When He entered Capernaum again after some days, it was reported that He was at home. So many people gathered together that there was no more room, not even in the doorway, and He was speaking the message to them. Then they came to Him bringing a paralytic, carried by four men. Since they were not able to bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above where He was. And when they had broken through, they lowered the stretcher on which the paralytic was lying.
Seeing their faith, Jesus told the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” -- Mark 2:1-5
This became a favorite passage for me one Sunday night down in a little town south of Fort Worth. We had shown up at church along with the rest of the very small congregation back in those pre-cellphone or at least pre-ubiquitous-cellphone days. The word came just as the service was to begin that the pastor and his family had an emergency requiring immediate attention. In a larger church that would have been no problem. In our little group, the pastor, his wife, and daughter were the entirety of the staff as well as the musicians and choir. We had no actual deacons or associate pastors. My only status was that of FOTP (friend of the pastor). We weren’t even technically members of that church. Still, rather than send everyone home or to one of the other local churches, my wife suggested I grab a music stand (as opposed to the pulpit) and start talking. We had one older lady with a beautiful and loud singing voice, and I asked her if she could lead us in a couple of a cappella songs. While she did that, I opened my Bible, which just happened to open to Mark 2.
For someone forced to speak extemporaneously and with no preparation time, the great thing about this story is its visual character. We can see those four friends hauling their buddy down the street, coming up against the loose fringe of the human mass, pushing forward a little then realizing that advance is hopeless. We can imagine them retreating and regrouping. One says we might as well give this up. Maybe we can catch Jesus tomorrow. Another is reluctant saying that their paralyzed friend was suffering and needs help today. And besides I have to shear sheep tomorrow. Three of them are arguing about the obstacles and the impossibility of the situation. But one guy is standing there just staring at the roof. Finally, when the thought is fully formed, he voices his suggestion. The other three are a little skeptical at first, but, as they ponder it, they begin to smile. It just might work.
A desperately unprepared person can use this quality of the narrative to draw in the listeners while creating both time and verbal space to pick up a salient point for teaching or inspiring, and this little passage is loaded with them: unity of purpose and the power of teamwork, persistence in the face of difficulty, the reality that sometimes none of us can make it alone, where there is a will there is a way, or the fact that Jesus won’t reject you just because you don’t come in the front door – just to mention the obvious.
The one that always jumps out at me first is that the four men carrying that stretcher must have loved their helpless, paralyzed brother and believed beyond all reason that Jesus was capable of restoring him. It says that Jesus saw their faith, but He also saw their love, their willingness to try anything to get to the Lord – not for their own benefit, but for the sake of someone else. The paralyzed man may not have been a particularly good person. We don’t know. He may have been just like us. After all, Jesus had to tell him his sins were forgiven before he could be healed. We don’t know if the four stretcher-bearers were part of the man’s family, some friends, or maybe they were just people who had gotten caught up in the moment, saw a crippled guy and wondered if Jesus could heal that one. The Spirit can work with most anything, and it was the Holy Spirit who grabbed those men and set them off.
I see, too, that Jesus didn’t have to ask them, as He often did with others, if they believed. He could see their faith – as James says, “I’ll show you my faith by my works.” These guys were the epitome of that statement. They didn’t hang back and say, “Well, let’s just pray and believe that old Sam here will be delivered and healed.” They pushed and pulled and sweated and maybe even cussed a little. I’m guessing these weren’t structures with high ceilings. Nevertheless, getting the deadweight of a person on cot onto a roof then down through a roof is work, not to mention tearing away the shingles or thatch or whatever it was they had to get through. Sometimes faith is manifested in simple acceptance of the word -- like the centurion in Luke chapter 7, but sometimes it must be evidenced by a depleted bank account when we give until it hurts or seen in broken blisters or felt in aching muscles when we press on through the pain.
The man on the cot is all of us. His paralysis is a picture of the human will in bondage. We are powerless to do anything for ourselves. Sometimes we know too well the path we took to this place. For others it appears they were simply born in their helpless states. No matter how we happened to get here, the only hope we have for freedom from our condition is Jesus. But what can we do? The New Testament gives us various illustrations. In some cases, seemingly out of the blue, like the man at the Pool of Bethesda in John 5, Jesus comes to us and asks us if we want to be healed. Other times, like Jairus’ daughter or Lazarus, someone may carry the word of our need to Jesus and implore Him to visit us. Or, someone may pick us up and carry us to Him.
That last method is work always because it involves close and sustained contact between the bearer and the borne. These that we carry are the impotent among are friends, family, and the people with whom we work. We have to live our lives consistently and persistently if we are going to get them past the many obstacles, past the hypocritical and hypercritical crowds. When our way is blocked, we can’t make it a one-man operation. We may need help. We may need to step back and think about a new approach, and we cannot be overly sensitive about offending anyone or anything that gets in the way.