St Michael’s and St Barnabas, 13th July 2014
Reading – Mark 2:1-12
No-one knew about the great evil I had done. No-one, that is, except me. Even today I struggle to talk about it – because, you see, I never thought I had it in me to do such wrong. One minute, I was a normal, healthy young man, popular with all my family and friends. The next I was quite literally crippled with guilt, shocked at just how easy it was to harm another human being.
And because I was afraid what I might do next, I took to my bed for hours, then days, then weeks. I simply could not see how my life could ever return to normal. I lay, a prisoner of my own shame, crushed and broken – and in the end even unable to move.
Yet I have to say, my friends were brilliant. They didn’t ask me lots of probing questions or tell me to snap out of it. They cared for me, made sure I washed, ate, had clothes to wear.
But I could see, they were genuinely puzzled by my worsening condition. That’s why from time to time they brought along this or that healer, to pray for my recovery and to prescribe the latest treatment. Believe me, I really wanted their remedies to work, and I was willing to try even the strangest and foulest smelling concoction. But none of them had any effect. Not surprising, really. They were trying to cure my body, but it was my heart that was paralysed.
And then they told me about Jesus. Now I have to say, I was genuinely interested in Him. He did seem to be different. They were tales of demons driven out, lepers cured, even someone’s mother-in-law healed of a fever. But what difference could Jesus make to a wreck like me?
“Well, let’s find out”, my friends said, “He’s coming to town next week”.
I still remember that day like it was yesterday. Even before my friends got me up, I could tell there was a special atmosphere in the air. As I lay on my bed, with the shutters tightly fastened as usual, I could hear the sound of many people going past the window, chattering, talking excitedly – not just about the usual stuff, but the sort of things we’d all learnt about when we were kids, the coming Messiah, the kingdom of God, that sort of thing. If only I could, I would have joined them. But my legs simply refused to work.
That’s how I ended up being carried on a mat out into the brilliant sunshine, down the streets, with the sound of the crowds in the distance gradually getting louder and louder. We were overtaken by some youths who pushed past us, telling us not to be late, and then laughing at their own little joke. I could tell already we should have started out earlier, and it was no real surprise to find the way into the house blocked by a teeming mass of humanity.
“That’s it”, I said, “best turn round and go home, boys. We’ve no hope of seeing Jesus now”. And I really did expect my friends just to pick me up and take me back to my bed, in my own little dark room. That’s where sinners like me belonged, after all, and what right did I have to expect anything different?
“If you’ve thought we’ve brought you all this way for nothing”, one of my friends replied, puffing and panting from the effort, “then think again. We’ve got you here, and we’re not going to leave until we’ve found a way of you meeting Jesus”.
“Like drop me in through the roof?” I said sarcastically.
“Like drop you in through the roof”, he replied. And then I suddenly realised I should have kept my mouth shut. Because before too long, my friends were pointing at the roof, measuring up the ropes they had carried me in on, and discussing the best way to carry out their plan. I wanted to tell them to stop being so crazy, but I think they would have just told me to shut up.
That’s how I ended up on the roof, with my friends removing the tiles, until at last there was a big enough hole to let me through. As I peered through the opening I could see the gasps of astonishment from the crowd, the nudging of elbows, the quiet whispers. But the man in the middle just carried on talking in his own serene fashion. It was as if He knew I was coming and was just waiting for the appointment. And in the meanwhile He kept on preaching the word, as if what was going on above Him was just a normal part of yet another normal day.
Actually I could have stayed on that roof quite a bit longer just for me to hear Him preach. Because, believe me, this was preaching like nothing you’ve ever heard before. He wasn’t like those religious bigwigs using long, fancy words and telling us not to do 101 things before breakfast. He wasn’t like one of those wild-eyed prophets trying to whip us up into an emotional frenzy. He was simply talking with clear authority and plain words, in such a way that suddenly everything anyone ever wrote about the Lord made perfect sense, and it was obvious what the Scriptures were talking about.
But my friends didn’t want me to hang around – quite literally, as it turned out. One moment I was lying on a solid surface, the next I was starting to go down, down into this whirlpool of noise and commotion. I wondered what would happen when I landed. Would I be confronted by the angry houseowner? Or by crowds upset by the interruption? But there was no going back. With a jolt I landed on the floor, and my friends pulled up the ropes. It was just me, before Jesus, surrounded by a curious, whispering throng.
Then Jesus motioned with His hand, and there was this almost supernatural silence. I wished for a second that the floor would swallow me up, that I was almost anywhere else but there. And then I caught Jesus’ gaze. He was looking at me, not with anger, not with annoyance, but the most extreme and most tender love I have ever known. And as I was drawn into His gaze, do you know what He said? “Son, your sins are forgiven”.
It was if Jesus at that moment was looking right into my heart. Here was someone who could see the real me that no-one else had ever really seen – the sinner, the liar, the pretender. And He was willing me to look back at Him and trust Him for the healing I so desperately needed, the healing of my withered, pathetic soul which knew nothing but guilt and shame.
