The gospel passage from the Revised Common Lectionary for today comes from Mark 2:1-12. Some may wonder what would possess a pastor to use the “Lectionary” living in a tradition generally disposed to selecting a text at random to exegete, follow on in a series centering on a particular subject, or verse-by-verse – book-by-book method for sermon preparation. I refer you to a piece by Chris Erdman. He also offers some great thoughts here. We began utilizing the Christian Seasons and the Lectionary nearly a year ago. (My tendency for more than fifteen years followed the pattern of my mentor who preached through a different book each service. For example, he may preach through Romans in the morning services and through Exodus in the evening services.) Weather forced us to cancel services and so I thought I would offer some thoughts on the text I we would have hosted this morning.
I remember growing up learning the story of the four who brought their friend to Jesus to be healed. Our Sunday School teacher re-created the story by making a cardboard house with a cut out in the roof through which we could let down a small cot/pallet. Fascinated by the distinct architecture that would allow such a feat kept enchanted us at the lengths to which someone would go to get a friend to Jesus. More than 30 years later, the story still intrigues me. Living in pitched roof houses with ceiling joists not to mention rafters or trusses distances us from the ingenuity displayed by the men in the story.
Mark, the gospel writer, unpacks his “thesis” statement, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” connecting important themes and illustrating through poignant contrasts. Last Sunday, Jason pointed out Mark’s distinction between healing and cleansing in the account of the leper near the end of chapter one. Cleansing the leper meant restoration. Exiled from family, community and the Temple meant a painful disconnect from life giving relationships.
The story of the paralytic presses us to consider more than a”proforma” faith. Today we suffer from expressionless faith; something little more than formality. Poll after poll illustrates little personal difference between those claiming faith in Jesus and those who do not. This in itself offers a staggering critique of both the message and the method declaring the Gospel of God today. Too many quickly dismiss any value in deconstruction. We spend too much time offering apologies to our critics that we find little time to be “self-critical.” Yet, if we consider the condition we are in we cannot help but underscore the need for something beyond a private faith with little reflective transformation.
Consider the possible conversations the five men must have had prior to attending the newly forming “church’ in Capernaum. We know Jesus’ home was Nazareth. How is it we now find it in Capernaum? Could this be the creation of a new “household” of faith? could Jesus be the One? What does it mean, “When Jesus saw their faith?” Some believe this refers to the four men. Others think it applies to the five. What exactly did Jesus see?
The men exhibited a very public faith. Socially the paralytic was as good as dead. He could not provide for himself. He could not transport himself. He needed “resurrection.” Letting their friend down through the roof illustrated their confidence in Jesus. This was no timid maneuver. Connecting the cleansing of the leper to the forgiveness declared to the paralytic may well dispel the notion the man’s condition was a consequence of his sin much like Jesus did with the man born blind in John 9. The issue was one of the authority of the King – King Jesus. In the short span of the first chapter and the first twelve verses of the second we find the authority of the King over a man possessed by an evil spirit, illness represented by fever, leprosy (and so outcasts) and paralysis (and so death).
Jesus points to the obedience of faith – and, it is public. For too long our fears of associating any “work” with faith implied an “earning” unsupported by Scripture. We would do well to re-establish the relationship Jesus underscores between faith and action. Faith seen expresses obedience to the King who is the Promised One of God. Jesus’ reordering of life around himself and the regular subversion of the religious leadership of his day, as evidenced by, “”Stand up, take your mat, and go home,” calls us to the roof. We ought find Jesus reordering our lives so in a very public fashion he reigns over us.