Sunday, February 15, 2009

Holy Vandalism (Mark 2:1-12)

Sometimes hosting our Lord and Savior ain’t easy.

Like here, for instance. After he’s spent some time teaching and doing great works, Jesus returns to Capernaum, which he apparently uses as a kind of home base during this part of his ministry. Perhaps someone is sponsoring his work and has taken him in as a guest, or perhaps some of the disciples pooled their funds to get a place to crash in between journeys. We’re not sure what Mark means when he says Jesus is at home, but it seems that this is a place he regularly stays.

Whatever the situation, Jesus has drawn a crowd, and they have pressed in close around the house as well as filled the inside, pretty much packed in. I’m sure the neighbors were happy. They all want to hear him.

Some guys have a friend who’s paralyzed. They bring him to see Jesus, because they’ve heard he can heal people, and they believe he can heal their friend. Trouble is, when they get to the house, the crowd is packed in too tight to let anyone through, let alone four guys carrying a fifth one.

They might turn away and decide to try again when the crowd’s a little smaller (and maybe a little nicer, too – notice how no one seems to want to move aside to let a paralyzed man get in to see the Healer). Or maybe they could raise enough of a ruckus that people would let them in, or so that Jesus would hear them and ask, “What the heck’s going on out there?”

Nah. These are guys, and this is their buddy, so they immediately figure out a different way. Can’t get in from the front, can get in from the back, can’t get in from the sides, so there’s only one answer: Dig a hole in the roof. We get to see Jesus, and we get to use tools, and we get to destroy something! These guys may have been related to the Mythbusters.

Now, roof destruction for them wasn’t the job it might be today – a roof of the average house in that place and time was probably layers of hardened mud or clay and woven mats of grass or other plants. A good pick and a couple of good shovels and the vandalism may commence. So whoever owns this house may wonder if Jesus makes such a good guest, if people are going to start hacking through his ceiling in order to get in.

But they do, and they let their friend down through this new skylight, and Jesus says to the man, “Your sins are forgiven.” This sets the cat amongst the pigeons in his listeners, who figure he ought not to be saying stuff like that. “Then we’ll do this,” Jesus says. “Get up, roll up your mat and walk.”

There are a lot of messages in this story, but one that sticks out to me is how many people involved had to find a different way to do something, and what and who tried to block their path. The friends couldn’t get to Jesus because all of the other people who wanted to hear Jesus have the way blocked.

Some of the listeners didn’t accept what Jesus really wanted to give the man, which was salvation. They didn’t accept that he had that authority, so he demonstrated what kind of authority he did have by healing the man’s paralysis as well.

In that day and time, something like paralysis was considered a sign that the person had sinned in some way, or that God just didn’t like them very much. If God liked them, they wouldn’t be paralyzed, or sick, or poor, or whatever. So the detractors are telling Jesus, “You aren’t authorized to forgive sins. See? You say he’s forgiven, but he’s still laying there on that mat.”

Jesus response may mean something like this: “You think it’d be a bigger deal if I healed his paralysis than if I offered him salvation? OK, then, I’ll heal his paralysis. Get up, buddy.” He may or may not have added that the first thing the guy could do now would be to help his friends repair the roof. Mark is silent on that detail.

There’s nothing wrong with trying to get our heads around the ways that God can work and trying to understand them. But sometimes we get ourselves fixed in those ways and by doing so we can get in the way of people who are trying to find their way to God.

Jesus will act, and he will do what most needs to be done, whether it fits within our frame of reference or not. After all, the very concepts of forgiveness and grace sometimes fall outside our usual reference system of fairness, justice and getting what you’ve got coming. Set in the context of that major paradigm shift, the different and possibly weird places his desire to reach out to everyone may take him seem a little less strange.

But they remain good news.

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