In this passage from Mark 2:1-12 is a beautiful example of friendship imbedded in an experience of healing and forgiveness. Here we find friends who were committed to sharing life together no matter what the obstacles that might be in their way. I am so grateful today for my family who are friends and my friends who are family. God has given me the gift of friends who love me and support me when I cannot walk, who encourage me and even admonish me along the way. Friendship is work, sometimes even dirty work as we labor in the trenches together. But the joy of worshipping God with friends is worth every effort we might expend in loving them as Jesus loves us. I think that’s what these friends would tell us today.
“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 lowering the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralyzed man, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.” Mark 2:3-5
I was tired tonight, physically and emotionally, but I couldn’t settle down to rest. The miraculous events of the day kept playing over and over in my mind and heart. I am not the same man who started the day, and I know my life has changed forever. This had been my day to care for my paralyzed friend, a day I always looked forward to with pleasure. For many years following the accident that left my friend immobilized, I had taken turns with three other men helping our injured friend and his family. We each came one day a week with our wives to provide relief and encouragement. We always brought a supply of staples as well as special treats such as dates or figs or even a bottle of wine. The women would spend the day cooking and cleaning and gossiping. My job was to help with the heavy lifting and personal care of my friend, and I would usually carry him outside to enjoy the warmth of the sun while I shared news of the town. It was times like this, my friend would say, as the sun spread warmth into his frozen limbs that he felt almost normal. The rest of the time, his home was his prison.
This morning my friend was waiting for me to arrive. The excitement in Capernaum preceded me. Jesus was home and was teaching in a house not too far away, and the crowds were already starting to gather. My friend’s wife met me at the door begging me to carry her husband to Jesus. Glancing over at my friend lying on his mat, tears streaming down his cheeks and gathering in his beard, the pleading in his eyes said more than words ever could. My friend believed Jesus could heal him if he could only get there. I had also heard the stories of miraculous healing brought about by Jesus, and I confess that my friend’s faith was contagious. But it was too far for me to carry him by myself. If we were going to do this, I would need the help of our other three friends. Leaving my wife there, I ran in search of the others.
It took little convincing to garner the help we needed, and within the hour the four of us made a sturdy platform we could carry, one man on each of the four corners. The women covered the platform with a soft mat of woven reeds covered in blankets and we settled our friend as comfortably as possible. Winding down the narrow streets was difficult and took time, but our friend’s optimism infused all our spirits. When we finally rounded the corner onto the street where Jesus was, we stopped suddenly in dismay. People packed the entire street. There was hardly room to move single file, let alone with an occupied mat like ours. But we hadn’t come this far to quit. Backtracking, we turned into the adjacent street behind and discovered a ladder leading up to the roof of the house where Jesus was speaking. We thought if we could get on top of the roof, we could perhaps just remove some roof tiles to lower our friend directly into the house.
I’m laughing now as I remember. Just getting the pallet up the ladder without dropping our friend was a massive effort. Fortunately, we had tied him and his mat to the support rods before setting out, and he encouraged us all the way. When we finally made it to the top of the roof, more obstacles to our plan greeted us. Instead of tile, as we hoped, thick plaster and branches comprised the roof. No one thought to bring a shovel, so the four of us began digging with our hands and broken pieces of plaster. We anticipated shouts and recriminations from below as the hole slowly widened and the dirt and debris drifted down into the room, but Jesus had everyone’s absolute focus. We, too, found ourselves stunned with awe at the power of his words, and this fueled our efforts to bring our friend to him.
The sun was beginning its descent as the hole was finally large enough to lower him down. Releasing the ropes that held him, we fashioned a loop around the pallet and began to slowly drop him to the floor right in front of Jesus. The pallet’s descent forced people to move, making room for it and for us when we jumped down after it reached the ground, careful to avoid landing on our friend. Whispers grew louder and the crowd surged around us barely able to imagine what Jesus would do to. No one anticipated what happened next. First looking each one of us directly in the eye with such love and compassion, he then turned to our friend and said, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
We huddled around our friend, all of us weeping openly, as the priests and Pharisees from Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem frantically conferred together. We couldn’t hear them, but Jesus appeared to know exactly what these men were thinking (“Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”), and he confronted them. With stern authority Jesus said to them, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say ‘Get up and walk?’ But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”
Without hesitating, Jesus turned again to our friend and commanded, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” And immediately, our friend stood up, strong and tall and robust. He picked up his mat, and with us following in his wake, he strode out of that room, fully forgiven and freed from paralysis. Our five voices joined together in praise as we made our way through the crowds and back to the home that was no longer his prison. His life was not the only one changed today, however. Four other men met Jesus, the Son of God, the Messiah, the Friend to sinners, and now walk in the freedom of forgiveness.
- What encourages you in this passage of Scripture?
- What friend is God asking you to love in the trenches?
- How can you help your friends experience the presence of Jesus?
- What is paralyzing you and holding you captive?©