Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from a Jacobite and Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Theme: 3rd Sunday in Great Lent
Volume 7 No. 402 March 10, 2017
II. Lectionary Reflections

Encounters with Jesus: A Paralyzed Man
Gospel: Mark 2:1-12 6/24/12

The story is told of a young pastor who was visiting an elderly woman in the hospital. She was quite ill, gasping for breath, nearing the end of life. Surrounded by tubes and bags and machines, the young pastor read Scripture and offered spiritual comfort. He asked, "Would you like to have prayer before I go?" The lady whispered, "Yes." The pastor inquired, "What would you like me to pray for today?"

"Pray that I would be healed," she responded.

The pastor gulped. He thought, "This poor woman can't accept the inevitable. She isn't facing reality." Fortunately, he kept these thoughts to himself and began to pray for her healing - sort of.

"Lord, we pray for your presence to be with our ailing sister, and if it be your will, we pray she will be restored to health and service. But if it's not your will, we certainly hope she will adjust to her circumstances."

Immediately after the pastor put the "Amen" on his timid prayer, the woman opened her eyes and sat up. She threw her feet over the side of the bed and stood. "I think I'm healed!" she exclaimed.

Before the pastor could react, she walked over to the door, pulled it open and strode down the hall. The last thing the pastor heard before she disappeared around the corner were the words, "Look at me! Look at me! I'm healed!"

The pastor pushed his mouth closed, got up and slowly walked down the stairs and into the parking lot. He opened his car door and stopped, looked up to the heavens, and said,
 "Lord, please don't ever do that to me again!"

We, Christians, have an awkward relationship with healing, don't we? We pray for healing, but we don't expect anything much to happen. Certainly not anything dramatic! We say we believe God can heal, but struggle to really believe it. I know I feel that way at times. Our Scripture lesson this morning contains a story about healing. I thought it was a very appropriate one for this morning when we'll be seeking prayers for healing and wholeness later in the service. It's found in Mark 2.

1 When Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home.
2 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.

3 Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them.
4 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.

5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven."

6 Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts,
7 "Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?"

8 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?
9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, "Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, "Stand up and take your mat and walk'?

10 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins" - he said to the paralytic -
11 "I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home."

12 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!"
(Mark 2:1-12)

This story has long been a favorite with children because of its vivid imagery. Just imagine that mat being lowered down through the ceiling in the middle of the crowded room! But the story has important things to say to adults as well as to children.

The events take place early in Jesus' ministry. He is in Capernaum, a well-to-do town on the shores of the Galilean lake. Capernaum was also on a major trade route. Jesus used this town as his home base during much of his ministry. Word gets out that Jesus has returned after a preaching mission and people crowd in the house to hear him teach.

Clearly, he was immensely popular at this time. That's probably why there were scribes and Pharisees there - likely sent from Jerusalem to scout out what this young, popular, itinerant preacher was up to.

A paralyzed man is brought, but the friends carrying him can't get through the crowd to get him to Jesus. Now the roofs on Palestinian homes were flat and were used as living space, being cooler than the home in the evening. Using an outside staircase common on Palestinian homes, the friends carry the paralyzed man to the roof. They dig through the earthand- brush roof, creating a hole large enough to lower the man down in front of Jesus. (By the way, for you attorneys and building contractors, the damage they did to the roof could have been easily repaired!)

Let's make a couple observations about the story. First, Jesus is impressed with the faith of the man and his friends. "When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, 'Son, your sins are forgiven.'" (Mark 2:5)

Faith is often an important component of healing stories in the Bible. The faith of the person being healed is often pointed out by Jesus himself or the gospel writers.

But that raises an important question. How much faith is necessary to receive God's blessing? Some contemporary preachers have said that if we only have enough faith, God must heal us. Therefore, if you pray for healing, but don't receive it, it's your own fault! Your faith must be deficient. I find nothing in the Bible to support such teaching.

The relation of faith to healing is something of a mystery. For example, sometimes when Jesus healed there is no mention of the faith of the recipient. In other cases, the faith of the recipient is shaky. Remember the man in Mark 9 who said, "Lord I believe. Help my unbelief!" He received the healing he was seeking in spite of his wavering faith. St. Paul asked God for healing several times, but his affliction continued. Healing is a gift from God, sometimes given and sometimes not. Faith seems to be important in relation to healing, but the amount and quality of faith seem to vary. In answer to the question about how much faith is necessary for healing, I would say that we need enough faith to ask. Jesus talked about the power of faith the size of a mustard seed. That's not much!

