Preached at talk 3 of 3 at the Greater Things Conference for students in L’viv, Ukraine.
Jesus Heals a Paralytic
2 When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2 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. 3 Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4 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. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6 Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7 “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 8 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? 9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’? 10 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— 11 “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” 12 And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”
They were determined to get their friend access to Jesus. To have such strong determination or perseverance you’ve got to have something within you or around you that spurs you on. For some, it’s the dream, their heart’s desire, for others it’s the support of family and friends cheering at home, for others it’s the memory of someone or an important event that keeps them going, and for others it’s their faith – faith in themselves and in their own community.
This morning we’re going to look at people who went the extra mile or went the distance to help a friend. The thing that spurred them on and gave them the strength to keep going, was their faith. Faith in God. Faith in the healing power of Jesus.
Remember the leper? In Mark chapter 1, verses 40 – 45. “40 A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling* he said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ 41Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’ 42Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 43After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, 44saying to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.’ 45But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.”
The leper proclaimed his healing freely and spread the word. It reminds me of Acts 4:20 that says, “We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” His life was changed, and he could not suppress the Good News inside of him. The Good News that Jesus had seen him and healed him.
So, thanks to the proclamation of the former Leper, Jesus had a full house when he got home. Another section only in Mark, “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.”
So where is this located in Jesus’ ministry? It’s still pretty early. He’s been preaching for about a year. Luke 4 tells us that when Jesus went back to Nazareth, after his baptism and temptation in the wilderness, he was so thoroughly rejected by the people that he grew up with, so he left Nazareth and made Capernaum, which was a fishing village on the Sea of Galilee, his home base for the three years of his public ministry.
Okay, so now we know where he was and how he got there, and we also know why the word had spread. This home was so crowded that it was standing-room-only. People in the United States for the most part are avid movie watchers. So when I was a teenager the nearest movie theater was an hour away by car, so we would pile in to my mother’s mini-van, squeezing in every person we could. The most people we got in at one time is 14 by folding down the backseat and fitting 8 people on it and the most it would legally hold is 7. It was ridiculous, but we wanted to get every person we possibly could in there. And that was for a movie. Not for getting a chance to hear Jesus speak the word. Needless to say, the place was packed.
The people were, whether they knew it or not, there to worship God and hear God, in the person of Jesus, “speak the word.” Maybe they were curious about the crowd or what all the fuss was about. Maybe they had heard about his healing of the leper and they wanted to see this Jesus, this healer. Maybe they didn’t quite understand how they had gotten there – whether with a friend or a neighbor or just randomly walking over.
While the crowd struggled to get closer to Jesus, these four men came bringing a paralyzed man on a stretcher. A friend recently visited what was then Capernaum, in his group included a couple of people in wheelchairs and he noticed that even today, Capernaum is not an easy place in which to maneuver if you are disabled. The roads are not paved smoothly, stairs and vertical rises make it difficult to get around, and you really have to rely on your friends to help you travel there if you can’t walk.
If you had been in their place, what would you have done if you had arrived at the house and seen all those people crowded and overflowing out into the street? You might think – hey we must be in the right place – what a great thing is going on here. Or would you sit back and wait for the crowd to leave? Would you think – let’s just go home. We’ll never get in. We’ll try again the next time he’s in town.
If they had quit at this point, they would have a really good reason for going home. But these guys were determined. They had heard that a healer was in town and they want to bring their friend healing. They were on a mission. They had to see Jesus.
Who do you say that I am?
These men believed that Jesus was the Great Healer, God come to earth, the Son of Man.
Matthew 11:4-5 “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.”
This was a bold move of faith.
These four men weren’t thinking of themselves. They did not need a miracle for themselves, but they had a friend who did. They went to a whole lot of trouble to get him the help that he needed. Because he was important to them and they cared about him.
Thoughts on friendship:
• A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.
• Everyone hears what you say. Friends listen to what you say. Best friends listen to what you don’t say.
• A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words.
A friend perseveres.
This wasn’t an easy task. It’s not like they thought – oh, cool a crowd – let’s jump up on the roof, lower him through and call it a day. In Palestine, the roofs were flat. They would be used for rest and quiet, for drying clothes and storing things. In 1 Kings 17, we read about Elijah living on the roof. In Acts 10, Peter is up on the roof praying. So generally there were stairs going up along an outside wall. Although they were determined, and possibly had outside stairs, they weren’t supermen. This wasn’t easy.
They actually had to tear up the roof to let him down. I never noticed that or remembered that before from this passage, and part of that is because in the accounts of this story in Matthew and Luke, they don’t say that they had to dig through the roof. To me, though, there’s something really powerful and special about them having to actually dig through and get dirty to help make this miracle happen.
According to some scholars, the roof was usually made of beams about 3 feet apart. These beams would be filled with twigs, then packed with clay and covered with dirt. So as you can probably imagine, as these four are pulling away chunks of clay, bits of dirt, and dried leaves are falling all over those below.
And the people who stood in the room, who most likely had some small rubble or debris dropped on their heads were no doubt probably a little upset. The men had to know this when they concocted their plan. They risked a lot because they had faith in who Jesus is and what a tremendous impact he could have on the life of their friend.
I wonder what Jesus was doing during this creation of a skylight in his home? Does he stop speaking the word or does he just continue going just like a preacher does when there’s many distractions during church? Does he stop and watch maybe with an amused look on his face, or does he began to shake his head and chuckle to himself at the enthusiasm or boldness of these guys?
How would you feel if you were one of the crowd? You’re sitting there during an exhilarating afternoon listening to Jesus, when all of a sudden some crazy guys start tearing open the roof over your head and get you all dirty. You waited and maneuvered a while to get your spot in the house, and here these people are skipping all the steps to get to the front of the line. Or more appropriately, through the roof!
