I invite you to imagine yourself as a member of the crowd in this story. You heard that Jesus was at his home in Capernaum, and you needed to visit him. You had heard all about his many miracles, and you need one, too, so you rushed to his home, eager to be one of the first in line. Many others want to be where you are. You can hear them, maybe even see them, as they push and shove out in the courtyard. Jesus is speaking, and although you want to hear what he has to say, deep down you really just want him to get on with it so you can ask for healing. But it seems rude so you’re quiet, patient, half listening, while you are hoping—praying—that Jesus is in a healing mood.
And then you start hearing some strange sounds—not from the crowd outside, but from over your head. You hear voices and the clanking of clay tiles as they are moved. Bits of dust and debris start falling all around you. You wonder if the whole roof is going to cave in, but there’s no room to run. By this point everyone is looking up at the ceiling, scared about what is happening. Jesus glances up and smiles, then keeps right on talking. He is one determined preacher! Soon you see light coming in from the ceiling, a shaft of it piercing the room. Then more tiles are moved, accompanied by more debris falling on your head, until finally there’s this big rectangular hole in the roof. Jesus does not seem the least bit concerned so you try not to be, too.
But that changes when you realize that, through the opening above your head, something is being lowered on ropes—a pallet, a bed—and suddenly you realize what is happening. Somebody in need of healing—somebody ELSE in need of healing—is being lowered into the room because they can’t get here through the door.
And now you’re mad because you came here the right way. You did what you were supposed to do. You followed the rules and you’ve been waiting patiently for this preacher to shut up so that you could ask for your healing. And here comes somebody who didn’t get here early like you did, who isn’t waiting like you did, who is interrupting and cutting in line ahead of you, and it’s not fair. It’s not fair that you’re in this situation, needing help, and it’s not fair that somebody who didn’t follow the rules is getting help, and you’re afraid that there won’t be enough healing to go around.
THAT’S HOW you might have felt if you’d been in the house with Jesus. Back here in real life have you ever been jealous of someone else’s healing? Have you ever been jealous because someone else recovered from cancer and your beloved did not? Are you ever jealous because somebody else’s problems are so much smaller than yours, and you know pain isn’t relative and you can’t compare trauma, but still….
Then maybe you know how someone in the crowd that day might have felt. And maybe you know how some people who come to Community Crisis Ministries for help must feel. They followed the rules. They’re not taking advantage of the system. They’re trying to work, trying to be good citizens and good people, and they’re keeping their heads above water. But then one bad thing happens, and they’re no longer above water, and everybody else seems to be doing fine so why aren’t they? They come to us in need of help, afraid that there won’t be enough to go around, even though it’s not their fault that they need it. For them we offer a hand up, a way out, a way through.
Now I want you to change places, switch roles. Imagine that you are the person being lowered through the roof. The Greek isn’t clear—you could be paralyzed as we know the term, or be paralyzed on one side, or simply unable to walk. You have sought medical treatment. You have repented from your sins, just in case this was punishment. You have seen every snake oil salesman in town. And still you are sick. Of course you heard about Jesus, but you are beyond hoping anyone can help you now.
And yet you are blessed beyond most people in your condition because you still have people who care about you. They care so much that they decide you ARE going to see Jesus, whether you believe or not. They talk you into it, and off you go, the pallet on which you are lying jostling as they move along. But when you all arrive at the house, there’s no way in. The crowd is so thick that there’s no way four people and a bed are going to get through that door. You tried to tell your friends. You tried to tell them this trip was a waste of time. You say “Thanks a lot, but let’s just go home now, OK?” But your friends aren’t satisfied. They start talking and scheming and before you know it, they are proposing that they carry you up to the roof, tear the roof apart, and lower you into the room. They are insane. There’s no other explanation.
Unless maybe they’re tired of taking care of you. Maybe you’ve become such a burden that they are even more desperate for your healing than you are. So you give in—not because you believe, but because you don’t want them to blame you for not getting healed when you had the chance. You’re lying on your stretcher, on top of the roof, as they began taking the roof apart. You are staring up at the contrast between the white clouds and the bright blue sky, and you’re thinking about the contrast between these friends or family members who are strong enough to tear open a roof and lower you through it, while you lay helpless and dependent. You just want this to be over. They swing your pallet around and start lowering you through the roof, and you are terrified. If they don’t do this right, you’re going to fall off and go crashing to the ground and you’ll either be more paralyzed or dead, and you know which you’d prefer.
