anguish.
Jesus healed folk who had given up hope of healing in the sulphur springs, He touched people who assumed that they would never be touched again, he restored lives and families.
And now, Jesus has returned home.
Peter’s house is probably the place Jesus was calling home.
Jesus and his closest followers came home to eat, to sleep, to chill.
But… a crowd, massive and boisterous, surrounded the house. People who wanted to hear, wanted to see, and most importantly wanted to be touched or have a family member touched by the healer.
Jesus is teaching inside the house, perhaps with a bowl of tilapia and a few small loaves of bread before him so he can get a bite to eat on this, another hectic day.
He calls his teaching the gospel,
the good news.
God loves unconditionally.
God embraces us.
God forgives us.
God is initiating a new Kingdom of grace and mercy.
God is calling us to join Jesus in the building of the Kingdom.
Through the crowd outside the house passes a small group- four people carrying a fifth- a paralyzed man.
We know nothing about the man except that he is paralyzed.
Maybe he has a disease that has left him unable to use his legs or arms.
Perhaps he fell, at work or while partying with his friends, and he was left paralyzed.
Maybe it just happened or maybe it happened a long time ago.
We know nothing about his four carriers.
In fact, the Greek just says “carried by four”
Four family members?
Four paid for guys who carried him for a price?
The four guys who were with him when the were messing around and he got hurt?
We simply don’t know.
But in my mind, as I try to gather an inference from the story, I see them as four friends. Friends who have been with him since an accident left him disabled. They have cared for him, cried for him, prayed for him, dipped him in hot springs, carried him to other healers, helped him and his family through this arduous and painful experience. They are determined and when they hear that the new healer, the guy who was shaking up Galilee, was back in Capernaum, and they couldn’t pass up the chance to help their friend.
We don’t know from where this group of people come.
Maybe they live in Capernaum,
or maybe they live in one of the dozens of small villages around the northern point of the lake.
They travel, a couple of miles, maybe a dozen miles or more to find Jesus- four friends carry a man on a homemade stretcher.
When they arrive, they are crushed at what they see.
The house where Jesus is and the yard around it are jammed with people with more people coming every moment.
There is no way to or through the door. Jesus might as well be a hundred miles away, these guys can’t get to him.
Then they can see the stairs to the roof from where they are standing, they talk amongst themselves, then they begin to push, and lean, and strive in that direction. They will not be stopped.
They get to the stairs and carry the paralyzed one up to the roof.
They kneel down and listen until they locate the spot where Jesus is speaking.
They start digging, with sticks, and with their hands.
Down below them, pieces of ceiling begin to rain down on the crowded room.
Dirt and dust and grass land in Jesus’ hair, and in the bowl of tilapia Peter’s mother in law has prepared.
Once the hole is big enough, a couple of the carriers drop down to the floor, and the other two slide the paralyzed guy through the ceiling. The crowd is forced to step back, and the man is laid on the floor.
Jesus looks to each the carriers, at the paralyzed man, up at the hole. He eyes Peter’s mother-in-law looking disapprovingly toward the hole in her ceiling.
Jesus smiles. “What great faith!” Looking at the paralyzed one, “Your sins are forgiven.”
Hmmm! No words of healing, or cure. Yet. The man came for physical healing, but seems to get spiritual healing instead.
The four friends are confused, probably frustrated. Forgiveness is fine but they want healing. The paralyzed man is a little confused as well, but strangely warmed by Jesus’ words.
Of course Jesus says what he says to elicit the response he is about to get.
Now, religious leaders are in the crowd,
curious about Jesus,
interested in the claims being made about his ability to heal,
gathering info that might be needed later if Jesus’ popularity continues to grow.
The religious guys are offended by Jesus’ words,
“Who does he think he is? Only God forgives sins.”
Jesus hears, Jesus knows his words have tweeked their ire, Jesus responds.
“Which is easier,” he asks, “to declare forgiveness or to declare healing.”
And then, after letting it sit a moment, he says, “Watch this.”
He looks down at the paralyzed man on his stretcher and says, “get up and get moving.”
The man does.
Everybody, minus the religious leaders. whoop it up. Another amazing moment in the ministry of Jesus.
I think the real Heroes of this story are the four…
Not looking for accolades,
Roof digging heroes.
Four people with a hope for their friend,
who will not be dissuaded, or persuaded, or held back.
They are brave.
They are determined.
They keep on going.
They will not be stopped on their mission to make a difference in the life of their friend.
We are healing agents with Jesus
We help heal with our words
We help heal with our presence
We help heal with our actions
We help heal with our prayers
We even help heal with our arms as we carry the wounded to Jesus.
Oh to have the determination of these four …
Jesus will say later, “no one has greater love than this, that he would lay down his life for his friends.”
I have to wonder, when Jesus speaks this amazing truth, if he is thinking of these four, and what they were willing to do so that their friend might experience grace.