I think sometimes we see the obstacles and how much it will cost us or offend other people, and we go ahead and decide what’s not going to work and who’s not going to respond and what and why something can’t be done. And we’re defeated or making excuses before we even start. Before we even get off the ground. Or get up the steps carrying our friend. We decide that we know best and it totally won’t work.
I’m not saying that God doesn’t want us to use our brains or that we should not reason out the situation first, but I am saying, that sometimes the impossible is made possible. God does work miracles. Bring the dead to life. Give sight to the blind. Heal the leper. So in continuation of that, God calls us to also envision the possibilities to see miracles around our community and world. We’re called to dream and work to make miracles a reality as the hands and feet of God. Just as we did this afternoon, feeding the hungry and helping any way we can in the cause of the revolution. God’s work is done by people who believe in the power of God, who do what they can, relying on God to supply the rest.
The central ingredient is faith, and faith is so important to this story, both as the motivation of these men that empowered their determination and as the starter for Jesus’ healing of the paralytic. Four short words in verse 5, “Jesus saw their faith.” Most people would say, “You can’t ‘see’ faith. Faith isn’t in the physical, visible realm.” But it is. And Jesus saw the faith of these four men. Their faith was evident. It shone through their actions.
These four friends had the faith to believe that Jesus would welcome them and that Jesus could change their friend’s life. What a gamble. They took a bold step of faith to make sure their friend had a chance for healing.
Their friend couldn’t walk – so they carried him.
The crowd blocked their path and access to Jesus – they went around or by passed them.
The roof was in the way – they ripped a hole in it.
They are people on a mission. They were determined. Spiritually and physically they were determined.
Verse 5 says, “when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” They had faith, Jesus saw it, and did the miracle and worked the healing that they had faith would take place.
Do we have that kind of spiritual determination? We all have people we know, friends, neighbors, co-workers, family members who are in need of healing. What are we doing to be present with them in that often lonely and desperate place? Sometimes we need to intercede, whether by prayer, through encouragement, or by our actions.
I wonder, if the salvation of the people around me depended on my faith and my direct actions, how much more seriously and intentionally I would take my time with God and the Christian community and to what extent would I live out my faith?
Sometimes it means doing what one writer calls, “getting your hands dirty in other people’s lives.”
James writes in chapter 2 verses 14 thru 16, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if a person claims to have faith but has no deeds?…Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?”
God loves us so much that God took extreme measures to provide an opportunity for healing for each one of us. God loves us so much that God came and dwelt among us showing us and providing us with that healing. God loves us so much that God draws us to God’s self, guiding us and leading us.
As the body of Christ today, as I shared last night, we have to use our particular gifts that God has given each of us to show God’s love to the world. Some in the body are particularly gifted to service or prophesy or exhortation or whatever it is that God has called you. In Romans 12:15, Paul wrote, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with them that weep.” In other words, we are to care for one another. To love one another. To truly empathize and connect with the other. This connection means that we move outside of the box of our own concerns and problems and become open and present to the needs of the other, the community around us.
What a tremendous difference it would make if we would just spend a bit of each day looking for someone who has a need. How do we meet these needs? How do we intercede? By both meeting physical needs, like the feeding ministry or sorting the first aid supplies, but also spiritual needs. Our lives truly lived are how the world knows God. Imperfect as we may be, the world needs to know that we’ve all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
Lawrence Kushner in Honey from the Rock writes, “We understand that ordinary people are messengers of the Most High. They go about their tasks in holy anonymity. Often, even unknown to themselves. Yet, if they had not been there, if they had not said what they said or did what they did, it would not be the way it is now. We would not be the way we are now. Never forget that you too yourself may be a messenger.”
We are all new creations in Christ Jesus and the transformation doesn’t stop there. John Wesley believed in God’s prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying grace. In prevenient grace, God draws us to God’s self even before we know it, in God’s justifying grace, we see that Jesus died for us – for you and me – and that becomes real to us, and in God’s sanctifying grace, God does not leave us as we are. God makes all things new. Once we’re Christians, the work doesn’t end at the point of salvation. It’s only just begun. We are continually striving to be more like Christ, walking in his ways as disciples and sharing the personality of Jesus. You don’t snap your fingers and become perfect or a perfect example of the Christian faith. It’s a continual process, a life-long journey, where you will inevitably stumble and fall. Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven. God’s grace extends to all people, you just have to ask for it.
Ann Lamott, who is a former addict and alcoholic, writes, in her book Traveling Mercies, “It’s funny: I always imagined when I was a kid that adults had some kind of inner toolbox, full of shiny tools: the saw of discernment, the hammer of wisdom, the sandpaper of patience. But then when I grew up, I found that life handed you these rusty, bent, old tools – friendships, prayer, conscience, honesty – and said, Do the best you can with these, they will have to do. And mostly, against all odds, they’re enough.”
Do the best you can with the gifts God has given YOU and they will be MORE than enough. Wesley encourages, “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.” May we be lights in the world sharing Christ’s light with everyone we encounter. Archbishop Desmond Tutu writes, “Good is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate; light is stronger than darkness; life is stronger than death. Victory is ours, through him who loves us.” Let me repeat that. John 1:5 says, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.”
Let us pray…Holy God, may you give us the courage to step out in faith like the four friends did. May you give us to share our lights with all the world. May you reassure us that we don’t have to be perfect to receive your grace. We can do no thing to earn your love and grace. May we feel secure that you’re making all things new and may we feel your love and grace for each of us. May your Holy Spirit rest upon the Ukraine right now and all of us gathered in this place that we would unite with the prayers of all of the world gathered earnestly seeking your presence and your movement. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.