And then you’re looking, not at the sky, but into the face of Jesus. He speaks to you and he calls you “Son, Daughter, Child,” and just like that you are claimed, named as part of the family. And then he says, “Your sins are forgiven.” He doesn’t say “I forgive you” because he’s not the one doing the forgiving, and it’s not happening now. He is reminding you that God has forgiven you, which is amazing but still isn’t the whole picture. The Greek word used for “forgiven” also means “sent away.” Your sins—they are sent away. Your separation from the community—it is banished. All that hurts you is driven out.” So when Jesus says, “Stand up, take your mat and go to your home,” you don’t even question that you can.
THAT’S HOW you might have felt if you’d been the one in need of healing. Back here in real life, have you ever been in such need? Have you ever depended on your family and friends to help you because you could not help yourself? Or maybe you have been lacking in faith, and you were able to trust others to have faith FOR you, until you could believe for yourself again.
If so, then maybe you know how the person brought to Jesus that day might have felt. And maybe you know how some of the people who come to CCM might feel—like they don’t really believe someone is going to help them without demands, without strings attached. And they need somebody to help them get what they need.
I could do this same exercise with the disabled man’s friends, inviting you to imagine yourself as those who tore open the roof. But you already are. You—we—already are the community that helps the person in need. We’re the friends, the rope handlers, the ones who tear open the roof. That’s our job. We do it well.
And when we do it well, then TOGETHER we get to be Christ. Together we get to see the person in need, offer them help, and then send them on their way able to stand. Together we get to do this.
But there’s one other way I want us to consider this story. William Loader, a well-known minister and New Testament professor in Australia, shares something that is part story, part imagination, part vision. This may have happened as he prepared to preach on this story.
“I got to imagining. Taking a service, preaching, celebrating the eucharist and suddenly someone starts descending from the [sanctuary] ceiling, bits of ceiling falling all around, and then there they are spread-eagled on the carpet or sprawled across the Lord’s table. And I look into the eyes of their interruption and see anger, pain, poverty, paralysis. ‘There is no other way,’ they say. ‘You won’t listen to people like us.’ I see a child, hundreds of children, thousands, tens of thousands, countless. I see a woman begging. I see a whole family crushed by internal and external systems which poison possibilities for change. I see black and white, able and disabled, young and aged, unemployed, people paralysed by despair. I see mutilated flesh, victims of atrocity, the still silence of the beaten and the afraid….
I stood before the table unable to move, looking into the eyes of the one sprawled across the table. What could I do? It was as though I was in a deep sleep. The words which wakened me I knew too well. ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ [The words] came from the table, from the one stretched out there. Interrupted my sleep, wakened me to new life, summoned me to get up and get on with it. I was real again. When I turned to look, the table was as it was before. The figure had ascended where it was before, the ceiling intact.
Now whenever I stand before this table I hear the cries of interruption, above the hymns, above the chants of the liturgy, above the angels and heavenly hosts . . . I hear the sighing. The paralysed move and speak. They protest and tear off the covers. They float in the cup of wine and break in the broken bread. There is my nourishment, there my deliverance from paralysis, there my path from the betrayal of the world’s people through the business of religion.
And I look out and I see paralysed men and women, paralysed congregations, paralysed ministries and I want to cry; ‘Your sins are forgiven. Rise, take up your bed and walk!’ And I treasure those moments of intrusion, when the heavens are torn apart and the Spirit descends and . . . I know there is hope.”
When we come to this table, we talk—and rightly so—about the night Jesus was betrayed. We remember that he took the bread and blessed it and broke it, and said, “This is my body which is broken for you.” But what if his body isn’t the only one on the table? What if his body is but one of many, and his blood poured out is a drop in the sea of pain? Would we still come to this table? Would we still partake and share? I think we would because this table is not just about brokenness and pain. This table is also about healing and community and belonging. This table is about welcome and grace. This table is where everyone is welcome and no one is turned away. So come. Come to the table of grace.