Rev. Tom Sorenson, Pastor
February 23, 2003
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
This story about the men digging through the roof of Jesusí house in Capernaum to lower their paralyzed friend down to be healed has always struck me as truly bizarre. I mean, by our standards what they did is a criminal act. Breaking and entering. Destruction of private property. Trespass. You name it. And what must Jesus have thought? Mark, whose stories are always sparse almost to a fault, tells us only that Jesus was powerfully impressed by the faith of the men digging through his roof. But he wouldnít have seen why they were digging through his roof at first. They had to break through before they could lower the man on his pallet into the house. All he would have seen was people digging through his roof. And Jesus was human after all, despite the churchís long and inglorious history of forgetting that fact. Canít you just see him doing a double take when he hears noise coming from the roof? "What the?! Hey, just what do you guys think youíre doing? Where do you get off destroying my roof? You gonna pay for the damage? You gonna repair it yourselves? Or do you expect me to make a claim on my homeownerís insurance?" OK, maybe they didnít have homeownerís insurance back then, but you get the point. What those men were doing was pretty outrageous. If I were in Jesusí shoes Iíd start to wonder if this Messiah business is worth it if all itís going to do is lead people to destroy my house. But then, most fortunately for all of us, Iím not in Jesusí shoes. As far as Mark tell us, Jesus didnít get upset at all. I guess thatís one of the things that made him who he was.
Now, the story goes on to be about Jesusí power to forgive sin. Markís primary point in telling the story, I think, is to proclaim Jesus as the Christ, as Godís Anointed One who indeed has been given power that properly belongs only to God. And that is a profound and valid point of the story. But as Iíve said before, one of the marvelous things about the great Gospel stories is that they have what the scholars call a "surplus of meaning." That is, they can mean many different things to many different people. So today I want to focus not on the point about Jesusí power to forgive sin but on what the first part of the story, the part about the men digging through the roof to help their paralyzed friend, has to say about the nature of the life of faith. And to do that, we need to look at this story, as we need to look at all Bible stories, not so much literally as metaphorically, as a metaphor of the Christian life of faith.
Whatís going on here? There is a man who is paralyzed. By himself he is helpless. He canít move. He canít, on his own, get to the source of any help or comfort. But he is not alone. He has friends, friends who obviously care about him a great deal. They want to help. Theyíre anxious to help. Theyíre able to help. But I think we can assume that for a long time they didnít know of any way to help. Medicine can hardly treat paralysis, at least paralysis due to nerve damage, in our day, much less in theirs. Then they heard about a miraculous healer, a man who was doing for people what no one else could do. Maybe he could help. And so they lifted their friend up on his pallet (I suppose they didnít even have wheel chairs in those days) and took him to see this miracle worker to be healed.
But what happened when they got there? They couldnít get in! There was a huge crowd around the house blocking their way. They were prevented from getting to the source of healing they sought, prevented from coming to Christ and laying their paralyzed friend at his feet. The easy thing would have been to give up, to go home and say "at least we tried." But these men cared too much about their friend to do that. So they assessed the situation, maybe they had a brainstorming session with people throwing out ideas and someone writing them down on big sheets of paper with a magic marker. How can we get our friend in to see Jesus? Climb through a window? No, the crowd would stop us. Tunnel under the house and up through the floor? Nope, it would take too long. Finally: Iíve got it! Weíll go around the back of the house where the crowd canít see us, climb up on the roof, hoist our friend up there, then dig through the roof and lower him through! Brilliant! Or at least the best they could come up with. And so they did. And when they did, a miracle happened. The real miracle was that Jesus forgave their friend his sins. The more apparent miracle was that Jesus healed the manís paralysis.
We can see this story, I think, as a parable of the life of faith. In a parable, we need to understand the elements of the story not just in their literal sense but as metaphors for other things, things of broader meaning and application than the literal sense has in itself. We start with the man who is paralyzed. Now, physical paralysis is a real problem, but here I want us to see it as a metaphor for all the different kinds of paralysis that affect our lives. The paralysis of sin, for instance. We can get stuck in our sinful ways the same way a person can get stuck in one place by physical paralysis. Sin, after all, in the short run at least, can seem awfully attractive. Itís often not easy to give it up. Or the paralysis of wealth. We get trapped by our comfortable lives. Back in my downtown lawyer days we used to call this phenomenon "golden handcuffs." Not many of us liked what we were doing, by good heavens was the money nice! And so we felt trapped, paralyzed to change our lives. Or maybe weíre just paralyzed by habit. We get stuck in the ruts of our routines so that there is no way for the new thing that God wants to do in our lives to break in. Indeed, there are may ways in which we find ourselves paralyzed. These are things internal to us, things in our bodies or psyches, that keep us from coming to Christ.
There may also be things external to us that get in the way. These are symbolized in our story this morning by the crowd around Jesusí house. All those people, over whom the paralyzed man and his friends had no control, got in the way, were obstacles that had to be overcome if the man was to get the healing he sought. In our lives those may be accessibility issues in our getting to or getting into the church. They may be shortcomings in the church itself. Maybe the church we attended in the past has a theology that no longer fits us, or maybe the sermons are boring, or maybe the people arenít welcoming, or the pastor is aloof and unfriendly. There can be a lot of things external to us that also get in the way of our coming to Christ.
The story this morning, however, has a solution to all of these problems. The solution is symbolized in the story by the friends. The story doesnít call them friends. It calls them "some people." But they were certainly acting like friends, or even like family. I think they symbolize the community of faith. They acted like a community. They acted together to help one of their number who could not get what he needed on his own. They were a community particularly of faith. They had faith that Jesus could do for their friend what needed to be done. So this story is telling us, I think, that the community of faith is essential to us in overcoming the obstacles that keep us from the healing, from the new life, that God continually offers us in Christ Jesus. The man could not walk to Jesusí house. He was paralyzed. Sometimes we canít bring ourselves to come to the Lordís house because we are paralyzed by sin, guilt, or fear. So his friends brought him. They didnít go without him. They didnít sit at Jesusí feet taking in his marvelous Gospel while forgetting their friend in need. They went to their friend, and they found a way around the obstacle that his paralysis had been to his coming to the Lord. When they got to Jesusí house and saw that the way was blocked by yet other obstacles, external obstacles this time, I suppose they could have simply left their friend and worked their own way through the crowd to sit at the feet of the Master. But they didnít do that. They saw their task as not only coming to Jesus for themselves but as making sure their friend, their companion in the community of faith, got there as well. So they got creative. They problem solved. And they found a way around the obstacles to get their friend what he needed.
Friends, in some ways we are both the paralyzed man and the friends who comprise the community of faith. We all have our paralysis. We all have things that keep us from living fully and fully enjoying the benefits of the life of faith. We all see obstacles to our coming to the house of the Lord-other commitments, differences with the pastor, maybe just a desire to sleep in on Sunday morning. Alone perhaps we cannot overcome those obstacles. But our story this morning tells us that together, as the community of faith, we can. If we stick together and look out for one another, no one need be left behind. All can receive the healing they need. Alone we probably canít do it. Together we can.
And so once again I have a challenge for you. Try to discern what your paralysis is. What in your life, whether an inner state of being or an external obstacle, is keep you from living more fully the life of faith to which Christ calls us? When you have answered that question, let us, your friends here in this church, know. We canít serve you, we canít dig that hole through the roof for you, if we donít know what you need. But if we will share our needs with one another, together we will find a way to for each one of us to pick up our pallets and walk more fully the life of Christian faith.