Today Jesus heals a paralytic.
I have the joy and privilege of sharing Bible stories like this to the First Presbyterian School, and a number of years ago I shared this story and it became a story I will never forget. Many of you have heard me tell this story before, but I simply cannot resist telling it again.
I was in charge of the weekday Chapel Service I have with the school. This was the lectionary story, so I brought my prop, as I had every time I told this story. I brought my mat. I laid it out, and said, “Jesus is going to heal a couple of people today. Who wants to go first!?” Of course nearly all the hands shot up. Who wouldn’t want to go!?
As our courageous first volunteer came forward, I explained quietly to Bobby the two cues he needed: one to pretend he couldn’t move, and the other which would set him free. As this little boy climbed on the mat, he immediately froze, because we had talked about what paralyzed meant.
He was good. Frozen in time. Unresponsive. Stiff as a board. Way beyond my prompting, he was playing the part! And he looked up at me with the most pitiful look, like, “Come save me from this prison.” His eyes bulged, and his pupils dilated. I retold a part of the story and then, right on cue, miraculously he came to life!
Without prompting, he grabbed the mat and went tearing out the Chapel door! It was great! Teachers yelled for him to stop and come back, but in his exuberance he made it out of the chapel and into the hall. He was healed, and excited, and off to tell others! It was just a perfect embodiment of that story.
There was a part of me that didn’t want to stop him. He was on the loose. Just like God. Just like the power and authority of Christ. Spreading. Moving. Breathing. Unbridled.
Behind the exuberance of our preschooler, the story of the paralytic has some deeper meaning. Jesus goes home in Capernaum for a few days. Word gets out and many want to come see Jesus, some to get healed. Many gather around him, and there is no room. So some friends of the paralytic climb on the roof, dig through it, and lower him down in. (There’s nothing like a bunch of strangers digging their way through your roof!) Jesus gets some flack from the scribes about his saying to the man, “Your sins are forgiven.” So he goes on, “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’?
Jesus heals him. He stands up, takes his mat, and goes out before all of them.
My favorite part about the Mark story is in its brevity. He moves the story along, so that we are amazed by the sudden nature of the miracle. Also, those in attendance are “amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this!’”
The “shock and awe” value of this miracle is not the overwhelming confidence of Jesus or even the healing power itself, but in the nature of the correlation of healing and being forgiven. As the Spirit of God breaks forth in Mark, first in the Jesus’ baptism, and now in his healing works, we get a sense that God has some surprises in store. The best is yet to come.
Power and authority collide in a cosmic struggle against evil. Demons lurk in the shadows. Here sin lurks. Each is taken in hand and dealt with by the Son of Man.
I find great comfort in knowing that God’s cosmic struggle led to an overwhelming setting free of the Spirit. And I am thankful I get to spend my days with those who have caught that Spirit, like that young preschooler. It is one of amazing power and freedom – even free enough to take us out the door with our mat, and run to tell people how great it is to be alive.