SATURDAY AFTER 2 PENTECOST — 2020
Hello! this is the Saturday after the Second Sunday after Pentecost, and this will be my last meditation in this series that The Rev. Alan Neale and I have been doing for three months or more for the people we serve at Trinity Church, Newport, RI. Alan+ will include some next week.
On Thursday I wrote and recorded a piece from Luke’s gospel on the healing of a centurion’s servant. Obviously, as a foreigner, a Roman, the centurion would have been mistrusted by most of the people within the area he administered, but that was not so with this man. The point of the story was that Jesus was willing to heal a man on the basis of someone else’s affection for him and their hope and commitment. Today I want to reflect on another story of someone being healed because of the faith and hope and intercession of those who loved him. The story is recorded in the Gospel according to Mark, and very early in that gospel. Please listen [Mk 2:1-12]:
When Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic—“I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” And he stood up and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” The Word of the Lord.
Several years ago when talking about this story I realized how it would make a perfect half hour sitcom. Think of it. The four guys come together and they want to do something helpful for their friend who is paralyzed, and they hear that Jesus has come to town. Perfect. We’ll make a stretcher with two poles and some canvas, put his mat on it and then put him on it, and then take him to Jesus, so he can lay hands on him.
Just a minute; I said the guy is paralyzed, not in a coma. He is wide awake while they are talking about moving him around on that stretcher. “You guys won’t drop me, will you? I mean, all I need is a broken arm in addition to this paralysis.” “Just relax; we’ll get you to Jesus just fine,” says one of his friends.
So, off they go, making a few smart-aleck comments about his weight and the extra matzoh ball soup he ate last night. One of them stumbles, then regains his footing, but you can imagine that is pretty unnerving for the paralytic.
When they get to the house where Jesus is staying, it is packed, and many people are standing within and outside the door, blocking entry completely. The guys are stumped. What to do next?
Then Sol, the smart one, sees two ladders lying on the ground next to a neighboring house, and he gets an idea. “Hey, guys, you see those two ladders over there? We can lean them against Jesus’ house one stretcher-length apart and carry Simon up to the roof.” “You’re going to do what?” yells Simon, but the guys think Sol’s idea is pretty good and they are determined. And Simon can’t fight them off or he may make everything so unstable that they do drop him.
Barnabas says, “Wait a minute guys; we really have to coordinate this. We can’t take him up there without talking through the plan.” “But I don’t want to go up on the roof,” wails Simon. “Shut up,” says Thomas, “we’re here to help you whether you like it or not. So Barnabas spells it out. “OK, you two guys on the left will hold the head and foot end of the stretcher, and as you are climbing the ladder, lean way back so you can keep that side as low as possible. Sol and I will follow up the same ladders and hold our side as high as possible. That way we can keep him level so he doesn’t roll off to the ground below.” “But I don’t want to go up on the roof! Put me down!” yells the helpless Simon. “Quiet! You don’t have any say in this.”
So they do it. It is tricky, and Simon is whining all the way up, “With friends like you, who needs enemies?” They finally get him onto the roof and realize there is no hole in it to let the smoke out from cooking and heating fires, so one of the guys goes down to get some shovels and other small tools and they start chipping and digging a hole in the roof. Simon continues to whine: “This roof is hot, I can feel it through my mat!” The guys ignore him. Finally they get a hole big enough to get a stretcher through, after hearing a lot of grumbling from below as stones and dirt fall on people’s heads.
“OK, here’s the other tricky part: we need to tie ropes on each end of both poles and then we lower him together like we lower the casket into the ground at a funeral.” “This might be my funeral,” grumbles Simon. “Simon, enough already!”
They are very careful, and they lower him very slowly, feeding just a little more rope out at a time, always in unison and the same length, and when Simon and his mat settle gently on the floor in front of Jesus, everyone inside cheers and Jesus laughs. Simon breathes a big sigh of relief, and Jesus says, “Simon, your sins are forgiven.”
Before anything can happen, Jesus notices the suspicious looks on some scribes sitting there, and he reads their minds. “I know you’re thinking this is blasphemy, but get off of it,” Jesus tells them. “What’s easier to say to him, ‘Your sins are forgiven, or, Stand up and take your mat and walk?’” And then Jesus claims that he has been given the authority to forgive sins, and he says directly to Simon, “I say to you, stand up, take your mat, and go to your home.” And Simon does just that!
The crowd sits there stunned—murmuring that they have never seen anything like this before. Jesus smiles warmly at them, and waves up to Simon’s friends on the roof. “Thank you for having faith for Simon,” he calls up to them.
I have often used this story with a vestry when visiting a congregation. I tell them that what they have on the stretcher is not a body, but the body and soul of the church. If they want to use the sickness image—such as paralysis, sleeping sickness, an attack of gall—I am glad to let them make a diagnosis about how healthy they are or not. I change the image a bit, saying the soul of a congregation or faith community is fragile, and carrying it is their responsibility. It takes a lot of care and carefulness, so that they are going in the same direction, at the same pace, and holding that stretcher level. And, of course, like Simon’s friends, they need to have faith, be in prayer and have a vision for how they may grow as a healthy community. It’s a good image, whether for healing or for a vestry, and the more one thinks about it the more one sees in it. Amen.
Be safe! Be Well! And God bless every one of you. +JLJ