This month's Spiritual Discipline Blog helps us imagine scripture. It is a two step process. First, read Mark 2:1-12. Then consider this short story. Remember that while this short story is fiction, we want to imagine scripture in a way to bring it to life in fresh ways.
Once upon a time… back when Jesus was first beginning his ministry there was a man named Dan who lived in Capernaum. Dan and his younger brother Joel were fishermen by trade. They usually spent their evenings out on the sea of Galilee fishing with their father. During the days they would sell their catch of fish in the market, clean nets, and attend to the various chores around their father’s house that perpetually needed to be done.
Dan was a light-hearted boy with a friendly way about him. Quick to smile and make jokes, Dan enjoyed the company of those around him. The other boys who were learning to be fishermen always enjoyed working with Dan. Dan would tell stories and make everyone laugh and, for a time, forget the hardships of labor.
Dan had serious side as well. He felt a strong responsibility to help his family. Dan especially loved his younger brother Joel. He patiently endured Joel trailing along after him most of the time. Joel admired his big brother Dan, and enjoyed the sense of security he found in being Dan’s little brother.
One day Dan’s father asked Dan and Joel to help prepare the house for the cold weather that would be coming soon. The roof, badly needed re-thatching so it would be watertight before winter. Of all the household jobs the boys did regularly, Joel especially despised re-thatching the roof. Seeing that look of dread welling up on Joel’s face, Dan knew what his brother was thinking.
Joel summoned his best haggling voice and launched into bargaining with his brother. “Dan, I don’t know what I hate most about re-thatching the roof. I think it’s the combination of the sticky mud, the straw which always causes me sneezing fits, and the vertigo I get whenever I have to perch upon the unfinished roof and accidentally glance down through the roof at the floor below.”
“I know you hate re-thatching the roof Joel, but with the two of us working together we get it done three times faster than if I do it alone,” said Dan.
Joel considered and replied, “I will make you a deal. You do the climbing and all the work on top of the roof, and I stay down below and hand you the straw. I will mix the mud in buckets and hand it up to you.”
“Fine. You stay on the ground Joel, but one day you need to stand up this fear of heights you are developing. And anyways, it is not so very tall, the very tip top of the roof is only about double your height. Which is not saying much.” Dan said with slight grin on his face.
“You go ahead and have your little laugh, I am going to keep my feet firmly planted on the ground,” said Joel.
The next morning the boys gathered up all the needed supplies and set to work early. Barney, an old fisherman everyone in town knew, passed by their house on his way to the docks, as he did most every morning. The boys were just beginning the re-thatching job when Barney called out, “Hey, you better get a move on with that roof. I feel a twinge in my bones, today’s not a good day for a leaky roof, I think a storm is coming.” Dan and Joel shared a look with one another to consider his warning. They hoped old Barney was mistaken, yet they remembered that most often, he wasn’t wrong about the weather and fishing. So they picked up their pace and found a working rhythm that only men who have the closeness of brothers can find. When working together in this familiar way they fit together so well… one would anticipate the next actions of the other. The boys were hard workers and made great progress on the roof. They were almost finished putting the last section of the new roof on, when it began to rain. They sensed the swelling storm quickly descending upon them. But Dan and Joel were determined to get the last of the roof laid before the brunt of the storm hit. The roof would not dry out as it should, yet having any roof in place, even a moist mud roof, would be better than no roof at all. Joel sent extra straw up with each load, in an attempt to counter the falling rain. Mud began to ooze and squish out of the joints. The roof quickly became a muddy mess. Working feverishly, Dan grew less cautious. When Dan was near the edge of roof he stepped on a muddy wooden beam, his feet flew out from under him and he toppled awkwardly backwards over the edge. If his fall had only been just a few feet to the right, he would have landed on the pile of straw and probably had a good laugh about it. Or had he been a few feet to the left, he would have landed in a deep mud puddle, and his brother Joel would have been the one laughing at Dan as he thrashed in the soft slippery mud. However, unfortunately, Dan fell backward, and landed harshly upon a small pile of the discarded wooden beams.
Dan immediately cried out in pain and Joel knew something was wrong seeing the unnatural way Dan landed. Dan could not move his legs… nor could he feel them.
Joel picked up his brother and took him inside, forgetting the unfinished roof.
The rain only lasted another half-hour. It slacked off and the clouds rolled away, as fast as they appeared. Capernaum was surrounded with blue skies and bathed in sunshine.
Yet a darkness shadowed Dan’s heart.
