Mark 2:1-4 | NIV
A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on.
Can you can just imagine the commotion going on in this scene?! It’s standing room only with a blizzard of people crammed into a 1st century home, huddled around this now famous rebel rabbi who’s been taking the synagogues and countrysides by storm. Jesus’ home town hadn’t yet seen with their eyes what they only had heard with their ears. On this afternoon, people flock to Him over the news of His ability to heal and His counter-cultural, almost defiant, teachings.
If you’re one of the many people standing shoulder to sweaty shoulder in this tiny mud hut, you begin to hear something beyond the south wall. You’re not sure if the ruckus outside is heated or not but you can tell there’s something unusual going on. In the middle of Jesus’ message you then notice foot steps overhead. Not just one pair, but several sets. Somehow a crew of people have found a way to the roof, each step sprinkling down dust and debris on the crowd below. The weight of the men on top cracks the hardened clay and sends creaking through the beams.
And then things got a little crazier.
What was just dust before now turned into branches and chunks falling from the center of the roof. Large and heavy pieces of ceiling colliding with the living room floor. The cloud of dust forced the swarm of people to put their cloak-filters to their mouths. Obviously Jesus stopped teaching and moved out of the way as the hole got bigger and bigger. Confusing and arguing began to buzz around the house but for some reason Jesus didn’t join in the fuss. Instead He remained strangely calm and waited for the dust to settle.
Finally the light pouring in from the now gaping hole above was briefly eclipsed by a man-shaped form. Everyone could now see a human body wrecked by illness laying on a mat with ropes attached to the four corners. The man’s lifeless limbs revealed his paralysis but his eyes told the bigger story. Socially, religiously, physically, and mentally destroyed by this life-robbing condition, the man on the mat was desperate, willing to do whatever it took to be freed from this prison. His sympathetic roof-dwelling co-conspirators were willing as well—willing to trespass, break and enter, and vandalize to get a front row seat to this healing Rabbi. Though they’d never seen it done before, the rumors were strong enough to drive these men to go to extreme measures to pursue this last and final option.
But it didn’t pay off.
Full of compassion and clearly impressed by this A-Team’s insistence, Jesus stared deeply into the mat man’s eyes (let’s call him Matt) and opened his mouth to speak. Matt knew it was coming. “This is it!” So he thought. “After all these years I’ll finally get my legs back!!!” But the next words out of Jesus’s mouth weren’t the expected ones. Check it out:
Mark 2:5 | NIV
When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
Now, though I’m sure Matt would have gladly accepted the gift of sinlessness any other day of he week, that was clearly not the reason he was presently laying before Jesus, hair full of sticks and dirt. “It’s great that my sins are forgiven, Jesus, but that’s not going to cover these roof repair costs!” It feels strangely like Ralphie in The Christmas Story when he opens the bunny suit instead of the Red Rider BB gun. Of course everyone could use a bunny suit, but come on, gimme the gun! For several moments, Matt’s hope began to crumble. It didn’t work. All his effort didn’t give him his legs back. His deepest earthly longing still remained.
But as the story moves along it becomes apparent that the brilliant Teacher, though deeply concerned by the man in the middle, has His eyes fixed at a wide angle, absorbing the thoughts and stories of every onlooker, strategizing a way to pull every last witness into Matt’s story as well.
I’m learning that Jesus has a tendency to give me what I need, not what I asked for, in order to draw to Himself those who are witnesses of my story.
Mark 2:6-9 | NIV
Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’?
See, Matt wasn’t the only one who needed healing. The religious leaders, old hometown acquaintances, blue collars and white collars, the oppressed, the shamed, the poor–all of them needed healing too. Healing from their presuppositions, healing from their ritualistic encasings, healing from their lust for prominence and power, healing from their rejection, fear, and anger, healing from their past and worry over the future. Matt’s momentary delay of physical healing gave time for the crowd to process a deeper truth: though Jesus is a physical healer, His greater concern is a spiritual one. Jesus really does have authority, power, and dominion over sin itself.
Mark 2:10-12 | NIV
But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”
Matt’s teaching me the value of fighting hard to get a front row seat to Jesus. That it’s ok to push hard, strategize, enlist the help of others, and maybe even destroy some property if that’s what it takes to get as close to Jesus as I can. Matt’s teaching me to ask boldly and with great faith for all the things I think I need. But Matt’s also teaching me to be ok with Jesus’s first response, even if it’s not the one I came for.
Matt’s teaching me to lean in to the delay–the divine pause between my deepest pain and God’s gracious victory.
I’m learning that Jesus has an eye towards my audience–the people in my life (like it or not) who are constantly watching me and judging God based on the accuracy of the model I provide. I’m learning that if He wants to use the pause to show His glory and character to those around me, then so be it. And who knows, I may get my sins forgiven and walk away with my mat. And my audience may finally give Jesus the credit He’s due.