8 Feb 2015
“Unable to get near Jesus because of the crowd, they opened up the roof above him.” (Mark 2:4a) In the name …
I don’t know if you find this as interesting as I do, but I enjoy the subtle differences among the Gospel stories. Take today’s for example. Mark presents the most unadorned picture of Jesus among the four Gospels. It is, for example, only this earliest Gospel that calls Jesus a carpenter. When it’s re-told by later Evangelists, Jesus becomes not the carpenter, but the carpenter’s son. And only in Mark’s story of the healing of the paralyzed man in Jesus’ home village of Capernaum do we hear that it took place in Jesus’ own house. Jesus had a job and Jesus had a house in Mark’s Gospel. This kind of ordinariness I find appealing. I like to think of Jesus as knowing what it’s like to live like the rest of us. That gives Jesus a certain grounding that helps me connect a little bit better with Him, and that’s the real purpose behind His whole life, bringing us and God closer.
But this is still Jesus. He’s also more than ordinary. His reputation as a healer is obviously going to come into play in this miracle story, but even before that happens we find out that it is His teaching that has filled His house with guests. Now the house couldn’t have been large, but it was filled and people were even hanging around outside the open door trying to hear what Jesus had to say. Liturgically, we’re in a time of transition. We’re getting ready to think about the cross, but we’re not quite there yet. And so before we get to that time of sadness and pain, I like to think about Jesus in His own home and surrounded by people who are interested in what He has to say and who are impressed by Him as a religious teacher. It won’t stay like this, but at least for a while, Jesus knows the respect that should always have been His. Even the ones who complain about Jesus that day, only do it to themselves in their own thoughts. They don’t dare say anything out loud. Mark’s Gospel is clear about this. I like to think of this Jesus too, a Jesus at peace.
Then there’s the main story of the healing and its dramatic setting. Jesus has an earthen roof on His house. Four guys bring a family member, maybe a friend, to Jesus, hoping for a miracle. They can’t get anywhere near Him. Being a resourceful bunch, however, they climb onto the roof and begin digging through it. I don’t know how any of us would react to someone ruining our house, but I don’t think the house meant all that much to Jesus. He was hardly ever there. So when Jesus sees what they’re doing, His reaction isn’t to scream and yell. Instead, we’re told that Jesus is impressed by their faith.
Now let’s think about what this means because we’re all called to be people of an enthusiastic faith struggling to get closer to Jesus. Maybe not breaking through the ceiling of the church – we’ve got enough expenses as is. But as people who are motivated by belief. We should note the way Jesus sets His priorities in today’s Gospel. Telling the paralyzed man to get up and walk is the lesser miracle. The greater one is the healing of the man’s soul. The religious scribes sitting in Jesus’ house are not offended by the physical healing. When the paralyzed man walks, the people give praise to God. It says in the Bible: “They were all astounded and glorified God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this.’” (2:12) Jesus may have been the vehicle, but God is the one who is glorified. This is very traditional. But when Jesus presumes that He Himself has the authority to forgive sins, eyebrows are raised. In this act, He has taken upon Himself the prerogative of God. This isn’t Jesus as a religious teacher anymore, or even a prophet, or even the Messiah. Jesus has stepped into the place where only God stood.
With the drama of the miracle and the argument taking place, we can forget where all of this started. Jesus was impressed by the faith of the ones who enthusiastically, if not creatively, sought Him out as a man of God. When Jesus sees this kind of faith, His goal is to foster a deeper faith. Last Sunday was the Super Bowl. I didn’t watch it until about the last five minutes. I’m not a big football fan. But for as little as I know about the sport, I know when you’re second and goal on the one yard line, you don’t pass the ball. Jesus has a house full of people who are impressed by Him or at least intrigued by Him. There are even people digging through His roof because they believe He can perform miracles. Jesus is on the proverbial one yard line. He knows the play everyone expects will be called, but He passes instead. Jesus knows when He crosses the line from traditional to radical. It’s when He forgives the man’s sins according to His own volition. He knows that’s not what you do if you want to keep all of these people happy and cross into the end zone. But Jesus didn’t begin His ministry to be a teacher of what people already knew and expected. Jesus came with the astoundingly audacious message that in Him God was breaking into our world. He saw the people’s faith and He tried to deepen it.
Play that story 2,000 years forward and we’re the people sitting in Jesus’ house. We’re the ones who have come to hear His teachings. We’re the ones who believe He has the authority to forgive sins. We’re the ones of a searching faith. And just like 2,000 years ago Jesus will try to take our faith and deepen it. And we shouldn’t be surprised if where He wants to go isn’t where we expect to go. I doubt anyone in that Capernaum house expected Jesus to equate Himself with God that day long ago. But the ones who were willing to believe Jesus even when He took them down unexpected paths, they were the ones who became the first Christians. We are here because they were brave enough to let Jesus lead them. And the nature of faith hasn’t changed. It’s still about following wherever Jesus will take us. We need to think about that as we prepare for Lent. That we may give Jesus the chance to lead us so that we can come closer to God, for this we pray in His name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo