Lenten Symbols Reflection: Traditionally, lilies emerging from the earth in springtime may symbolize new life, and the resurrection of Jesus. Planting seeds in good soil – new life thrives. Planting seeds on the pathway, in thorny soil or on the rocks – new life dies. (Mark 4.1-20)
Sermon: The Healing of the Paralyzed Man – Mark 2.1-12
SETTING THE SCENE. Our passage today begins with a story within a bigger story within a cluster of stories. The cluster of stories focuses on submission. In the first three chapters of Mark we see several stories of submission. A prophet, fishermen, tax collectors and sinners submit to Jesus. Demons and evil spirits submit to Jesus. Fever, sickness, all kinds of diseases, leprosy, paralyzes and a withered hand submits to Jesus. Religious practices of fasting and Sabbath keeping submit to Jesus. Sin submits to Jesus.
The story we heard today highlights the religious legal experts or scribes who were muttering under their breaths. They muttered that Jesus was “insulting God” in the way that he taught and demonstrated forgiveness of sins. Ultimately, they did not submit to Jesus’ authority to forgive sins. The lack of submitting to Jesus’ authority would soon create enough tension in their relationship that they would find a way to have him crucified under the Rome leader Pontus Pilot.
Let’s begin at the beginning of the story.
A NEW HOMETOWN. Last week we were in Capernaum with Jesus at his disciple Simon Peter’s home. After Jesus had healed many from diseases and delivered many from evil spirits, Jesus takes time to get away to a deserted place to be alone in prayer. While he is alone in prayer, he is interrupted by his disciples – everyone is looking for Jesus. It is at that moment that Jesus informs his followers that he must go in the other direction so that he can preach in places.
As we come to our story today we find Jesus returning home after preaching around Galilee. Jesus has been traveling preaching and throwing out demons in the synagogues. News has spread so rapidly that Jesus wasn’t able to enter a town openly. Jesus remained outside in deserted places, even still the people would come to him from everywhere.
Some days later, Jesus came back to Capernaum. The people heard that Jesus was at home. Now most of us remember that Jesus’ parents were from Nazareth (Luke 1.27) and that they traveled to Bethlehem where Jesus was officially born (Mt. 2.1). The parents took Jesus to Egypt to keep him safe during King Herod’s reign when he was killing all the babies (Mt. 2.23). When King Herod dies, his parents return to their hometown of Nazareth (Luke 2.39). When Jesus was in his youth we know that he was still living in Nazareth with his parents (Luke 2.51). But now Jesus has made his home in Capernaum. According to church history, Jesus stayed with Peter in Capernaum during his three years of ministry (Mark 2.1, Matthew 9.1).
In the text today we discover that Jesus has made his home in the small fishing village called Capernaum located by the Sea of Galilee. According to church tradition, Jesus stayed at Simon Peter’s home. It was here that Jesus began his ministry in the town synagogue (Mark 1:21), called his first disciples (Mark 1:16–20), and establishing his authority to forgive sins (Mark 2.1-12).
HOMETOWN CROWDS. There are six key characters that we need to look at today: Jesus the Messiah/Christ, Simon Peter, 4 Friends, a Paralyzed Man that Jesus calls “Child” or “Son,” Scribes or Religious Leaders, and the larger crowd.
HOMETOWN FAITH. Jesus witnessed the faith of the friends and the paralyzed man, and was moved to response. These folks we so desperate to find healing that they ripped the roof off of a home to lower their friend to Jesus. These folks were tenacious. They gave their friend every opportunity to find his healing.
HOMETOWN FORGIVENESS. And, the answer they received went to the very core of the problem: sin. It was Jesus who saw the heart of the issue and addressed. No one had spoken a word to Jesus about the man’s condition. Jesus was simply moved to compassion. Jesus was moved to express deep love for this man. Jesus was touching the heart of the injured man and offering the perfect cure.
It is at the point of cure for sin that Jesus’ authority is challenged by the religious leaders. This cure for sin was not how they understood forgiveness. How could this Jesus exact a cure for sin apart from the traditions of the religious leaders? There was a sacrifice that needed to be made to atone for the person’s sins. There was a ritual and a process. But now this Jesus is saying that he has the authority to forgive sins. Well, that was just blasphemy to the religious leaders. They believed Jesus was insulting the One True God.
