I Am the Paralyzed Man

NOTE: The sermon series coordinated with "Thirty Discipleship Exercises: The Pathway to Christian Maturity" will resume January 7, 2001. Most of our small groups will be taking a holiday break between Thanksgiving and the New Year.

I want to read you a familiar story from the life of Jesus. It is the story of a miraculous healing. It has some rather unusual features and raises some interesting questions. I don't know how to resolve all those issues — either to my own satisfaction or to yours. But the event also affirms something very central to Christian faith that we can all see and embrace. It is this central affirmation which is sometimes overlooked in our wrestling with the story that I want to make the morning's focus.

The Gospel of Mark opens with the identification of Jesus as the Son of God at John's baptism, tells of his forty-day temptation struggle with Satan, and records the calling of his first disciples. Then, only twenty verses into the first chapter of his Gospel, Mark relates an opening series of miracles. Jesus drives out an evil spirit (1:21-28), heals Peter's mother-in-law from a debilitating fever (1:29-31), heals "many who had various diseases" and "drove out many demons" (1:32-34). It seems to me that these stories are placed in the book's opening lines to establish the identity, power, and authority of Jesus. These are his attestations from the Father for all he will be, say, and do in Mark's Gospel.

At the end of chapter one, Jesus takes pity on a man with leprosy. "If you are willing, you can make me clean," said the leper. "I am willing," Jesus replied. "Be clean!" And it was so. What a dramatic tale of someone who had long been excluded from family, synagogue, and the larger community because of his quarantine due to a loathsome and feared disease. In order to secure the poor man's readmission to society, Jesus told him to go to the priest, offer the purification sacrifices commanded in the Law of Moses, and receive permission to resume his life. Strangely, however, he also told him, "See that you don't tell this [miracle of healing] to anyone."

Guess what? The healed leper turned out to be a blabbermouth! He must have told everyone on his way to the Temple, as he left that holy place, and as he explained his return home to family and friends. The fame of Jesus spread like wildfire! People came from everywhere to find him and seek a healing — so many, in fact, that he had to slip away to "lonely places" for solitude and sanity. As he came back to Peter's hometown one day, this is what happened:

A 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 and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven."

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?"

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 the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins...." He said to the paralytic, "I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home." 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!" (Mark 2:1-12; cf. Luke 5:17-26).
A Customary Teaching Point

The point I have most often heard emphasized from this event is this: We should be like this man's friends who took him to Christ. I have no quarrel with bringing people to Jesus Christ! The church is called to be evangelistic, and that means that you and I are called to tell our family, friends, and neighbors the Good News of Jesus.

Isn't it wonderful to have someone who cares about you — especially when you've given up on yourself? One possibility in this story is that the paralytic had heard of Jesus and persuaded four people to carry him to the Nazarene healer. Another is that some of his friends had heard of Jesus and taken it upon themselves to get him to the Son of God. Can't you just visualize it? These four guys come to the place where the paralyzed man was — perhaps at his regular begging site — and pick up the corners of the mat on which he was lying. Gives a whole new meaning to our "Pick you up at 6 o'clock," doesn't it?

I don't know how much they tried to explain to him. Maybe he was bewildered and even a bit frightened by what they were doing. Maybe he thought his friends had lost their minds. Yes, I suspect they were friends rather than persons prevailed upon by him. Would hired help have gone to the lengths they did? Climb up on the roof? Tear a hole in the roof? Run the risk of reproach from Jesus and the owner of the house (It would be a lawsuit risk today!) for what they were doing?

Every Lone Ranger needs a Tonto, every Batman his Robin, every Don Quixote needs a Sancho Panza — and every human being needs a true friend or two. Not many of us are the "rugged individualists" we sometimes want to think we are. We can't stand alone against all odds. We need someone to take our side. We want someone to cover our backs. We want someone to care enough about us to take us to the source of truth and life. Church, we are interconnected by the Father's love. I need you, and you need me. I am part of your life, and you are part of mine. We are the body of Christ in the world. And there are people around us who are still in pain and paralyzed by things that have happened to them. They need us to care enough about them to bring them to Jesus.

As important as this point is, it isn't my focus today. It begins at least one person too late. Let's begin with the paralyzed man himself — and key in on what he sought and found in Jesus.

The Paralyzed Man

When the paralyzed man was brought to Jesus, Immanuel said, "Son, your sins are forgiven." What in the world did he mean by that? Was he paralyzed because of something stupid he had done? Had he gotten drunk, fallen off somebody else's roof, and broken his back? I don't know.

What we do know from other places in the Gospels is that Jesus didn't buy the idea so common at the time that suffering is always the result of sin. The blind man of John 9 wasn't blind because of either his own sin or that of his parents (v.3). Jesus warned against thinking that people who had experienced a fatal accident or injustice were "getting what they deserve" at Luke 13:1-5.

