In Mark 2:1-13, four men bring a paralyzed man to Jesus to be healed. It was hard work (have you ever tried to carry a man on a litter?) and when they got to the house where Jesus was staying, their work got even harder because the crowd wouldn’t let them in. So they did what any desperate, loving, enterprising friends would do: climbed the home’s outside steps, dug through the thatch-and-earth roof, and lowered their friend down on the mat.
Picture yourself in the house while this is going on: it’s small (let’s say 25′ square) and cramped with people sitting all around – on benches, a table, the floor. It’s hot, with the warm stench of sweaty bodies permeating the still air. What cooling breeze might otherwise come through the open window and door is being blocked by the bodies crowding both openings, straining to hear the words of the itinerant preacher/healer. You strain to hear his words over the din of voices outside as they repeat short phrases to be passed backward to the growing visitors. A commotion distracts you briefly, then settles back down. Moments later the sound of footsteps on the stairs…then on the roof.
Dust begins to float down and you, like others in the room, find yourself looking up to the ceiling as the dust turns to bits of thatch, then small chunks of dirt, then larger chunks. You can’t look up anymore without getting dirt in your eyes and mouth. Before too long, a stick breaks through, followed by a streak of sunlight. By now, all attention in the room has been directed upward; even the preacher has stopped. Chunks of roof begin to fall as those sitting below the growing hole struggle to stand and move out of the way. Soon there is a gaping hole and the four intruders are seen, their faces smeared with sweat and dirt, their hands scratched and bleeding. Finally, they step to one side of the hole, bend over, and in a moment a burden-laden mat is being lowered through the hole – a man. A murmer works its way through the crowd as men and women squeeze to make room for this new stranger.
The words of the preacher have been all but forgotten as the mat is lowered gently to the bare earth floor of the house. The bewildered murmurs of the crowd still as ears strain to hear what he will say.
“Son, your sins are forgiven.”
Wait. Let’s stop the story right here. Here’s a guy who’s been paralyzed for – we don’t know how long. His friends have struggled to get him in front of this Jesus, whose reputation for healing diseases and casting out demons has already won him widespread acclaim and hosts of groupies. The paralytic is laying helpless and limp on the floor while his friends, still wiping sweat from their brows, are looking down through the skylight they just made, waiting…for a miracle, for their friend to stand and walk out with them.
And the preacher says something about forgiveness?! Their minds spin, myriad thoughts colliding with each other, expectations unmet, hopes dashed.
How would you feel? You come to Jesus with needs. Real needs: unemployment has pushed you to the brink of homelessness; a brain tumor has taken your wife to the edge of the grave; the desperate search for your missing son has turned up no clues. Faint with weeping, you collapse at Jesus’ feet in desperate hope. And all you hear is, “you’re forgiven.”
Is that enough? Was that enough for the paralytic? While the religious leaders argued theology with Jesus, the man on the mat is left to wonder if a clean soul outweighs his lifeless legs. Will forgiveness satisfy? Can forgiveness satisfy?
Jesus has turned his attention from the paralytic to the scribes (they’re the really smart religious people who knew the Scriptures really well). They’re aghast at his claim to forgive sins – that’s a job for God and God alone, so this wandering healer/preacher ought to be stoned for blasphemy! But Jesus challenges them: “What’s easier, to say ‘your sins are forgiven’ or to say, ‘get up and walk’?”
Okay, really, just saying one is as easy as saying the other. But Jesus, still talking to the scribes, says, “let me prove that I have the authority to forgive sins.” Then he turns his attention back to the man and says, “get up, take your bed, and go home.” And he does; gasps fill the air as the man sits for the first time in who-knows-how-long; shock and surprise murmur through the crowd as he bends knees that haven’t bent in years, puts bare feet on the dirt and, with the untested strength of a desperate hope, slowly rises. Muscles, tendons, ligaments…and faith work together seamlessly as he bends over, picks up the mat, and slowly steps from the house.
Eight jubilant feet rush down the stairs outside and run to their friend. But he – like the scribes still in the house – is silent, bewildered, wondering.
Forgiven? Healed? Is it enough?