So what was I to do? Because part of me wanted so desperately to be cured of this inner sickness. I’d been longing for months, no, years, to be free, and Jesus was offering me this freedom. Yet part of me wanted to hang on to this guilt and this shame. Because this was now the real me. It was my identity. It was who I had become, and like a big protective shell it kept me safe from the world around me. Could I really get rid of it and face the world again without fear? In short, did I want to believe in Jesus and accept the change He was offering me?
Fortunately I had a bit of time to think that over. Because no sooner had Jesus said these words then the whispering and the elbow nudging started again. But it wasn’t directed at me. It was directed at Jesus. And I suddenly realised that all the religious bigwigs from Jerusalem were actually there in that room, listening to Jesus. And they didn’t like what they were hearing. Why does this fellow talk like that? muttered one of them. He’s blaspheming another said, to much nodding and murmur of agreement. After all, said someone else, who can forgive sins but God alone?
You have to agree, they had a point. Because if Jesus was just another healer, another self-appointed prophet who was merely the latest one-hit wonder, then what He said to me was either blasphemy or madness. You can’t go round simply telling folk that their sins are forgiven. That’s God’s business, because only God is pure enough and good enough to do that sort of thing. And unless this Jesus standing in front of me was in some way God, then what He saying to me was either utter nonsense or a bizarre delusion.
But then again, none of these bigwigs had actually looked into Jesus’ eyes and seen the way Jesus had looked at me. They were blind to that amazing love that I could see was just flowing from Him to me, of all people. And I knew that this love was of God, and in ways I still can’t quite get my head round, this Jesus really did have the power to forgive me, to touch my sick heart, to give me the new life I had never dare dream was possible.
And with that calmness I had first glimpsed when I was lying up there on the roof, He motioned with His hand once again and this sort of supernatural stillness descended again. We all knew something was going to happen, but none of us were quite sure what. Me, I was still wrestling inside with that guilt and shame and trying to work out whether to give it over to Jesus. I was starting to see that maybe, just maybe, I could trust Him and maybe, just maybe, I could believe I could be forgiven. But Jesus wasn’t going to leave me lying there any longer in my own self-pity and loathing.
Instead He looked straight at those religious experts with such a look of how can I put it? anger, defiance, yes, maybe even love and posed the killer question: Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘our sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? You see, they could have coped just about with the idea that I could be physically healed. They didn’t mind the odd miracle happening here or there, just so long as they were on hand to see it for themselves. But they hadn’t really grasped that for any healing really to be effective it had to come from God. Because only God could deal with the underlying problem, the problem of the human heart.
And to prove His point, Jesus turned to me and said in that same powerful, clear voice I had heard up on the roof: But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins… I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” And even as He spoke those words, I felt a power and an energy flow through my legs, and before I knew it I was standing before a sea of astonished and delighted faces. But I knew where the real healing lay. My guilt and shame had gone. I no longer had to hide behind that protective shell I’d been carrying all those years. I’d learnt Jesus knew all about me anyway, because He was God, and once His love entered my life, the only thing I could do was give Him my heart.
I looked up at my friends who had been following proceedings from the roof, and they smiled back at me and laughed. I looked at Jesus who had that expression you sometimes see in parents when their child makes a special discovery. And I looked at the religious teachers who remarkably were still muttering into their beards and talking about blasphemy. Once I would have been afraid of them, but not any more. I found myself praising God and I didn’t care what any else thought. I took up my mat and walked right through the astonished crowds back into the sunshine, walking in the light, with my head held high and my heart full of praise.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I came back next day to fix the roof. It seemed in the circumstances the very least I could do.
So why I am telling you all this? Well, I guess there’s probably quite a few of you here who have things to hide. You’ve never told anyone else what you’ve thought or said or done. But it’s your guilt and your shame and you’re determined to hang on to it. Let me tell you, the sooner you hand it over to Jesus, the better. He knows all about you anyway, and you can’t have any secrets before Him, because He really is the Son of God. Come into the light of His love and let Him deal with whatever you’re carrying round inside your heart. ‘Cos that’s the only way you’re ever going to be healed and find the peace and forgiveness you’re looking for. That’s what I discovered one remarkable day in Capernaum, and it can be true for you, as well.
And for all of us, I believe Jesus gives us the wonderful gift to be a friend to those who are guilty and hurting. After all, I learnt so much from my mates who never stopped loving me, who were willing to carry me all that way to see Jesus, who even dared to dig a hole in the roof. So now, whenever I go, I look out for people who need that same kind of love and care that they showed me. Because more than anything else, my passion and prayer is that they meet with Jesus and find He has the power to change their lives.
For in the end the story I’ve been telling you isn’t really about me. I’m not the central character in what happened that day. No, that honour, that title goes to Jesus. He’s the main man, not me. So as I finish can I simply ask: Have you met Him? Do you know the power of His healing love? And if so, what are you doing to introduce others to Him?