With a little help from my friends

In the second chapter of Mark is a lovely little story I first heard in Sunday school years ago.

When [Jesus] returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 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. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to 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’? 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 he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”

It is one of my favorite stories in the Bible. Like all the best stories, it doesn’t tell you too much, so you have to fill in the blanks and ask questions of the text. I grew up in a church where you weren’t encouraged to ask too many questions – about anything, really – but especially about anything the Bible said.

I always had questions.

For example, in this story: They climb up on the roof and drag this guy up there, and cut a hole in the roof and lower him down, right in front of Jesus! That is what the text says.

What the text doesn’t say, and what I want to know, is – was the owner of the house mad that these guys cut a hole in his roof? Who paid for that? Did they bring a saw with them, and that’s how they did it? Why was the man paralyzed? Was he born that way, or did it happen later?

But sometimes, what is most interesting about a text isn’t what the story leaves out, but what we leave out when we tell the story.

Because the way I was taught this story is not the way the story happens. The way I was taught the story was that a guy couldn’t get to Jesus to get healed, and so his friends cut a hole in the roof and Jesus heals the man – the way we tell the story it is all about access. If only we can get the man to Jesus, everything is going to be OK. If only we have enough faith to get to Jesus.

But that isn’t what the story says. The story says that the friends cut a hole in the roof, and dropped him down, and then Jesus acted – not because of the man’s faith, but because Jesus saw the faith of the man’s friends. (Go back and look. It’s right there: “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic…”)

But not the man’s faith. It isn’t the man’s actions or even his faith that bring him healing and wholeness – it is the actions and faith of the man’s friends. We don’t know if the man has any faith of his own. We don’t know if the guy is even conscious. Was he a good man? A bad man? We don’t know. All we know is he has friends with faith, and that that is enough.

And it is there that I find hope in the story.

Because if the story is that the man finds healing because of the faith and actions of his friends, I think that is really good news. If the healing of my wounds, the fixing of my troubled soul, the repair of my brokenness is dependent on my actions, my intent, my… faith, if you will, well, I am in a heap of trouble.

But the good news in this passage is, like John Lennon said, I get by with a little help from my friends.

I bet you do, to.

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