Having said all this about Jesus' attitude about sin and suffering, the fact remains that the two are often linked together in Scripture. In several biblical texts, forgiveness and healing are synonymous terms. "If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land" (2 Chron. 7:14). According to Psalm 103:3, Yahweh is the one "who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases."

So what shall we make of this? Maybe the commentator is correct who writes: "Jesus' pronouncement of pardon is the recognition that man can be genuinely whole only when the breach occasioned by sin has been healed through God's forgiveness of sins."[1] Or perhaps this writer has found the point: "The insight is that there is indeed a close and age-old connexion [sic] between man's fallen estate and everything that afflicts him, with the further implication that God's will is for man's wholeness, or completeness in every aspect of his being."[2]

Or perhaps the truth to take away from this text is this:

The healing Jesus works changes the questions that are normally asked when suffering or misfortune strikes. Instead of asking, "Who did this to me?" or "Why did this happen?" one needs to ask, "Who is this who offers forgiveness, healing, and salvation?" and "What does his presence in our lives mean?" . . . The universe need no longer be regarded as a hostile place, under siege from invading malevolent forces. God's love and grace reign supreme.[3]
But perhaps it is something this simple: Jesus saw the man as human and worth loving. Against all the negative, deprecating, and abusive messages that had been hurled at him by life, Jesus looked at him as a child to be welcomed to their Father's table.

In the Levitical statutes about the priesthood, one finds this text:

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to Aaron and say: No one of your offspring throughout their generations who has a blemish may approach to offer the food of his God. For no one who has a blemish shall draw near, one who is blind or lame, or one who has a mutilated face or a limb too long, or one who has a broken foot or a broken hand, or a hunchback, or a dwarf, or a man with a blemish in his eyes or an itching disease or scabs or crushed testicles. No descendant of Aaron the priest who has a blemish shall come near to offer the Lord's offerings by fire; since he has a blemish, he shall not come near to offer the food of his God. He may eat the food of his God, of the most holy as well as of the holy. But he shall not come near the curtain or approach the altar, because he has a blemish, that he may not profane my sanctuaries; for I am the Lord; I sanctify them (Lev. 21:16-23, NRSV).
Lepers, the blind, paralyzed men — all were excluded. All were barred from the best and holiest of privileges. All were shut out. Thus they were always on the margins of society. The best they could hope to experience was the occasional kindness of someone who — perhaps without even looking in their direction — would toss a coin that would sustain a miserable life for one more day. But to what purpose?

But when Jesus comes onto the scene, speaks the words of heavenly welcome, and gives divine pardon, the barriers are broken down. He has the ability to restore us to perfect health by lifting not only the weight of crippling or pain but the crushing load of our guilt as well. He heals relationships with God, others, and self. He sets things right!

Conclusion

Any of the several physicians in this room will tell you that the greatest pain of their patients is not the cancer, the legs that won't work, or the eyes that can't see. The greatest pain a human being can experience is deep in the spirit. It is melancholy and depression. It is alienation and fear. It is the paralysis of rejection and the crippling of sin. And there isn't a surgery, injection, or physical therapy that can deal with these enemies of the human personality. It takes the Great Physician and his message of love and acceptance, pardon and hope, release and readmission to community.

I look out and see a paralyzed woman and want to cry, "Your sins are forgiven. Take up your bed and walk!" I see a man immobilized, stuck, unable to move. His little corner of the world is a mat he sees as his tiny, isolated corner. His only comfort is to stay confined there. I want to scream for him to hear: "Your sins are forgiven. Take up your bed and walk! Loose your tongue and tell the world about the ability of Jesus to forgive sins, heal brokenness, and open the door to a new life!"

In this story as I read it today, I am not the friend bringing someone to Jesus. I am the paralytic. I am frozen and isolated. I am stuck and lifeless. By the kindness of godly parents, the proclamation of the gospel to my heart, and your affirmation of the truth of that message to me, I have heard the call to be healed — and have found it to be authentic and trustworthy. I can bear witness to you out of my own failure and depression, my own sin and isolation, my own fear of death and greater fear of life.

Our Lord begins where we would never begin, at the point of human destitution. The greatest blessing a man ever gets from God is the realization that, if he is going to enter into His Kingdom, it must be through the door of destitution. Naturally we do not want to begin there; that is why the appeal of Jesus is of no use until we come face to face with realities; then the only One worth listening to is the Lord.[4]
Jesus' words are true. They are life. They take you to the Father. And they are for you as well. If you identify with the paralytic today, please hear him speaking his forgiveness, healing, and acceptance to you now!

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[1]William L. Lane, The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), p. 94.

[2]Anderson, Hugh, The Gospel of Mark, p. 100; quoted in David E. Garland, The NIV Application Commentary: Mark (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996), p. 98.

[3]Garland, Gospel of Mark, pp. 98-99.

[4]Oswald Chambers in He Shall Glorify Me, as quoted in Christianity Today (Vol. 31, no. 8).

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