Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany
February 23, 2003
The Gospel: Mark 2:1-12
Sermon: "To Free the Brokenhearted"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 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. Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 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. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven." Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 'Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" 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? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Stand up and take your mat and walk'? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins" - he said to the paralytic - "I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home." 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!"
Mark 2: 1-12
To Free the Brokenhearted
Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany - February 23, 2003
The young man was walking with the group into the women's prison. In front of them was a set of double steel gates. As they approached the first gate the guard opened the door. The entire was group was asked to step through the door. They waited in the space between the two gates while the guard closed the gate behind them. The second gate opened the young man passed through with the group into the interior of the prison. As the last person passed through the second gate, the guard slammed the door. Then the young man heard the key lock with a loud click that echoed down the linoleum floored and concrete walled corridor. The click was an eerie sound and the young man suddenly felt paralyzed. He felt like he was suddenly a prisoner, trapped inside the bars and unable to move freely. In fact, when that door slammed and the key turned the young man froze in his tracks. Every muscle for movement quit working.
The feeling of being trapped can occur in many ways. Diseases such as blindness, ALS, MS cause us to feel trapped. Addictions to drugs and alcohol trap us. Sometimes family responsibility, our jobs, our daily situations cause us to feel trapped. We can even feel trapped by our traditions. We feel like we have to do things the same way all the time. This one is especially strong in the church. When these feelings of entrapment come along we feel paralyzed. We feel paralyzed with fear and we can not move. We are scared to move. We are scared we might be hurt. We are scared someone might ridicule us. We are scared something might cause us to be even more frightened, even more paralyzed. We are scared something might change.
The story of the Gospel addresses these fears in a wonderful way. We see Jesus surrounded by a crowd of people. These people are coming to be healed, touched, and blessed. Jesus is responding to the crowd. But in this crowd there is one man who can not get to Jesus under his own power. He is physically paralyzed. He is trapped by his own body and can not move. As a result four friends saw a way, a different way to help him get to Jesus. Jesus sees their trust in Him and he responds. The man is cured. He is released from his prison. The bars are removed and he can walk.
One danger here is that we sometimes think the issue is a matter of faith. The man's faith or the faith of his friends caused him to be cured. The issue is not that simple. The man was cured by the grace of God and through the persistence of his friends. Faith plays a part in the healing but so does grace and persistence.
The other issue that is sometimes a danger is the belief that sin causes these types of illnesses. In other words, the person did something that caused him to be paralyzed. The paralysis was in essence a punishment from God. If God was truly to punish us for our sins with illnesses like paralysis then we would all be in trouble. We would be quite a sight. I can't imagine what we would look like if God gave physical punishments for sinful behavior.
The most important issue in this story is the ministry and identity of Jesus. Previously in Mark, Jesus has cast out demons and healed people of illnesses. Now, Jesus is saying he can forgive sins. These actions should remind us of the words of the prophet Isaiah concerning the Messiah.
"The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me, he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor,". Through healing, through casting out demons, and through forgiving sins, we see these words from Isaiah fulfilled. Jesus is the anointed one. He has come to restore our relationship with God. He has come to heal our brokenness, to release us from our prisons, and to forgive us of our sinful and wayward ways. Jesus is our only eternal hope.
We do have a question before us. Who are we like in the story? Are we like the four men who persevered to bring their friend to Jesus? Or are we like the scribes who question Jesus' identity and ability? This question is very important for each of us. For at its base is the question of trust in God. The four men were persistent and believed that Jesus could help their friend in some way. They had no guarantee that Jesus would heal him. They had no guarantee their friend would ever walk again. They were persistent. The scribes did not believe in Jesus. They did not believe he was the Son of God. They were stuck in the old ways. Only God can forgive sins they say and yet before their eyes the man walks upon being forgiven. They chose not to believe, not to trust for their own personal reasons.
The reality for us is that Jesus came to liberate us from our prisons. They may be physical. They may be mental. They are all spiritual. Our freedom from these prisons restores us to wholeness establishing a loving relationship with God. All we have to do is accept the love of God and watch the healing begin. Who knows in what way our prison walls may come down?