by Karen Salter (Mark 2:1-12)
The day I graduated from law school my father told me that this opportunity to be of service to another was one of the greatest life offered. He also said that what would matter most in my life was friendship. He was right on both counts. What he didn’t say but also knew was that one of the reasons I had chosen to go to law school was to serve those people who were dear to me, family and friends alike.
Growing up in a family with more ambition than money, I was alerted early in life to alternative sources of power. Watching my parents work for the election of particular candidates, most of whom were lawyers, I began to see that knowledge of the law and the license to use it were often a reliable source of power. It was later in life that I began, and still strive daily to understand the true Source of power.
Consequently it’s not surprising that one of my favorite stories from Mark is when Jesus heals the paralytic. I once heard a sermon in which the priest simply told the story. We don’t know how this man came to be paralyzed, he said, whether it was from birth or from something more recent, or how often or for how long his friends had carried him. We also don’t know why they knew to bring him to this young Healer who was in the earliest days of his public ministry when the story takes place. But we can imagine that they must have hoped, perhaps in varying degrees and yet enough, that this young Healer would work a miracle for their beloved friend.
The four friends thread their way through the crowd, which must have been a feat in and of itself, only to find that the house where the Healer is preaching is so crowded they cannot get in. Undeterred, “. . . 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.’” Did Jesus feel the intensity of their faith, hope and love as the outer expression of the Divine in them and in him? I don’t know. But He speaks the words, “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” The priest ended his sermon by imagining the looks on the four faces peering down through the hole in the roof as they watched when he “stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them;. . .”
The strength of the friends’ affection for their paralyzed friend is an important part of the story, but not the most important part. Between the time Jesus tells the man that his sins are forgiven and then tells him to get up and walk, an important piece of theological business is transacted. Jesus tells us who He is. Some of the scribes (a term commonly used in that time to denote lawyers) begin muttering about the Teacher’s blasphemy in suggesting that he has the power to forgive sins. As usual, Jesus wins the legal argument saying, “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.’”
More than the muttering proponents of any legal argument will ever win, Jesus gives us the Way of faith, hope and love that conquers every obstacle, even unto death. Surely the people who witnessed this miracle did not fully understand all that they had been given that day, but they understood enough “. . . that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”
Miracles still happen on the Way. Have you not, by carrying a friend or being carried yourself, known the miracle of God’s healing, love and forgiveness? Have you not felt, overcome by your love for another, joined with the One? As the poet so rightly sings, “We’re one, but we’re not the same. We get to carry each other, carry each other.”
Thanks be to God.