Summary: The healing of the paralytic man illustrates how Jesus heals and respects the faithfulness of others too in the healing process.
Sermon for 7 Epiphany Yr B, 23/02/2003
Based on Mk. 2:1-12
Grace Lutheran Church, Medicine Hat, Alberta
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
“What is your favorite Bible story, papa?” the little girl asked her father as he tucked her under the sheets.
“Let me see,” he said as he sat on the edge of the bed. “There are so many that I love. The story we read tonight at supper of the four men who carried their paralysed friend to Jesus, lowering him through the roof, is one of my favorites because it reminds me so much of how your uncle Hans was healed.”
“I don’t know that story,” the little girl said hopefully. “Please tell it to me, papa.”
“Many years ago,” the father began, “Hans and his wife, Enid, escaped the war in Europe so that he could continue his life of teaching in the seminary. At first things were difficult because his English was not good, but soon he became one of our seminary’s most beloved teachers. The students loved him because he was warm and gentle and when he spoke the Scriptures came alive.
“Hans and Enid were very much in love. Nearly every day they took long walks together, holding hands. It warmed the hearts of students and faculty alike to see them sitting close to each other in church.
“Then one day Enid died. Hans was struck with sorrow. For weeks he would not eat or take walks. The seminary president, along with three other friends, visited him regularly, but he felt lonely and depressed. He was experiencing the dark night of the soul.
“On one of their visits, Hans said to his friends, ‘I am no longer able to pray to God. In fact, I am not certain I believe in God.’
“After a moment of silence, the seminary president said, ‘Then we will believe for you. We will make your confession for you. We will pray for you.’
“The other friends looked bewildered by their president’s words, but not knowing what else to say, they agreed.
“In the days ahead the four men met daily for prayer. They made confession on behalf of Uncle Hans. They asked God to restore the gift of faith to their dear friend and they continued to visit him in his home.
“Then, after many months, the four men all gathered in Hans’s living room. He smiled before he spoke. ‘It is no longer necessary for you to pray for me. Today, I would like you to pray with me.’
“The dark night of the soul had passed.”
There was a long silence before the little girl spoke. “Uncle Hans was just like the sick man in the story, wasn’t he, papa? Only instead of a pallet to carry him to Jesus, his friends used prayer.”
The father nodded and kissed his daughter. 1
In today’s gospel, we learn of four people who brought their paralysed friend on a mat to see Jesus. Mark tells us of how persistent they were: “And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay.” Now these four friends could have called it quits after they saw the crowd; they might have thought it too difficult for them to bring their paralytic friend to Jesus; they may have gotten discouraged more easily and returned back home. But, says Mark, they did not. They persisted; they were not giving up; so they worked hard to raise the paralytic onto the roof, then opened the roof and cleared the way—carefully lowering their friend down in front of Jesus.
What about us? How persistent are we with our friends? Do we have a friend like Uncle Hans or the paralytic man? How far are we willing to go in loving God by loving a neighbour in need? A love that fails to be open to opportunities for healing is no love at all. Without the prayers, the faith, the persistence of loyal friends, neither Uncle Hans nor the paralytic would have been healed. Never underestimate what God is able to do with your help—we are Christ’s hands, feet, voice and presence. Miracles can and do happen when we love our neighbour like Uncle Hans’s friends; and like the four friends of the paralytic man in our gospel. Such persistence is a good example of faith and love for us all.
But there’s even more to the story isn’t there? Mark goes on to say that it wasn’t only the persistence, the faith, the love of the paralytic’s friends, which healed him—rather, it was the very power and presence of Jesus himself to forgive sins, which results in healing. This story—contrary to the healing of the blind man in John’s Gospel, where he never sinned nor did his parents sin—makes the traditional Jewish connection between illness and disease and sin. In Mark’s story, there is here an association of forgiveness of sin by Jesus and the healing of the paralytic man.