The gash on Dan’s lower back where he fell upon the beam healed in a couple of weeks, with little trace of a scar. Yet no movement returned to Dan’s legs. Dan grew bitter against his body rebelling against him. His legs stubbornly refused to obey any of his commands. The lost movement consumed Dan. In the beginning, when Dan was adjusting to his paralysis, he would sit outside with his back leaning on the sun warmed house and stare off into the distance as if he were looking into the future. Sometimes after being lost deep in his own thoughts, he would forget that his legs were dead, and when his attention snapped back into the present moment, he would lurch upward making an effort to stand.
He would be shocked all over again when his legs traitorously didn’t respond.
After a few weeks Dan gave into the painful reality that he would never walk again, or work the fishing boats as he once had done. His good humor and lighthearted stories left him, replaced with a silent anger. Much of the anger was directed at himself for being so careless. “Why was I in such a hurry?” “Why wasn’t I more careful?” However, these questions began to shift and were overlaid with questions of “Why me?” and “Why did the storm come up so suddenly?” “Why did I land upon the beam just so?” and on and on. Dan slowly became more withdrawn. He separated himself and spent much of his time isolated in a vain attempt to escape completely from the world.
Years passed, yet Dan refused to be fully comforted or reengage society. Dan’s formerly close friends remained kind acquaintances, but they unavoidably moved farther apart in the natural course of their lives. His friends begin building their own homes, getting married, having children and progressing in their trades. The once strong bonds which bound together many of Dan’s friendships began to weaken and fray and became but a memory. However, Joel remained faithfully Dan’s closest friend. Joel shared much of Dan’s grief and often blamed himself for Dan’s injury. Joel traveled with his brother through sadness and grief, yet Joel was able to emerge from it.
Joel was building his own home nearby and was engaged to be married. Joel shouldered the burden of responsibility which normally fell upon the first born son, and began to take over the family fishing business. Other fishermen, who were family friends, would rotate taking Dan to the shore of the Sea of Galilee upon a stretcher. When they arrived at the beach they set Dan on a flat shaded area. Dan spent his days either making new fishing nets or cleaning and mending the old fishing nets. Dan became one of the best net menders in town. However, selfishness and bitterness became a stronger paralysis in Dan’s life, than his legs which did not work. No one could stand to be around him, because now his depressing outlook on life was just as contagious as his former good humor and bold laugh once had been. Even the men who carried Dan to the shore to work, did so, more out of their good hearts, and their love for Joel, and a love for the man Dan once had been… rather than a desire to be around Dan.
One morning Joel heard some of the other fishermen talking to one another about a carpenter named Jesus. They were discussing how Jesus called four of the local fisherman to come be his disciples. Many fishermen thought this was odd and questioned why fishermen would give up their trades to follow a carpenter. Yet other men told astonishing stories about how Jesus commanded an unclean spirit to leave a man in the synagogue, even on the Sabbath day. People were amazed and asked “What is this? Jesus is teaching a new teaching with such great authority.” But the thing that interested Joel most was when the fishermen swapped stories of people they knew who were sick with various diseases, but Jesus healed them. Joel didn’t fully know what to believe, but resolved to seek out Jesus the very next day. However, when Joel went to where Jesus was staying he could not find him. Some people said Jesus had gone to a nearby village to preach, but would be surely be coming back to Capernaum soon.
Joel resolved to take Dan to meet this Jesus. From what they were hearing about this man’s teaching, and the miracles he was performing, Joel was sure he was a prophet from God. A few weeks later, word reached Joel that Jesus had returned to Capernaum.
“Dan, I have a plan,” Joel says excitingly. “The teacher and healer Jesus has returned; I will get some guys to help me carry you to meet him. People say that he can heal your legs.” “Brother, I don’t want to go see this Jesus” said Dan. “He can’t do anything for me. Any attempt to salvage these dead legs would be useless. Plus, we will never reach him, I hear there is always such a crowd of people around him.” Eventually Joel convinced Dan to let them at least try. So Joel found three friends to help carry Dan on the stretcher. When they arrive at the house where Jesus was teaching, they indeed found a large crowd. So many people were there they could not get close to Jesus. However, Joel was determined to find a way to get Dan to Jesus. Joel noticed the steps at the back of the house which lead up to the roof, and a crazy idea came to mind. Joel shoved aside his fears and began to tell his friends the plan. The men climbed up on top of the roof and dug through and let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
In the moments following, a torrent of thoughts flash through Dan’s mind.
