The Faith of a Community

I’ve been meditating on Mark 2:1-12 for the last few weeks. It’s a fascinating episode for many reasons, and among them is the role of the paralytic’s friends in vv. 1-5. Here’s the text:

When He had come back to Capernaum several days afterward, it was heard that He was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room, not even near the door; and He was speaking the word to them. And they came, bringing to Him a paralytic, carried by four men. Being unable to get to Him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above Him; and when they had dug an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic was lying. And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

Mark focuses on the man’s friends rather than on anything the man says, does, or intends. This is different from the way I’ve always thought of this episode.

In my imagination, the paralytic hears that Jesus is near, so he orders his caretakers to take him to see the Great Physician. As they carry him through the city streets, he is contended and serene, cultivating his strong inner faith, confident that Jesus can indeed heal him.

They arrive to find the house crowded. No problem. At the man’s command, his friends shuttle him up to the roof on a stretcher, remove a skylight, install a system of pulleys connected to the roof and smoothly lower him down as he and Jesus lock eyes. The man is still reclining comfortably, of course, and they set him nicely down in front of Jesus who then conducts this interchange with him and the scribes to the quiet approval of all those watching.

The scene closes to the pleasant sound of golf applause coming from all those gathered ‘round.

That’s not how it goes at all, of course. This is Mark relating this episode, a gritty narrator with an unusual agenda.

Unnamed men hear that Jesus is at home, so they grab their friend who, for all we know, may be half-conscious or even asleep, and carry him down narrow streets, bumping his head on stone walls as they twist and turn down the alleyways, finally arriving at the house.

They’re probably all disheveled, sweaty, panting, and their lame friend is very uncomfortable and very likely in great pain at this point.

“Oh no! The house is crowded and there are people spilling out onto the street! What’re we going to do!?”

“Let’s go through the roof!”

“What!?  Are you crazy!?”

But they do it.

They drag him up to the roof, tear it apart, dust and bits of mud and chunks of stuff falling down all over the people inside who are probably not at all happy that these strangers are doing a demo-job on what is probably Peter’s house. Some are even shouting, “what are you doing!? Not only are you interrupting Jesus’ teaching, but you’re destroying my roof!” The nerve!

They are undeterred—they must get their friend to Jesus! So they lower him down—how? With what? We don’t know—rope? His clothes? Again, this guy can’t be all that comfortable at this point.

But, as it happens, there he is, lying on the floor, on his mat.

Among the many striking things about this episode, I’m most struck by what strikes Jesus. We do not read, “Jesus, seeing his faith . . .”

Rather, Mark reports that Jesus noted “their faith,” and thus says to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

Interestingly, we’re not even told that this was the man’s concern.  In fact, we’re told almost nothing about the paralytic. He’s a bit player in his own Gospel episode! How unfair! We do see, however, that these men acted on behalf of their friend.

They had faith and he had his sins forgiven.

Reflecting again on this episode, I’ve been reminded of the times I have been literally carried by the faith of my friends. Many of us can identify those times of painful tragedy, unspeakable grief, crushing loss–seasons when we find ourselves losing heart and losing hope. I’m grateful for dear friends among whom I’ve experienced what it means to be carried by the faith and hope of others.

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4 responses to “The Faith of a Community

  • msw

    This brings me to tears, Tim. It is so full of hope. Thank you.

  • Andrew

    Your narrative is pretty good “Unnamed men hear that Jesus is at home, so they grab their friend who, for all we know, may be half-conscious or even asleep, and carry him down narrow streets, bumping his head on stone walls as they twist and turn down the alleyways, finally arriving at the house.” … poetic and yet with hints of Monty Python-esque.

    In the book of John some claim the author clearly intended to hid his own identity. Could it be that this is no mistake in this case too?

    You suggest that the emphasis here is on the faith of this friends. A great suggestion no doubt and it might just be – but what other ideas have you encountered it could be?

    Could it be that the paralytic’s identity was sensitive, perhaps some some well-connected individual related to the temple elite by blood, but not stature? Even here your suggestion makes the most sense.

    About the ‘saints’ raised on Jesus’ resurrection ([Matt 27:51-53][Mk 15:38][Luke 23:44-45]) I’ve heard (but not verified) there were early Church traditions the raised saints included deceased relatives of Sanhedrin members, including possibly a deceased son of the High priest! Although this is anecdotal at best, and at worst invention – if true would certainly explain not only why this tidbit was included in the Gospel, but also why so many later came to believe [Acts 2:41].

    Sometimes there is purpose in what is omitted ([Matt 12:16] [Mk 3:12][Mk 7:36][Mark 8:30][Mark 9:9][Lk 8:56][Lk 9:21]). The bible reveals much in what it omits.

  • Linda

    I remember coming to understand this same thing in college when I was tearing apart the passage for a class on Mark. I did not realize then how personal this passage would become. I, too, am grateful for the beautiful people who carried me through crises of life, faith, and character. You have been one of them on many occasions in my life. Thanks, Tim!

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