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.