Mark 2:When (Jesus) returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2 So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. 3 Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4 And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6 Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7 “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 8 At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? 9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’? 10 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— 11 “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” 12 And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”
I’m trying to picture what it would have looked like for four men to carry another man on a stretcher some distance, THEN lift him up onto the roof of a house, THEN make a large hole in the roof (likely with their bare hands), THEN carefully lower him down through the hole so he could be touched by Jesus. I’m imagining four exhausted men, sweating profusely, trying to catch their breath, all so their friend could be healed. It is an astounding act of love for a friend, and faith in the healing power of Jesus. You wouldn’t go to such trouble unless you were certain healing was possible.
Rather than chastise these men for damaging the house, or interrupting his teaching, Jesus said, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Wait, what?! I’m imagining the potential for great disappointment on the part of the four men. They went to all this trouble, but no healing. At least not at first. Jesus finally heals the paralyzed man, but only to establish his authority to forgive sins, which Jesus understands as the more important blessing. Physical ailments are temporary. One’s spiritual state is eternal.
This morning I’m thinking of times when the blessing I got wasn’t the blessing I sought. About ten years ago my family and I moved to Charlotte, North Carolina so I could start a new job there working in the bishop’s office and for the national Lutheran church (ELCA). I was expecting we would sell our home in San Antonio fairly quickly, then buy a home in the Charlotte area. So, I signed a six month lease for a home that was too small for five people, but would do fine for a few short months until we moved into whatever home we purchased. I even made sure we could end the lease earlier than six months without penalty.
Then the bottom fell out of the housing market.
By the time we listed our San Antonio home for sale, no one was buying homes. It was the great recession. People were being laid off left and right. Six months came and went with no buyer, so we renewed our lease for another six months. Paying for the rental home while paying the mortgage on our empty home in Texas was killing us financially. We ultimately decided to make the home available for rent, hoping the market would recover in short order – as many people were saying. It did not.
And to make matters worse, we had awful neighbors in our Charlotte neighborhood. Seriously, it was bad. I remember gathering the family together to pray because we were all so tired of bumping into one another in a little house, tired of the stupidity of our neighbors, feeling homesick for Texas and all our friends and family there. Help dear Lord! Sell our home! Find us a new place to live in North Carolina!
We would spend a full year in the North Carolina rental and it would be over five years before we managed to sell the house in Texas.
On this side of the experience I see that the Lord was teaching me to be patient, to trust in God’s provision when resources are low, to pray for those who persecute me, to wait upon the Lord’s timing. This was not the blessing I asked for, but is one for which I’m grateful nonetheless.
Heavenly Father, the bible teaches us that your ways are not our ways. This is most certainly true. Few of us choose to welcome hardship, but adversity is often the context in which important lessons are learned and character is formed. Give us grace to embrace the difficult times, trusting in your goodness to see us through. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.