How does he know my sins? Wasn’t this supposed to be about healing my legs? Of course, I am a sinful man yet, which sins am I being forgiven of? General sins? No, it comes to mind that Jesus is healing me of my selfishness. Jesus is rebuking me for my withdrawal from the world. Jesus is healing me from seeking first my own good and seeking first my own life and showing me that this brother of mine is right. We have to try, we have to believe, we have to get over the fears and doubts we cling to regarding failure and we must move on and do good in the world. When Jesus healed my soul it was as if my world grew brighter. Yet the pain did not disappear. The pain is still there, yet my numbness to the world was lifted, and I was able to see the world surrounding me more clearly. I saw there was joy and sadness present in the world. I experienced that reality. I knew that this man in front of me was calling me to action. Jesus was calling me to overlook the barriers of my paralyzed legs by healing my paralyzed heart. I felt deeply known and ashamed. Yet the shame could not cling to me because I clung to the words of Jesus, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” I felt clean. I felt joy rising in my soul. I felt light despite my heavy legs.
If my legs were not anchoring me down, I felt as if I might float up into the sky.
Then the scribes began to hurl questions at Jesus, the crowd became indignant. Yet I was more assured than ever. More convinced than ever. This man was from God. I don’t know much about him, but I am convinced that he is from God! The scribes were sitting there, questioning in the hearts, “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
I felt the work of Jesus’s proclamation of forgiving my sins continuing to work its way through my body and soul. Looking back on it, I am convinced I was totally forgiven from the instant Jesus chose to utter the words, however I had to awaken to that forgiveness, and all that it means. It was as if my mind and soul had been surviving surrounded by a black misty cloud, and when that wispy veil lifted, it took some time to acclimate myself to the freedom.
At once, it was clear to me that Jesus knew the hearts of these men, just as thoroughly as he knew my heart. Jesus asked 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’?
Upon hearing this, my heart leapt within me. Could it be? In the span of just a few minutes I have traveled from immediate questioning and bitterness for not being healed, to knowing that this man is the one from God.
Jesus continued “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 I stood up and I immediately took the mat I was lying on and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying “We have never seen anything like this!”
Dan’s story resonates with me. I feel at times, I have come to Jesus seeking one thing and Jesus gave me something else. It’s sort of like that old saying, “be careful what you ask for, because you just might get it.” I have found that to be true with God. Often times we ask God for something and God gives it to us in ways we don’t expect. However, at times we ask God for one thing, and sometimes, because God is so very wise, God gives us the thing we ask for, plus something we didn’t ask for. What is it in our lives that we do ask God for? Those are easy to name. Yet, what gifts are present in our lives that we do not ask God for? We would do well to look at our lives to examine what God is giving us that we did not ask for. Then we should prayerfully seek God’s wisdom as to what we should do with these unexpected gifts and graces of God. Perhaps God already has given us something God wants us to have, and maybe we have not even recognized it yet.
Some people who have grown up in church have been too easily satisfied. We, like the man in the story, have been guilty of bringing only one request to God. Although our request, usually has been, the inverse of the paralyzed man’s request in this story. I believe the paralytic was primarily concerned about being freed from his paralysis.
Yet conversely, we have been guilty of mainly being concerned about having our sins forgiven. Single-mindedly we have sought forgiveness, and when we hear that God has forgiven us from our sins, we stop listening. We greedily accept God’s grace and forgiveness, and are content to remain motionless. We breathe a sigh of relief, since we have gotten ourselves squared away. We ignore the part where Jesus loosens our paralyzed limbs and lays claim to our entire being. Too often we have only asked God for eternal salvation. Too often we have overlooked the concept that the church is commissioned to move in this world, as the body of Jesus Christ. We need to move to seek the welfare of the city, where we live as exiles and to pray to the Lord on our cities’ behalf.
God has forgiven and healed us, yes.
But that is not the end, no.
God has forgiven and healed us to serve.
Yes, God has forgiven and healed us to serve.
Once upon a time the authority of Jesus,
was seen in a man who received forgiveness.
Once upon a time the authority of Jesus,
was seen in man freed to walk once more.
Once upon a time people were amazed, and glorified God,
saying “We have never seen anything like this!”
I am here to tell you brothers and sisters, that,
We have a God who will not leave us half-healed.
We have a God who wants us saved.
We have a God who wants us sent.
And when God saves us,
God sends us,
by un-paralyzing our heart, mind, body and soul.
God will not leave this world half-healed.
The church is the body of Christ,
made free from the sin that so easily entangles us,
to move by and through God’s love.
And if we move church…
God will use us to bring Good News to the world, that,
life with Jesus is full,
life with Jesus is moving,
God will use us to love as God loves
and hate what God hates.
And if we move church…
Just as the people did in Jesus’s day,
our neighbors in this world will be amazed,
and will glorify God, saying:
“We have never seen anything like this!”