Jesus Makes It Real

A Sermon based upon Mark 2:1-12

The first time I preached on this text, I talked about the “Roof that was Unroofed” and the “Crowd that was Concerned”. You see, out in California, where the possibility of earthquake damage is very real, I imagined what it might have been like to be seated in the house when the ceiling started coming down! (!) The second time I preached on this text, I titled my sermon “Making an Opening from Above” and I focused on the faith that was shown by the four friends who had “made a way where there was no way” and (with significant effort!) found a way to get the paralyzed man to Jesus for healing.

The third time I preached on this text, I focused on the fact that people were “healed and forgiven” when they brought themselves to Jesus. People flocked to Jesus -- drawn by his reputation as a miracle-working healer, reminiscent of contemporary “faith healers” on TV like Oral Roberts and Benny Hinn, who can fill an auditorium with Evangelical Protestants -- or like crowds of devout Roman Catholic faithful are drawn by images of the Blessed Virgin (of Lourdes, France, Our Lady of Fatima, or Guadalupe in Mexico).

By the time I came to Alpena (six years ago), I had begun to focus on the controversy and opposition that Jesus aroused when he told the paralyzed man that “his sins were forgiven.” It is as though Jesus’ power to heal (whether it was the leper he met on the road, or the paralyzed man let down through the roof) was not in dispute. Instead, it was the “teaching” that he attached to it!

My sermon from Feb. 7, 2017 (two years ago) is available on our website and on YouTube, so I’ll not have to preach it again. (!) But let me just make a couple points (for those of us who may have been absent that Sunday):

Imagine if -- in the middle of a Bible Study (or a worship service) -- the roof overhead started to come off -- I’d be frightened for the people gathered beneath it! I would want to get y’all out, safe and sound. So, if I were Jesus in today’s story -- I’d (first) be startled by what was happening, and then (second) I’d be a bit offended that these guys unroofed my house. Who’s gonna make good on the damage!? (The Property Committee would certainly have a fit! Right Edith, Ron?) Furthermore, who do they think they are to be so demanding of our time and attention? Can’t those guys up there see that we’re busy down here!?? It was a full house (we are told); Jesus was teaching. How rude for them to interrupt!

Fortunately for them (and for you & me, as well) I am not Jesus. (Make no mistake about it!) Fortunately for them, Jesus is not me -- prone to be startled by unexpected intrusion, and to be afraid; quick to take offense and to be angry. No, Jesus responds very differently than how I would have if my house were being ripped open. Jesus sees in the persistent effort of those four friends of the paralyzed man an affirmation of their “faith” (their “pistis” in Greek): their confident, believing “trust.” Here’s how Mark (2:5) puts it: When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic: “My son, your sins are forgiven.”

Calling the paralyzed man “Son” when Jesus was not his father -- and then telling him that his sins were forgiven -- this response from Jesus to the disruption of his class was not expected … and it caused eyebrows to be raised! In particular, among the scribes (the Bible teachers) who were present, who would never have thought to speak with such warmth & intimacy to a stranger -- let alone to a sick one, who was busting into their space uninvited, unannounced!

Now, some of the scribes were sitting there, says Mark, questioning in their hearts: “Why does this man speak thus? It is blasphemy. Who can forgive sins, but God alone?”

These traditional Bible teachers wrinkle their foreheads in consternation -- for they firmly believe that only God can forgive sins... not human beings. And what is Jesus, if not a son of man like every other mortal ! ? Who does he think he is, a Son of God!? That’s blasphemy! God is the ultimate judge, not any of us.

They may have forgotten that the opening words of the Tablets of the Law given to Moses on Mount Sinai proclaim: the Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, & abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands of generations, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin... (Exodus 34:6-7a)… ya-da, ya-da, ya-da… “yet… (they would be quick to point out) by no means clearing the guilty.” (Ex. 34:7b)

You see, what the scribes thought that passage meant was very simple: forgiveness of sin is a trait of God! And because it is a characteristic of the divine, it is not expected from human beings! In fact (in their opinion) it is not allowed! According to their interpretation of the Bible, forgiveness is reserved to God alone. In the same way that “vengeance is mine, saith the Lord; I will repay...” so, too (according to them), the decision to forgive sin (or not!) was considered God’s exclusive domain. In other words, we “mortals” (the sons and daughters of “man”) have no business doing on earth what only God is said to be able to do in heaven. Jesus -- as a mortal, a son of man -- has no authority to forgive sins... even though he does (apparently) have the power to heal.

The therapeutic possibility that becomes open to us all when the "pardoning" power of God is made real between human beings -- which is represented in the story by the cleansing of the paralyzed man (& his friends) of their sense of sin -- might also correct the prejudice that the scribes and the crowd held against the disabled -- assumptions that the disabled are somehow less than human, seeing them as unclean sinners, assuming that they are somehow at fault for their own physical disability.

We should keep in mind that the prevailing view of “sick-ness” (in Jesus’ day) linked it with “sin.” So, every broken and hurting person needed to know first of all that the problem of their presumed “sin” was eliminated! They needed to know that God held nothing against them. Period! Once they knew that they were loved by God, and affirmed publicly as OK... the rest of their healing could follow. The paralysis of spirit was loosened for good.

Jesus knew what the scribes taught, and he also knew that his tenderness toward the man -- showing (1) no anger for the destroyed roof, (2) using "intimate" language of love, & (3) assuring him that his sins were forgiven -- went against everything the Bible teachers assumed about God. I think Jesus knew what he was doing! And Jesus could see their raised eyebrows and their wrinkled foreheads; he could hear their murmurs... Mark tells us:

At once, Jesus perceived in his spirit that they questioned within themselves; and he said to them: “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? ... But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins... I say to you [the paralytic], ‘Rise, take up your npallet, and go to your home.’” The man stood up, immediately took the mat and went out before them, so that they were all amazed and glorified God saying: “We have never seen anything like this!” (Mark 2:6-12)