7th Sunday after the Epiphany
- Epiphany 7(B).22 “Let Down, One Last Time” Mark 2:1-12
Our Gospel today picks up exactly where we left off last week. Jesus healed a leper, out of pity, touching him, infecting himself with the leper’s uncleanness in order to infect him (and us) with his love, mercy, and forgiveness—a great exchange, a good infection!
But remember how that ended? Jesus sternly, seriously charged the leper: “tell no one about this!” But the leper—over-excited and ungracious—ignores Jesus’ word (it’s never a good idea to go against Jesus’ word no matter how bizarre or unhelpful his word seems to be) and the result of the leper’s unauthorized blabbing is that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming at him from every quarter. And that was a problem because Jesus said (just before the leper incident) “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” Preaching the word in the synagogues of Israel. This was Jesus’ mission. The miracles of healing were not part of that mission, not PR, but came from pity, from compassion, because he just couldn’t help himself, though it made accomplishing his primary mission of preaching the word much, much more difficult.
OK, that’s a lot of background for our Gospel story today, but (as Auerbach said) the holy scriptures are all background and God is lurking in the shadows of these hidden details we so easily miss…
But now you can understand the first line of our Gospel: “And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was in the house.” (Not “at home” which is a rare miss by the ESV. The Greek εν οικω is literally “in house” and this, clearly, in context, does not mean he was at the little craftsman cottage fixer-upper in Capernaum that he owned, tinkered with on the weekends (he was a trained carpenter, you may recall) and called “home”. Because Jesus has no home on this sinful earth; like us, he is a stranger and sojourner here and Heaven is his home (and ours :-).
This “house” was not merely some private residence either; in the Scriptures, an οικος, in this context, would obviously refer to the synagogue, the church in Capernaum, the sanctuary when you couldn’t get to the real “house” of the tabernacle or temple in Jerusalem. Jesus is back to his real mission of preaching the word in the synagogues and temple of Israel, but incognito, as much as he can be. He must have snuck back in to town, on the down-lo, middle of the night, and when the word spread “he’s back!” all the sick folks, lepers, and lunatics jammed the place like the unfortunate “Who” concert in Cincinnati in 1979 when all those people got trampled to death. Come to think of it, a publicity shy rock star who’d rather be surfing, chilling, and eating with his friends is not a very terribly unbiblical way to picture Jesus 🙂
So, Jesus is in the house, the church of Capernaum “preaching the word to them” and four guys come bringing their buddy who was paralyzed (maybe a ‘wounded warrior’?) because his buddies are pretty athletic and don’t take “no, there’s no room in the house” for an answer. They haul their buddy up on the roof, cut a whole in it, and let him down, commando-style, landing him softly right in front of Jesus—very cinematic!
“And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic: ‘Son, your sins are forgiven’.” Usually, we take this like skeptical scribes took it and miss the beauty here. Jesus saw their faith—what does this mean? It means he read their hearts and minds! It means he saw what they came for and delivered the gift above all gifts, straight away! Most of us read this like the scribes; we think these 5 faithful soldiers of the cross were in some way disappointed, that they’d not gotten what they wanted. But nothing in the text suggests they’re anything but completely satisfied with the Word!
It was the scribes (the religious scholars and retired clergy) who were disappointed, who thought Jesus had let these (brave!) men down—see what I did there? Let them down, they let their friend down through the roof?! OK. It’s like Hermann Sasse, maybe requested, on his death bed in Australia, to be buried in St. Louis with the Concordia Seminary faculty bearing him to his grave. A friend went: “Why would you want this, Dr. Sasse? Concordia Seminary was terrible to you, they refused to take you in when you were a refugee, constantly dissed you!?” Sasse smiled: “I thought it would be fitting to have them let me down, one last time.” (I’ve no idea what CSL letting you down feels like… 😉
The scribes think: “Blasphemy! No one can forgive sins but God alone!” I can picture the scene clearly. The 4 men are carrying their beaming buddy out the door, the crowd is parting (they are imposing figures) when the callout comes. The paralytic wants nothing more than what Jesus thinks is most necessary for him to have. If he never walks again, he’d still find his way. The word of forgiveness from Jesus is what faith yearns for; and with that, is content.
It’s good the scribes recognize only God can forgive sins; too bad they don’t recognize Jesus is God. So he asks “what’s easier?: to forgive his sins or say “Rise and walk?” But that you may know the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins… Jesus tells the paralytic: Rise; pick up your bed, and go!”
Which he does, immediately, picking up his bed and strolling out before them all, so that they were amazed and glorified God saying, “We never saw anything like this!” But the paralytic had—he’s seen it all before, in the word and promise of the Messiah. He knew forgiveness of sins is God’s best trick, his signature move. If our soul’s cleansed of sin, our body will also be fixed, and (in God’s good time) we will rise, walk, run (and not grow weary!) charge further up and further in to Aslan’s country, chasing him in the most merry game of them all—a game called “Heaven.”
Feeling let down by Jesus is not uncommon, especially these days. We’re taught such low expectations of him, like if he just restored our health, helped us claw our way up, all the way to middle management, all would be well. As C.S. Lewis said “We’re like children making mud pies in a slum when a vacation at the sea is offered us. We fool around with drink, sex, and ambition when eternal joy is promised us!”
John Mayer says “I know that I’m open/ I know that I’m free/ I’ll always let hope in/ Wherever I’ll be/ And if I go blind I’d still… find my way/ But I guess I just felt like giving up today.” I know how that feels. I bet you do, too; when nothing goes right, every little thing just defeats you… But Jesus promises he’s never gonna let you down (never gonna give you up, never gonna run around and desert you… wait; maybe that’s someone else? Anyway, I know the difference between Jesus and Rick Astley. I just throw this stuff in to test you and make sure you know… Jesus never lets us down, either 😉
But you know what does? Faith; faith lets us down, does!… like the paralytic’s friends let him down, through the roof, landing him at Jesus’ feet. Skeptics may feel let down, seeing such suffering, hearing Jesus only say: “Son, your sins are forgiven.” But, faith hears this + rises + walks + runs! at the word that gives everything you need to get up and go charging through earth’s travails to Christ’s Country. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.