There are some seemingly irrelevant things that are likely to trouble me for the rest of my days. The damaged roof in our passage this morning is one of them, and it has troubled me since the days when I was a mere child in Sunday School. And I know, in my heart, full well, that when God’s people act in faith at the level that is clearly evident in passage, that the biblical truth is that disruption of some kind is going to be one of the inevitable consequences of those acts of faith. God’s people cannot act in faith without challenging something, changing something, or disrupting something. That is the hard truth, and we all know it, and we all know it well. When God is at work in our lives, things change, things get disrupted, and sometimes things get completely upset or over thrown. That is how God works in this world. And so in this story, there is a hole in the roof, so get over it Wayne, because there is also a man who departs this passage on his own feet and with his sins forgiven.
There are several stories in the gospels of people who used inventive ways to get closer to Jesus. Zacchaeus climbed a tree, the woman with the hemorrhage jostled her way through the crowd, hoping only to be able to touch Jesus’ clothing. The Roman Centurion probably used both his position of authority, and judicious use of his sword to gain access to Jesus.
But this paralyzed man has a whole community of faith standing with and by him. The text is very subtle, but also very clear. Mark tells us of four people who carried the man toward the house where Jesus was preaching, or as Mark puts it, “…speaking the word to them”. But in addition to the four people, who were carrying the man, we discover that there were also some others. We can safely surmise that these others are people who deeply care for this disabled man, and that they have more than likely been taking care of this man’s needs for quite some time now. It is obvious that this man is completely unable to meet his own needs. His only resource is this unnamed group of people who have committed themselves to caring for him. It would be nice to think that they might be members of the local synagogue who have taken to heart the scriptural injunctions that call us to care for the people who cannot care for themselves. Mark doesn’t tell us how many people came that day in support of this paralyzed man, but wouldn’t it have been grand if it was a significant portion of the entire congregation? If that’s the case, then here is a clear indication of how we, as followers of Jesus ought to be caring for one another. Too often we view those who are incapable of caring for themselves as being lazy, unmotivated or ill-bred. We fail to realize that sometimes the disability isn’t as obvious as being paralyzed, but it is a disability none-the-less. What we miss sometimes is that a seemingly hidden disability can be just as paralyzing as one that is more obvious. Too often, we put ourselves in the position of judge rather than that of comforter and consolor. The end result is that we miss out on the miracle of what happens when a community of faith, acting with loving support and care for one another, presents someone, one of their own, to Jesus, for his healing touch, even, if in the process, a roof gets torn up.
And that’s all I have to say about that, because one of my own sins is to always look for a cleaner, neater, simpler and easier way to do things. And I sometimes forget that my sins were forgiven by the one who entered this world in a very messy and complicated way, and who died on my behalf by enduring a nasty, bloody, agonizing crucifixion.
And it turns out that sin is an issue here, because sin always represents a demonic disruption in the lives that God intends for us to live. We should never, ever confuse a demonic interruption that comes our way, with the holy and godly disruptions that our Lord brings about when change and healing and wholeness is needed. The hole in the roof is a godly disruption, but it could easily have been confused to be something else entirely. And, even though Mark does not record it in his gospel, I am sure that some of the onlookers that day may not have seen the absolute glory of God in that hole. And, if we are honest with ourselves, we may not have seen it either.
As the man is lowered through the roof, and into the presence of Jesus, an astonishing thing happens. Jesus does not immediately reward the faith of this man’s community of faith by healing the man. Instead, after making note of their faith, he says to the man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
And we want to shout at Jesus. Jesus! Perhaps you didn’t notice! Sin isn’t really the issue here. This man is paralyzed, he can’t walk, he needs to be made whole; we brought him here believing that you would touch him and restore his body!
But sin, no matter how much we might object, is always the issue. Sin is always what disrupts the work of God. The man on the mat, the four people who destroyed the roof, the whole community of faith, who have been loving and supporting this man for who knows how long, and every person in the house, and everyone gathered around the house, all have lives that are disrupted by their own sin. And in this place this morning, and in every watcher of this video, there is sin that has the power to disrupt.
We are sinners by nature, we are sinners by birth. We have a powerful proclivity toward sin. We behave willingly in scandalous ways. And even when we suffer the consequences ourselves, and after we see the damaging effects of sin in others, and even when we see lives completely destroyed by sin, we are unmoved, and we continue to sin. And that is why forgiveness in and among all of those who follow Jesus is so critically necessary. And that is why we need to take heed, when we hear the words, child, “your sins are forgiven.”
Augustus Toplady, has this to say about our needs for forgiveness:
“Not the labors of my hands
can fulfill thy law’s demands;
could my zeal no respite know,
could my tears forever flow,
all for sin could not atone;
Thou must save and thou alone.”
“Nothing in my hand I bring,
simply to thy cross I cling;
naked, come to thee for dress,
helpless, look to thee for grace;
foul, I to the fountain fly;
wash me Savior, or I die!”
Nothing, not tears, not zeal, not good looks, not good works, nothing but the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross will bring us into right relationship with God.
There is one more disruption this morning to think about. When Jesus said, “Son, your sins are forgiven,” a quiet ruckus erupted. There are some religious leaders present who have an objection. They believe that it is a godly objection, but it is not. And while they apparently do not voice their objection aloud, Jesus becomes disrupted in his spirit, and he questions the religious leaders about their objection. A very cherished theological tenet held by just about everyone in Jesus’ day is that God, and God alone, has the authority to forgive sin. And even today, even though Jesus has given us the authority and the responsibility to forgive one another, we would probably all agree, that God is the source of all forgiveness. Ultimately, it is God who forgives.
But in first century Palestine, in the house in Capernaum, the scribes are convinced that Jesus has committed the sin of blasphemy. And that is certainly, in their minds, not a godly disruption at all. In fact, it is quite the opposite.
And Jesus handles this disruption rather masterfully, but he does it by creating yet another disruption. He asks the religious leaders, “Which is easier to say to the paralytic, ‘your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘take up your mat and walk?”‘
On the surface, that one is a no brainer. Anyone can say. “Son, your sins are forgiven,” but can just anyone say, “stand up and take your mat and walk?” Probably not. It turns out that the Son of Man can not only say both, but he can also do both. And in these words is a godly disruption of all of the power of sin and evil, and they come from the lips of Jesus, straight into our ears: “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.” And with that powerful disruption, all were amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” Will we know it when the next godly disruption comes our way? Will we see it? Will we glorify God?