Seeing their Faith...

Reading: Mark 2.1-12
We all have memories of our primary schooling - the smell of the slate rags, the scrape of chalk on the blackboard, the ink-pots set into the desks, the ink blots in the copy-books, the mapping pens... All of us could add to the list. For the modern pupil, most of these things have gone - except for chalk and chalkboard, though these are being increasingly taken over by the whiteboard and whiteboard marker.

I commenced my schooling in Stanthorpe - with its reputation as the coldest spot in Queensland. I remember going to school in winter all rugged up - but with shorts and bare feet. Each room had a little wood stove to help warm the pupils. Feet and legs were usually red and blue by the time we got home.

Later, in Warwick, I recall our year 6 teacher. She had sayings she used from time to time. One of her favourites was, "God helps those who help themselves." (This was long before that modern addition, "God help those caught helping themselves!") She was a Christian woman whom I met later in retirement teaching Religious Education in school on behalf of the local Anglican church.

Her simple statement has an important truth in it. It isn't suggesting that we have to do it all. Nor is it saying that we lie back doing nothing and wait for God to do it all. No, God is ready to help us, but looks to us for a faith which is being translated into action. Faith is to be active, not passive. God will enable us to do what we can, even as we depend on him for what he alone can do.

Practical Love

At the end of Mark 1, we have the story of the leper who came to Jesus with the request, "If you are willing, you can make me clean!" The response of Jesus was immediate, "I am willing. Be clean!" This week's reading is about a different situation - someone quite unable to bring such a request.

There was a paralysed man in Capernaum. We have no idea what was the nature of his paralysis, nor the extent to which it impaired communication as well as mobility. What we do know is that he had four friends who had stuck to him through it all.

An old saying puts it, "A friend in need is a friend indeed." Certainly, the son who took his inheritance to the glamorous city life soon found that, when his money was gone, so were his friends (Lk. 15.11-32). And for Jesus too... In spite of their protestations to the contrary, his disciples deserted him when the pressure was on (Mk 14.27-31, 50, 66-72). Tragically (and too often), marriages as well as friendships can break down when disability strikes and someone feels they are no longer "getting anything" out of the relationship.

But these four friends have stuck by this paralysed man - always seeking his highest good, their practical love doing for him the many things he was unable to do for himself.

Active Faith

Jesus is back in Capernaum. In fact "people heard that he had come home" (2.1).

Mark has already told us about Jesus healing a demon-possessed man in the synagogue at Capernaum (1.21-28). News of that healing "spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee." People were saying that "He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him"

Jesus had then gone throughout Galilee "preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons" (v. 39). At the end of Mark 1, we read of Jesus touching and healing a man "with leprosy" - the term was used to include a number of skin ailments besides what we call "Hansen's Disease." Jesus didn't ever seek publicity through his miracles, but got it anyway. As a result he had to stay in a lonely place where people came to him (vv. 40-45).

But now he has come back to Capernaum and so many have come to hear him - friends and enemies, sympathisers and the curious... - so many have come that the house is full with the overflow completely blocking the entrance.

The four have heard about Jesus and his power to heal. All else has failed and here is the one hope that their friend will be healed.

Practical love moves into active faith as they carry him to the house where Jesus is staying. But the crowd blocks their way. So they carry him up the stairs onto the roof. Their only chance is to break through the roof and lower him down.

J.A. Thompson tells us, "Most ordinary roofs were supported by wooden beams resting on the walls. Across these beams were laid smaller 'beams' (often just thick branches, sycamore in poorer houses, cedar or cypress in richer ones). Then came layers of brush, reeds, mud, grass and clay, levelled off with a roller. The roof would be rolled after heavy rain, too, to flatten it out" (Handbook of Life in Bible Times, IVP, 1986, p. 67).

With the greatest care in the world, it would be impossible to do what they did without the crowd below realising what was happening. They may have wondered at first, but as the mud, dust and rubbish began to shower down and as the daylight began to break through... "They made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralysed man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, 'Son, your sins are forgiven'." (vv. 4b, 5)

Whose faith? At this point in the story, it is the faith of these four friends as their practical love has been translated into active faith. Everyone's eyes were focussed on the man who had now "landed" in their midst. Jesus could see the four faces grinning through the hole in the roof!

Healing and Wholeness

Seeing their faith, Jesus says to the paralysed man, "Son, your sins are forgiven." We need to understand that there is something far more significant than physical healing - as Jesus said to the man, "Son, your sins are forgiven" (v.5). The word of forgiveness of sins comes before the physical healing. R.A. Cole notes, "The paralysed man himself, to judge from the Lord's dealing with him, was not so much conscious of his physical need as of his spiritual burden; so the Lord gave forgiveness" (St Mark, Tyndale, 1968, p. 65).

There are teachers of the Law present. The word of forgiveness prompts them to think, "How does he dare to talk like this? This is blasphemy! God is the only one who can forgive sins!" (v. 7) The words of Jesus aren't human words forgiving what may have been done against oneself. Jesus is forgiving in the absolute. Only God can do that. They have discerned correctly. Jesus is a blasphemer who needs to be condemned outright, unless, of course... Jesus is divine and needs to be believed and followed.

Words are cheap, we are told. The inward reality of forgiveness cannot be tested, but the healing of this paralysed man can - "I tell you, get up, take your mat, and go home!" (v. 11) - the same words recorded for the healing of the man at the pool of Bethzatha (Jn 5.8). "He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, 'We have never seen anything like this!' " (Mk 2.12). The crowd at least recognised the hand of God in the miracle, not necessarily perceiving the deeper implications noted by the teachers of the Law.

Jesus sees more than the outward presenting problem of physical need. For him it is always important that the underlying spiritual issues be resolved - sometimes before, sometimes after the physical healing.

Our church in a smaller country town conducted a Lay Institute for Evangelism. The programme began on Monday night with Have You Heard of the Four Spiritual Laws? - a simple booklet which helps guide people through the gospel message to commitment. The teaching, night by night, moves on to the issues of Christian assurance, how to be filled with the Spirit... and, on Friday, to how to fulfil the Great Commission. On that Friday night one lady turned up for the first time. She had been a church-goer for years, but had missed the sessions earlier in the week. She went home a bit confused, but with a copy of Have you Heard of the Four Spiritual Laws? Early the next morning she decided to read the little booklet and, for the first time in her life, made her response to the gospel, praying the prayer to receive Christ. The change in her life was very real. Spontaneously she had to tell her neighbours and friends about it. She wrote a reconciling letter to her sister with whom she had fallen out some fifteen years before. She started attending a Bible study group in our home. A few weeks later she told the group, "I have just realised that I haven't taken my medication for epilepsy for the past two weeks and I seem to be OK." She had this condition for fifteen years. She hadn't come seeking healing. Yet as her life was changed spiritually - including her reconciliation to her sister - the Lord gave her physical healing as well.

Do you want to be whole? Come to Christ in faith. Open all your life to him. Let him deal with your inner motivation, with your hidden hurts and your secret sins. Trust him with all your life. He will never let you down.

Is there someone else you want to see made whole? Believe for them - in all that Christ has done and can do for them. Bring them in prayer if you cannot bring them in person. In the final count healing and wholeness will come in their own encounter with Christ. But in the meantime, Christ sees your faith as he reaches out to meet their need. He is already reaching out to touch them with healing and wholeness through your practical love and active faith.


© Peter J. Blackburn, Home Hill and Ayr Uniting Churches, 20 February 2000
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the Good News Bible, © American Bible Society, 1992.

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