01/29/2013 04:10 pm ET Updated Mar 31, 2013

Whose Faith Is In Play?

One of the most neglected passages in the New Testament is Mark 2:1-12. This story is so rich and powerful, but so little preached about in churches. Maybe its lack of popularity can be attributed to the heavy burden of responsibility it places on all of us to act on behalf of others. Let's look at the story in detail.

It starts with Jesus teaching in someone's home to an overflow crowd. A paralyzed man shows up, carried by four men (don't know if they were friends or family or both). They arrive late and are unable to get into the house because of the overflow crowd. So they climb onto the roof, break through the roof, and lower the man into the house before Jesus. According to verse 5, "When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, 'My son, your sins are forgiven.'" And later in the story, Jesus says to the paralytic, "I say to you, arise, take up your pallet and go home" (verse 11). The man arose and everyone was, according to the Bible, "amazed" at what had happened.

What a cool story, for so many reasons:

  • First of all, the paralyzed man had four great friends or family members. They cared enough and believed enough to bring him to see Jesus. One can only speculate about why they were late, but chances are someone may not have been on time to start the journey. You can almost hear one of them say, when they got to the house and could not get through the crowd, "You know, Judas, if you had showed up on time, we wouldn't be in this predicament!"
  • But the group was not discouraged. One or more of them made the bold decision to climb up on the roof with the paralytic in his bed. Surely, there was some discussion before this occurs. I doubt that everyone said, "Oh sure, let's jump up on the roof, rip it apart, and lower our friend down to Jesus." I suspect there was heated debate -- at least one person must have voiced opposition. But faith and friendship carried the day, and the group struggled to get their friend in his bed onto the roof.
  • Then they had to break through the roof. It must have been a pretty big hole to have been able to get the bed through the hole, keeping it level so as not to dump the man off his bed, while lowering him and his bed to the ground level of the house where Jesus was teaching. It must have been noisy and dusty down below as the crowd wondered what in the world was going on up there. And the scene on top must have been dramatic: all four men trying to get a look through the hole as the man is lowered before Jesus and the hushed crowd. A "dissenter" or two on the roof must have been thinking, "I can't believe we're doing this."
  • But then we read one of the extraordinary verses of the Bible: "When Jesus saw their faith (my emphasis)," he healed the man, forgiving him of his sins. My reading of this is that Jesus did not heal the man based on the man's faith, but on the faith of the four guys on top of the house. At the very least, it was the faith of all five people -- that is, the paralytic and his four friends. But I can't imagine that the paralytic had much say in the matter once things really began to occur -- once his friends began to hoist him in his bed onto the roof and then to lower him to where Jesus was.

It seems to me that this story, like so many biblical stories, leaves it to the readers to formulate lessons for living our lives here and now. The moral of this story, from my perspective, is primarily threefold:

  • When we relive this story, we are inspired to respond with action -- individually and corporately -- to the needs of others in a spirit of love, loyalty, and faith in God. Yes, the Lord does expect us -- every one of us -- to be our brother's keeper and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
  • Each of us -- and all of us -- need to encourage our friends and communities to pray for us and come to our aid when we are in need, which may take developing some humility on our parts.
  • As we contemplate the wonder and joy that the paralytic, his four friends, and the overflow crowd must have experienced, we can only imagine how any hurt feelings they were nurturing and any petty or major differences that separated them one from another must have dissipated that day. Thus, as we reach out in faith to others in need, we can believe that we, like they, will be moved to put aside the petty and major differences that burden our daily lives and that we will work together in helping God's will truly to be done on earth. What a wonderful world this would be!

Oh yes, one last thing: I guess someone needed to stay behind and have a word with the homeowner -- you know, broken roof issues. But I suspect that even the homeowner was okay on that day!

It's a great story that more clergy need to spend time preaching and teaching about. And I would be amiss if I did not mention that the impetus for this story and much of its content came from my son, who is not a member of the clergy.