Listen to the audio of today’s Reflection:

Mark 2:1-12

Jesus Heals a Paralytic

     1A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

     6 Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

     8 Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. . .” He said to the man, 11 “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” 12 He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”

There’s a lot to think about in this story – at least two really important lessons, plus an additional insight into the way people responded to Jesus as a person. (Of course, none of them realized then that he was actually God in human form.) And the two lessons are probably especially worth thinking about in this season of Lent.

At this early stage of his ministry, Jesus had been traveling around the towns and villages of Galilee, preaching in the synagogues and driving out demons. Today’s reading starts out by telling us that Jesus has now “again entered Capernaum.” New Testament scholars say that Capernaum is where Jesus made his home as an adult, so it seems to me that we’re meant to understand that this story takes place at Jesus’ own house.

Apparently Jesus had already gained a following as a preacher and teacher, because a big group of people turns out, filling the house and crowding around the doors and windows to hear him.

As Jesus is teaching, four men come bringing a paralyzed friend in hopes that he can be healed. When they can’t get close to Jesus because of the crowd, the men climb up on the roof and make an opening. Then they lower the man into the presence of Jesus to be healed. And of course, Jesus first declares the man’s sins forgiven, then heals his paralysis so he can take up his mat and go home.

So here are the two important lessons this passage suggests to me:

First of all, I think it’s very interesting that we’re told that Jesus’ intervention in this case comes about because he noted the faith of the man’s friends. There are several cases where Jesus acts to heal a child because of the faith of the child’s parents, and at least one where he heals a servant because of his master’s faith. But this is the only case I can think of where a person is healed because of the faith of his friends.

This seems like an appropriate lesson for Lent because this is one of the two seasons of the year in which people are statistically most likely to respond positively to an invitation to church. It seems that Advent and Lent are times when some unchurched people sense a calling from God to re-engage with the faith. So this story holds out to us the possibility that our faith might present an opportunity for Jesus to make his love known in the life of our friends, as he did for this paralyzed man.

Mainline followers of Jesus like Presbyterians are notoriously poor at sharing our faith with unchurched people. That’s probably because of our distaste for the image we have of a person evangelizing by telling others they’re going straight to hell unless they repent and “get saved” right now. It probably also has something to do with the fact that our highly intellectualized version of the faith makes us think we have to give a detailed explanation of Christian theology to be effective witnesses.

But sharing faith doesn’t require either of those things. It can be as simple as telling a troubled person that you’ll pray for them, and then making a point to write down their needs so they know you’re sincere about it. To a suffering person, that’s a more powerful witness than you think. Or just mentioning something good that goes on in church during this season – that can open a door to a person who feels a need for fellowship and encouragement, and trusts you as a friend who’s telling them the truth about your own experience in the things of the faith.

The other interesting lesson in this story comes from the fact that when Jesus sees this paralyzed man, the first thing he does for him is to forgive his sins. So in the mind of Jesus, it’s the man’s sinfulness, not his paralysis, that most needs healed.

Doesn’t it seem that most of the things we think of as ‘serious sins’ would require physical ability to commit them? Apparently lots of us think of sins of a sexual nature first. And things like violence and stealing are probably the kinds of sins we’d think about next – obviously, they have physical aspects to them.

But here’s a guy who can’t move – presumably can’t commit most of the sins we think of first. But Jesus looks at him, and what screams out to Jesus is the man’s sinfulness. That suggests to me that Jesus considers sins like bitterness, envy, resentment and gossip as just as serious as the “big sins.”

During this season, when we’re supposed to be reflecting on our lives and confessing and repenting our sins, this story suggests that we should be opening our hearts and minds to be shown what things about ourselves seem like sins to God. What is it we really need to be healed of? We might come into God’s presence thinking it’s paralysis that’s our big problem, while he sees something that seems much more in need of his healing power.

And by the way, isn’t it interesting that these four friends were willing to take the risk of tearing a hole in Jesus’ roof? That suggests that although Jesus has considered a man of authority, he wasn’t thought of as menacing or likely to get angry. It seems that people perceived him as someone who put healing the disabled ahead of protecting his property.

Let’s pray. Lord, in this season of Lent, help us to be agents of your healing grace in the lives of our friends who do not know you now. And as we pass through this season, show us those things about us that you most want to heal, and open our hearts and minds to receive that healing. Amen.

Grace and Peace,