Text: Mark 2: 1-12
A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” 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!”
In this passage we see a picture of a home in Capernaum that was brimming with people to hear Jesus speak. Vs 2 says “there was no room left, not even outside the door”. The zeal to hear the Word of God is evident in this home. Jesus preached to such a zealous crowd. It is in midst of this hearing of the Word that 4 men came with a paralyzed man. They carried him on a mat where the 4 youths held the 4 corners. Since the house where Jesus was preaching was full of people ‘the access to Jesus for a paralyzed man was a challenge’. I am imagining that one of the youth requested the bearded man at the door to excuse him so that they can carry the paralyzed man to Jesus. The tall man must have rolled his eyes and said “Gentlemen we are hearing the word. Be off. Meet him during the snack time.” The 4 anonymous youths whose history or background we are unaware of, do not take no for an answer. When they are denied access, they search for other ways. What do they do? They climb on the roof top. And they did an act of vandalism. They dug the roof top. The entire crowd must have cringed at this act of defiance. Today we live in times where the buildings that we live in defines our identity and our social standing. But the 4 youths dared to declare that human life is way more important than buildings. The 4 youths after unruffling the crowd, lowered the mat right where Jesus stood. And here is the twist. Vs 5 says Jesus saw their faith. Rev Dr Sham P. Thomas says that “We believe that faith is something hidden and private. Then how did Jesus see the faith of the youths?” Karen Armstrong beautifully says “Faith is that which drives us to action.” The action of the youths who were denied access showed the tenacity to climb on the roof top and carry the paralyzed man too on the roof top. These people were driven with the desire of giving the paralyzed man a direct access to Jesus. Remember it is the crowd and the mindset of the people regarding the disabled and the paralyzed people that made Jesus inaccessible in this context. Like all the others in the crowd, the paralyzed man too had the right to have access to Jesus. When he was denied that, the 4 youths exhibited their faith through a daring action. Jesus said “Your sins are forgiven.” The moment Jesus said this there were some teachers of the law who belonged to the group of the Pharisees. They took objection to the statement of forgiveness by Jesus. It was people like the Pharisees that taught the paralyzed man that “It is because of your sins that you are paralyzed.” The paralyzed man internalized this guilt. Here Jesus is offering the man grace and releasing him not only from his physical captivity but also the mental captivity that he lived with. But the Pharisees had a problem.
Philip Yancey in his wonderful book “What Is So Amazing About Grace” narrates that there was a way to identify a Pharisee in midst of a crowd in ancient Israel. The Pharisees had a lump on their forehead. Lump on their forehead? Without reading further I started to guess. ‘May be because of the prayer position where they touched their head becoming prostrate that the lump developed’. But it was much more interesting. Yancey says “Pharisees were real heroes who tried to live by the 10 Commandments very strictly. So whenever they were out on the streets or market place their eyes were fixed on their feet as if having a conversation with it. They never lifted their head. The reason was if they lifted their head their eyes would see a house and they would covet, they would see a woman and desire, would see a neighbor whom they would love to kill. So to avoid all the sinning, they fixed their eyes on their feet and the road. All the cities had huge walls. Since their eyes were talking to their feet they never saw the wall ahead and BANG. OUCHHHHH. There might have been regular bangings and hence a huge lump on the forehead. It is also said that the size of the lump was like a medal system. Ones with huge lump were great Pharisees; the ones with small ones were those who cheated in between. Moving on, the spirituality of the Pharisee was simple. ‘No matter what, I should not sin. I will not look at my neighbor or his house, and I do not care what he does but I should not sin.’ We should ask ourselves are we like that just avoiding troubles and moving. We are so obsessed with our life and our salvation that we do not lift our eyes and look at the plight of the people. We just want to play safe.
Jesus refutes the proponents of the law. Jesus knew that the physical healing was not enough. The paralyzed man had to be released from the guilt produced by the society and asks the man “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” (vs11) The paralyzed man gets up, takes his mat and goes home in full view of the people who denied him access. And the people who denied access and cringed when the 4 youths broke open the roof said in amazement a doxology, praising God “We have never seen anything like this!” (Vs 12) As Rev Dr Sham P Thomas says “It is obvious that the paralyzed man was healed. But also the people who denied access to the paralyzed, in the end were also healed.”
My dear friends, today many differently abled people are denied access to many public infrastructures and institutions. More and more hurdles are put that deny them a normal living. They have a right to Access and a right to Excel. Like the Pharisees, we are too focused with our lives and our careers. We just do not want to get into any trouble. Are we ready to be like the 4 youths whose name and profile remains hidden, who strived for the access of the disabled and the paralyzed. “Faith is not just what we profess, it is tha which drives us to action. One of my friends Anisha Joseph along with Arman Ali have initiated a campaign to make Indian Railways more Disabled Friendly. They belong to the category of 4 youths who want to bring a change. What good is it going to do? This may be our first thought. But my dear friends I ask you to put your faith into action and sign the petition given below.
“We too are disabled. The ones who lack sensitivity and are given to pessimism and cynicism are disabled of a higher kind. So be healed and join the Cause.”
Rev Merin Mathew
Mar Thoma Syrian Church