But to drive his point home, Jesus teaches that he has the authority to forgive sins and he further demonstrates his authority by inviting the man to get up, take up his mat/bed, and walk/go home. This same story is found in both Matthew 9.6 and Luke 5.24 and emphasizes the fact that Jesus has authority to forgive sins.
HOMETOWN LOVE. The key ingredient in this text is acts of love. Simon Peter opened his home to Jesus and the crowds. The friends bring the paralyzed man to Jesus. When they couldn’t get him to Jesus easily, they took the initiative to do whatever it took to make sure their friend got to Jesus – even ripping a roof off a home. The paralyzed man submitted to his friends desire to get him to Jesus. Nowhere in the text does it say that the paralyzed man asked to be taken to Jesus.
Because of the hospitality of Simon Peter and the friends, Jesus has the opportunity to encounter an injured soul. But let’s not forget that Jesus has made himself available to people. Jesus is moved by love and compassion and extends his grace and mercy to heal from the complications of sin a man’s life.
There’s a lot of love being shared among these folks, but there are some folks there that did not feel the love. They were the religious leaders. They were not impressed by the exchange of love, but muttered amongst themselves.
And, as the man walks home the crowd of people afraid, amazed, and praised God. The crowd did not hear the whole story. They simple saw a man and his friends cutting in line. Watched them dig a hole in someone else’s roof, and disappear inside of the home. The next thing they see are 4 men jumping up and down on a roof, and the paralyzed man walking out into the crowd with his mat – going home. What a bizarre set of circumstances to witness.
ACROSS THE GOSPELS: LOVING MEANS FORGIVING OTHERS. When we look across the Gospels, we read that we are to forgive unconditionally like Jesus did. Our choice to forgive others provides the opportunity for God the Father to forgive us (Matt. 6.14 and John 20.23). When we choose to release others from their sinful debt, then we have healing in our own hearts toward God, our selves, and neighbor.
WHERE DOES LOVE FIND YOU? I can imagine each of us has been all of these folks at someone in our lives.
PETER. We have offered hospitality like Simon Peter, and found our home (church) trashed by visitors – like the youth on Wednesday nights. It’s easy to get caught up in frustration when you offer hospitality that pushes you beyond your comfort zone. Simon Peter was sinned against, but he had to deal with the fact that Jesus was not disturbed by the fact that he was going to have to make remains to a leaky roof. These four friends had destroyed his property – intentionally. Jesus forgave unconditionally. We are called to forgive unconditionally.
FRIENDS. We have stuck our neck out for our friends in hopes that they would come to know Jesus. We have invited them to events and they have come. But we are not sure they got the healing they needed. But we hope they would get the healing like this paralyzed man. We’ve invited them to church in hopes they would find Jesus, and some folks do.
PARALYSIS. We have been bound to our beds with illness from time to time, and we have prayed to be healed. But healing does not often come instantaneous like this paralyzed man in our story. What we don’t want to forget is that this man suffered from paralysis for sometime before he was healed. Sometimes healing takes time, but it often begins with the forgiveness of our sins.
MUTTERERS. We have been the muttering leaders who questioned someone else’s actions in the church perhaps even their forgiveness and unconditional love toward someone you felt didn’t deserve to be accepted. Sometimes it’s hard to love unconditionally, and to forgive freely as Christ has forgiven us.
CROWD. We have been the crowd who has stood by and watched as others have made their way to Jesus and found their healing. Sometimes it seems like others have cut in line ahead of us when we really thought they were behind us. We watched in awe and amazement as their lives have been lived out transformed before us. Yet, in the back of our minds we still wonder what that was all about. Did they really have an encounter with Jesus?
JESUS. And, we have been Jesus to others extending grace and mercy to someone who would not otherwise have a chance at living.
LIVE TRANSFORMED. We can see in each of these characters, yet we know that the Gospel aims at transforming us from where we are to something better. As we ponder this story let our aim be to allow God’s transforming love to change us from where we are to where we need to be. Transformation is a choice you and I have each moment of every day. Wesley calls that Sanctification. It’s really all about love. Jesus teaches us that we are to love God and our neighbors as ourselves. Our story today demonstrates love as hospitality, friendship, and unconditional forgiveness. I invite you to go and do likewise this week. Show hospitality. Live in friendship. Forgive your neighbor as yourself.