The Opening

by Elaine Maust
Mark 2: 1-12
June 26, 2005

This is a true story from the Bible. From Mark 2. A story I will call, The Opening.

Jesus was home. He was back in Capernaum (v1), his ministry headquarters. And word got around. I imagine folks talking down by the well. “Hey, did you hear? He’s home.” “He’s back? Are you sure?” “Oh yeah, he’s back.” And in the market. “The young teacher is back in town? Where is he?” No email. No telephone. No evening news. But word got around. The power of a rumor.

We don’t know exactly where “home” in Capernaum was. Maybe Peter’s house. At least that’s where Jesus was in Mark 1:29 during his last visit to Capernaum. On that visit he healed Peter’s mother-in-law. Then Jesus left on his first preaching tour of Galilee. But today he is back home in Capernaum.

And people started dropping by. The mere rumor that Jesus was in town was enough to bring out the crowds. That’s the power and compassion they saw in him. They came to the house until the house was full. And more and more people came until the house was more than full. Standing room only. I wonder who was there. We know some scribes, teachers of the law, were there, religious leaders who were experts of the Jewish law. Part of their work was to copy down the words of the Scriptures for coming generations. No copy machines yet, right. Let me tell you, they knew the law. It was their business. And likely there were common people there. Probably some of the regular followers of Jesus, the men and women who hung around wherever he went.

By now this was bigger than a super bowl party. This was bigger than a family reunion. There were so many people in the house that there wasn’t any more house for them. In fact, there wasn’t any more room even outside the door (v2). I’m not sure how this house looked, exactly. Some of the houses at the time had courtyards and porches. Well, imagine the house so full that you couldn’t even get on the porch.

What was Jesus doing in that house that commanded so much attention? He was preaching (v2). That’s it. Preaching. If you would like to know some of the amazing things Jesus taught that were so interesting, check out Matthew 5-7 for a full-length sermon.

Well, like I said, word had gotten around town. Jesus was home. And a little group of friends saw that this as their chance. I imagine them running from house to house with the news. “Come on guys, he’s back. Let’s go.” Now the Bible doesn’t tell us that what they did was premeditated. But I think it had to have been. You’ll see what I mean.

These folks had a friend who was paralyzed. Now think about what that might have meant in those days. No wheelchairs. No accessibility laws. Was he handicapped from birth? What was his name? So many things we don’t know about this man!

But we do know one of the most important things about him. He had friends. And these friends decided that today they would take their friend to Jesus. This was their chance and they set out as if his life depended on it.

You know? I wonder if he wanted to go. Think about it. He is at their mercy. They say we’re going and what can he do about it? They make up a portable pallet bed and off they haul him. I wonder if he fussed on the bumpy ride. “Take me home!” or “Hello fellows, we need to talk. What are we doing here?” or maybe he was excited. “Okay! Let’s go!” We don’t know. But we do know that later in the story, and this is a curious thing, it was their faith and his sins that Jesus commented on. But I’m getting ahead of myself. (v3)

Now imagine this little troupe’s dejection as they round the corner and look down the street and see that everybody in town already beat them to Jesus’ house. The crowd is out the front door and onto the street. People everywhere. But do you think that’s going to slow them down? “Excuse me. Excuse me.” They try and try to get to Jesus, but it was no use. They couldn’t even get close. Bless their hearts they couldn’t bring him to Jesus because of the crowds (v4) If they can’t even get close, how will he be healed?

Then somebody got a brilliant idea. To the roof. The roof? That’s what the Bible says. They carried their friend on that mat up to the top of the roof. Now that would have been quite a ride. If you were one of the four friends, how would you have gotten him up there? A man on a blanket was being carried by four people onto a roof. It was one of those “do not try this at home” moments.

How did they get him up there, anyway? No way to get to the interior stairway. The doors were blocked. I read that maybe they went to the house next door, went up that stairway and then crossed from roof to roof. That sounds like fun. Some houses of the time had exterior stairways. Maybe this house did. In any case in verse 4 we find the determined quartet on top of the roof with their friend. Why did they care so much?

From what we read later in the story they must have calculated where Jesus was in the house. Maybe they could hear him down below. “Verily, verily, I say unto you…” And then they did the most amazing thing. They began unroofing the roof. I read that that is sort of how the Greek reads. Unroofing the roof.

Now we don’t know exactly how they did this. Most village roofs in Palestine were flat, made of thatch and branches with clay pressed all around to keep out the rain. So maybe they started breaking up the clay and picking up the branches and laying them to the side. Making an opening in the roof. (v4) Whose house was this? Peter’s maybe? (Mark 1:29)

I wonder what it was like down inside the house. You are standing there, captivated by this young preacher. And then… what is that you hear? An animal up on the roof scratching? Wait a minute. Why is dust falling down from the ceiling? What in the world!? Was it an earthquake?

And then a shaft of daylight begins to show through ceiling into the crowded room. And slowly, slowly a blanket is being lowered into the room. I suppose that even though the room was packed everyone took a step back.

What a terrifying ride! And then the paralyzed man comes to rest on the floor right in front of Jesus in the middle of this crowd of people. (v4)

Look at him, he’s just laying there on the floor. Mark doesn’t record that anybody said anything. And you look up and there are these guys up on the roof on their knees peering down through the hole. What is the look on their faces? Triumph? Hope? Fear?

