This morning we continue our trek through the gospel of Mark and much to our surprise we hear about Jesus healing people. Now, there’s a surprise. (Pause for suitable gasps from the audience). Oh, I wasn’t supposed to read that out loud, was I?
It isn’t much of a surprise that Jesus is healing since that is what he has been doing a great deal of thus far in Mark. It’s one of the fun parts about Mark, he definitely dives right into Jesus’ ministry and outreach.
I like Mark’s literary style here. In the last half of chapter one that we talked about last week, Jesus is healing by exclamation points. There’s not much of a backstory to many of the healings, Mark just notes that Jesus healed a fever from this woman, cast out a demon from this man, and continues to move along smartly through several instances of healing this and healing that.
Here in the first part of the second chapter Mark takes a moment to develop a story around a healing event. It’s one of my favorites as we hear about a group of people so committed to their paralyzed friend that when they can’t get to see Jesus through the crowd at the front door that they take him, on his stretcher no less, and create a top door. I don’t know. I might have given some thought to going to the back door but that probably doesn’t have quite the literary impact. I mean really, there’s nothing like hacking a hole in the roof OF SOME RANDOM PERSON’S HOUSE to get our attention.
Then they lower the man down. Mark makes this sound so easy but there’s a skill to that. When I was a volunteer fireman 30 years ago we practiced stretcher lowering from the roof of the fire station. We’d strap one of our fellow fireman into a basket stretcher, like the kind you see in mountain rescues, and we’d lower him down to the ground. Hopefully without getting the basket stretcher spinning because if we did, we would have a very angry and dizzy, not to mention airsick, fellow firefighter when they unstrapped him from the stretcher. So it’s kind of a big deal both, that they rip a hole in the roof AND they lower him down. Without making him angry or dizzy. Or airsick.
We haven’t even gotten to the healing part yet.
Now that Mark has our attention with roof rippings and stretcher lowerings, he doesn’t take his foot off the gas. You would expect for Jesus to lay his hands upon the man and tell him he’s healed and to carry on his merry way. But noooooo…. That’s not what happens at all. Rather than curing his paralysis, Jesus forgives him.
Holy plot twist, Batman!
This is a detail that’s easy to forget. I’ve heard the story many times and in my mind I jump from the hole in the roof to the man rolling up his mat and walking away, healed by Jesus’ hands. A neat and tidy approach to proclaiming Jesus’ ministry. I have a tendency to forget that there is a critical piece of the story that really, the whole plot pivots on. And that is the scribes raising a fuss about Jesus forgiving sins.
We haven’t even gotten to the healing part yet.
The scribes, or what we might call the church staff or church officials, are aghast that Jesus is pronouncing the forgiveness of sins as only God can do that. And yet here Jesus is, challenging the way things are supposed to be done by announcing forgiveness for the paralyzed man. This is likely to make things interesting.
And then, finally, at long last, with much ado, Jesus heals the man’s paralysis, tells him to pick up his mat, and away he goes.
There’s two things I want to say about that. 1) I think it’s pretty funny that people find it easier to go along with a miraculous healing than in forgiveness. Jesus heals the man from his paralysis and no one says a thing. Oh look, this guy just healed a paralyzed man. Whatevs. But try to forgive the same guy and they raise all kinds of ruckus. And 2) why did Jesus tell him to take his mat with him? To keep things neat and tidy in a room that just had its roof ripped off? Probably not.
In the forgiveness part we have a clear statement of what Jesus is about. He’s come to change things up a little bit. The religious authorities sincerely believe that they have the correct path to forgiveness through God’s action. It is they who hold the keys to the gate that leads to forgiveness and they will work fervently to protect the people’s proper access to forgiveness through them. This upstart miracle working healer must be challenged with his new fangled forgiveness for all business.
They also question the people he hangs out with. When he eats with sinners and tax collectors they get kind of excited and try to discredit him again. Sinners and tax collectors are not good people and aren’t to be associated with. This upstart miracle working healer must be challenges with his new fangled forgiveness for all business.
There’s a new savior in town and things are going to be different. A savior that would come to town and proclaim the kingdom of God in ways that would threaten the status quo. A savior that would challenge the given authority in such as way that he would be crucified for his message. And a savior that would be resurrected three days later. There’s a new savior in town and things are going to be different.
Things are going to be different and things need to change but Jesus is careful with this. We don’t reject old things and old ways because they’re old. They are the foundation for whatever follows. That’s what the mat is doing. The man came in on his mat and is taking his mat with him. It is a metaphor for his faith that has sustained him as a paralyzed man and will continue with him even as he has been healed.
Wisdom, not to mention Jesus, suggests that we combine the old things that still work and the new ideas that have promise as we step into the world in our faith. The old things bring a solid foundation and wisdom and the new things bring energy and new ideas. That doesn’t mean doing things the same way all the time and it doesn’t mean trying whatever the latest fad by some church guru came up with. It does mean keeping our hearts and minds open to the possibilities that the Holy Spirit is laying before us.