It says that word went out through Capernaum that Jesus was in the house. It seems so random to say, doesn’t it? Why do we care that Jesus was in a house? If we put this text into its context we learn that just right before this story in the Gospel of Mark Jesus healed a man with leprosy. He did it by touching him. In Jesus’ culture that rendered him unclean until he could cleanse himself again. Word spread like wildfire that Jesus had cured someone of leprosy so, of course, he was swarmed by others in need. It says that Jesus then stayed outside the city with the marginalized…on the outskirts of society. He could have been sitting in the lap of the “good people” inside Capernaum…but he chose to stay out on the edges for several days.
Eventually he returns to Capernaum and it doesn’t take long before the whole town knows that “Jesus is in the house.” It was most likely Peter’s house. Peter was from Capernaum and Peter’s house sometimes served as Jesus’ home base. News of the things that Jesus did and said had “gone viral”. People came running to get the best seats. There is probably going to be a show here.
Of course, the religious leaders showed up. “Who is this man and what is he teaching our people?” I think it is a good question. As a religious leader I have to point out that we seem to have made the religious leaders our scapegoats in the Biblical text. “Silly Scribes and Pharisees. We wouldn’t be like them if we had been there.” But the truth is that they were just doing their jobs. They were good people. They had to ask, “Who is this self-proclaimed religious teacher and what is he teaching our people about God?” I’ve marched into settings with righteous indignation steaming out of my ears when someone was saying something to my congregants about God that I found an anathema. And so, they too, had come to check out Jesus, the viral sensation of the day.
I am assuming that everyone there was basically a good person. Just like all of us here. We got up and came to church by 9:30 a.m. (I might add) because we are good, upstanding church people. Those good religious people of Capernaum had their eyes focused on Jesus and so do we. They came to see what he might have to say…and so do we.
Those good people arrived to a packed house. People were everywhere inside the house. They were even sitting on the window sills. They were standing outside the windows trying to hear or get a peek in. The door in was completely blocked. It was hot and stuffy and crammed. Everyone had come running to see and hear Jesus. Their ultimate motivation wasn’t that they wanted to do what Jesus told them to do. They wanted to be able to say, “I’ve heard Jesus speak. I saw him heal a woman.” I wonder why we all come to church. What are we looking for when we show up here?…we good, well-intentioned people who got up and came here early on a Sunday morning when we could have been sipping coffee and reading the Sunday morning paper.
The story goes that four friends show up late carrying their friend, a paralytic man. Jesus is already teaching inside the house. They bring their friend on a mat and each one is carrying his or her corner. We aren’t told the name of the paralyzed man or his friends. Remember our sermon series this summer on “Hidden Figures”? The unnamed people of the Bible are the marginalized, the outsiders, the ones too insignificant in the story to even get a name. And yet, Jesus usually trains his focus on the unnamed in the story. When we read our Bibles with an eye on the unnamed people, we learn that the movement of God is rarely at the center but is most often on the margins. Keep your eyes on the margins. Keep your eye on the edges of the story and you will meet God there in the wounded, the lonely, the hungry, the naked, the insignificant, the unnamed.
We don’t know why these friends brought the man. Perhaps they thought Jesus could heal him. Perhaps they knew their friend wanted to come and so, because they loved him, they each picked up their corner and did their part. Perhaps the man didn’t know where they were going but the friends decided to take him to Jesus. Why they brought their friend doesn’t even matter in the story. What matters is what good friends these four people were. I love these friends. Pay attention to the people you hang out with. While all their good neighbors and religious leaders were scurrying off to get the best seats in the house, these friends focused on their friend….a man with paralysis…the one who needed their help to get there. They paid attention first and foremost to a friend in need of their help and that is how they met Jesus.
By the time these five arrived the able-bodied had all beaten them there, of course. They tried to say “excuse me, excuse me” and get in the front door but all those good people were blocking their access and wouldn’t move aside…didn’t even seem to hear them. They tried to slide him through a window but they couldn’t get anywhere near a window. So they climbed up onto the roof, lifted the paralyzed man up and started digging down through the roof. I’m sure they didn’t bring the right tools with them for digging through a roof. They improvised.
OMG! Really? Now those are some good friends. This scripture is telling us that we need to get ourselves some good friends. You’ve got to have friends that are willing to work their corner and dig a hole in the roof when the good religious folks are blocking your access to Jesus. That is what these friends did. They took their corner and let no obstacle get in their way. Their complete focus was on their friend and they brought him into the presence of Jesus. They just had to get him close enough for the sacred to happen. They did whatever it took by whatever means was necessary.
Can you imagine everyone’s faces when they looked up over their heads and saw dirt starting to fall down on their faces….when the person, whose access they had blocked, was being lowered down right in front of Jesus? This paralytic man ended up closer to Jesus than all those able-bodied people who were staking out the good seats.
Watch how Jesus responded. He didn’t say, “Oh my, look what you have done to Peter’s house. We don’t behave this way. Have some decorum.” Jesus looked at the friends with absolute delight and then called the man, “Son.” I know that doesn’t sound astounding but it was. In ancient Israel, people with a disability were deemed sinners….guilty for their own injury…considered unclean…isolated out to the borderlands of society. And yet, this paralyzed man…this fortunate man….had friends who didn’t care about all that…who refused to ostracize him…who didn’t look at him with distain…who tore the roof off the house to bring him to Jesus. And Jesus welcomed him with open arms….called him “son”. Jesus demonstrated, for a packed house, what it means to be a community of faith.
“Son, your sins are forgiven,” Jesus said. For centuries we have interpreted that to mean the man was guilty of a sin that caused his paralysis. But I beg you to hear it differently today. Jesus wasn’t saying the man needed to be forgiven to be healed. Jesus was letting the crowd know that God is not offended by our humanity. He was addressing this man’s shame…shame placed there by his culture. He was addressing the community’s prejudice and restoring this man back into the lap of his people.
Right on cue the religious leaders began talking amongst themselves. “What is he saying? This is blasphemy. What should we do about it?” Orthodoxy can easily turn into idolatry. Jesus looks at the scribes and says, “Which is easier for me to say to this man: “Your sins are forgiven” or “Take up your mat and walk”? But so that you will know who I am, watch this.” Then he turns to the man and says, “Stand up and take your mat and walk.” In other words Jesus was saying, “Which is easier? Who cares? I’ll do both. I’ll do whatever it takes to care for people.”
Jesus and the friends give us a radical message for this day and age – people matter more than rules and orthodoxy…people matter more than getting the best seats in the house…people matter more than our structures and our polity and our correct practices. You want to meet Jesus? Keep your eyes on the marginalized. Even Jesus told us that, “Whatever you do unto the least of these….the marginalized of our society…you do unto me.” Change your focus. Keep your eyes on the one in need…be a friend…tear the roof off if necessary ….and Jesus will be there….in the house.
My friends, the American church is dying because we have focused on rules, orthodoxy and decorum. I’m afraid that in many settings the church has become the place where “good people” block other people’s access to the sacred. It seems like the only way forward is for us to tear the place apart….to remind ourselves that everyone is part of God’s beloved community and we only suffocate ourselves inside the house if we don’t open up the door. We are blocking our own access to Jesus and to one another and to our very liberation. It doesn’t matter that we are “good people”. Being good isn’t enough. Being the friends who work our corner is what is needed now.
We need to unblock the door, unroof the church – people matter more. Look up at the roof. Up over our heads, God is calling us to rip off the roof because sometimes Jesus is below us and it is our only way in. Amen.