The Bible says, verse 5, that Jesus looked up and do you know what he saw in their eyes? He saw faith! He looked back down at the man on the floor and said, “Son (it was a term of endearment, as if he was speaking to his favorite nephew). What would the teacher do now? “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

“What”? I wonder what the guys on the roof thought of that? What sins? And the folks standing around? “What did he say? Your sins are forgiven? You’ve got to be kidding me.”

We do know what some of the scribes were thinking. Verse 6 says they were sitting there thinking, “Who does this fellow (a derogatory name) think he is? This is blasphemy! God is the only one who can forgive sins!”

Of course Jesus immediately knew what they were thinking and whispering. And he began to question them. “Why are you raising these questions in your hearts?” Seems that Jesus was trying to make a point, doesn’t it? “Okay, you tell me, which is easier, to say your sins are forgiven or to say stand up and take up your mat and walk?”

Good question. They are both equally easy to say, I suppose. But what were they to answer.

Which is easier, to forgive sins or to heal? Hmmm. Anyone could heal (if they could actually do it), but only God could decide if someone would be forgiven and only God could know if it had happened. Jesus knew that what this man needed most was his sins forgiven and what the crowd needed most was to know that Jesus could forgive him.

Jesus said, “I’m telling you right now. I did this so that you would know that the Son of Many has authority on earth to forgive sins” (v10)

Then he looked back down at the poor fellow on the mat and said, “I say to you, stand up, pick up your blanket and go to the house.” (v11)

And just like that the man who was paralyzed stood up. He stood up and picked up his mat. And the man for whom there was no room to get in the house, seemed to find plenty of room to get out. The Bible says he walked out in front of all of them.(v12) The crowd made an opening for him. High fives all around on the roof!

It is interesting that Jesus told him to go home. I wonder what it was like at his house when he came walking in the door with the blanket under his arm?

And everyone who saw what Jesus did that day was amazed and praised God.(v12) It’s better than winning at football game. They said, “We’ve never seen anything like this. We’ve never seen anything like this.”

What an amazing story. This is a true story. I mean it is true in the sense that it really happened, in Palestine back in Jesus and Peter’s time. But it is also true in the sense that it is real for us, this morning, here in Meridian. So I invite you into the story of The Opening.

Who are you in this story?

Maybe you are one of the friends who preserved to get their friend to Jesus. Do you have a friend who needs an opening to Jesus? What is her name? His name? What are you willing to do to carry them to Jesus? What are the obstacles they face? That you face as you bring them? They may not be paralyzed, but finding an opening for your friend to connect to Jesus may take similar ingenuity and effort. It is hard work to lug someone to the top of a roof. It is also hard work to bring someone to Jesus in prayer or through witness. Expect to be tired.

Imagine you are up on the roof and your friend is lying right there beside you. Imagine you are down on your knees and you are ripping through that roof to make an opening. How will you unroof the roof of doubt or fear or shame? How will you get them to Jesus?

And when you have lowered them in, and Jesus looks up and your eyes meet, what does Jesus see? Your faith?

I have begun using this passage as a way to pray for those who need forgiveness and healing. As I pray, I wonder. Am I expecting anything? Making an opening for an encounter with Jesus is different than just hauling them up and dumping them off so they are no longer my worry. It requires tenderness and determination. A belief that they can change. Faith believes that Jesus has both the willingness and the ability to heal and forgive.

The Interpreter’s Bible says of making an opening for someone to get to Jesus, “When one attempt has failed, make another, even though it seems preposterous. The goal of bringing a life into healing touch with Christ is so great that nothing, not even roofs, should stand in the way.”

This kind of prayer requires so much effort, in fact, that often we can not do it alone. Alone it is as awkward and impossible as carrying someone onto a roof alone. And so we ask for help in making an opening. We ask for our friends to pray for us. We come forward in healing services and stand in for those who need Jesus’ healing and forgiveness. We ask for prayer at church during the pastoral prayer time.

And we can all identify with the paralyzed man too, can’t we. Imagine the rough ride up the roof. What are your fears of meeting Jesus? You do know who you are dealing with here, don’t you? This is not just some nice guy who means well. This is Jesus, the Son of God. What do you hope for? And then the ride down through the roof. (people pay for rides that are less thrilling then the ones he got that day.) And you look up into Jesus’ eyes. What does Jesus say when he looks down at you? Son? Baby Girl? As I reflected on this story, I imagined Jesus looking down at me with his hands on his hips, smiling and saying, “Hmm. Let’s see. Why don’t we start by forgiving her sins.”

We’ve had several sermons over the past several weeks in which we have considered our sins and God’s grace response to them. Duane told us in a sermon that God accepts us, “As is.” That sticker he gave us is still on my car’s steering wheel. The man on the stretcher didn’t get run through some sort of good enough screening process before he came to Jesus. His friends just brought him as he was and that’s how each of us meets Jesus. With our guilt and our sin and our pain. Flat on our backs is the best posture from which to open ourselves to God.

The Bible says, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” We have all sinned and disappointed even infuriated God. And often it is only with the help of friends that we find the opening back to God.

And we look up and Jesus is looking down at us. Hear him say the words, “your sins are forgiven, stand up and go to the house.” An encounter with Jesus of forgiveness and healing will leave us saying, “I’ve never seen anything like this before.”

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