My second observation has to do with the fact that Jesus is concerned about both spiritual and physical healing. His response to the paralyzed man seems pretty odd at first. "Son, your sins are forgiven," he says. First of all, you have to wonder what kind of sins a paralyzed man could be committing! But, Jesus is clear elsewhere that the heart and mind are where sin is centered, so a paralyzed man could certainly have a critical spirit, have lustful thoughts, engage in gossip, be unkind, etc.

Apparently Jesus saw something in this man that convinced him the man's deepest need was the forgiveness of his sins, so he gave him what he needed most. If you have ever been weighed down with guilt over something you have done, you understand how freeing it would be to be delivered from that heavy load. Perhaps you are still carrying such a heavy burden this morning. You are welcome to seek prayer about that later in the service. Jesus would love to free you from it.

Jesus' decision to forgive the man's sins demonstrates that he is concerned with bringing healing and wholeness to the whole person. That is part of what the Kingdom of God is all about- wholeness in all aspects of life. Sometimes religious conservatives have been accused of ignoring the physical needs of people and just wanting to save their souls. Sometimes religious liberals have been accused of focusing only on the physical needs of people while ignoring their spiritual needs. Mission agencies and church mission committees have become divided over whether evangelism and church planting should be central, or addressing issues like hunger and homelessness should be. Jesus will have none of those divisions. He heals both body and soul. And followers of Jesus should also pay attention to both!

Of course, when Jesus declares that the man's sins were forgiven, he provokes a strong response from the Scribes and Pharisees! In one sense, they are right, you know. The authority to forgive a person's sins is God's prerogative alone. As the Psalmist reminds us, we sin primarily against God, who created us for better things. Therefore, only God can ultimately forgive us. The religious leaders label Jesus' words as blasphemy, because they rightly discern that he is claiming to be equal with God. They never even considered any of this contemporary nonsense about Jesus just being a good teacher. They correctly understood that either he was who he claimed to be- God in the flesh- or he was a blasphemous heretic. A good teacher would never make such false claims.

Anyway, Jesus responds to their charge in a unique way. He basically acknowledges that anyone can say, "Your sins are forgiven." There's no way to prove that claim one way or the other. But while no one can see the healing of a soul, everyone can certainly see the healing of a body. So Jesus heals the man's body to demonstrate his power to heal the soul. The man immediately gets up and walks away carrying his mat. And everyone, including presumably the scribes and Pharisees, is amazed! Jesus has the authority to heal both body and soul, and he does!

Finally, Jesus wants to heal our bodies and souls. He is a man of compassion. Nowhere in the gospels can I find a story of Jesus turning away anyone who came to him seeking healing or forgiveness. Jesus desires to heal us. Now, Jesus certainly didn't heal every sick person in Palestine during his ministry, and his healings, like all healings, were provisional. In other words, all of the people Jesus healed, even those he raised from the dead, eventually died. All healing is provisional or temporary in nature. But Jesus desired to heal those who sought him out.

The Scriptures are also clear that God desires spiritual healing for all who seek it. Nowhere do we find anyone who is turned away from God who genuinely seeks forgiveness of their sins!

So how about you? Are you in need of some kind of healing today - physical, emotional, spiritual, relational? We invite you to come now and we'll pray with you for you. You may also come on behalf of someone else if you like.


Breaking Through The Roof

by Jon M. Walton

Scripture: Psalm 41; Mark 2:1-12

The Healing of the Paralytic, National Gallery of Art, Netherlandish 16th Century
The Healing of the Paralytic, National Gallery of Art
Netherlandish 16th Century (c. 1560/1590)

There is a painting in the National Gallery in Washington entitled, "The Healing of the Paralytic." (See Above.) It is considered to be "Neatherlandish" and it's dated between 1560 and 1590; a good sized portrait almost 43" by 30". In the foreground, the paralytic in a dark red tunic, his sleeves rolled up on his white shirt, has a huge bundle of straw and bedding slung over his left shoulder. He is bent down with its weight, his back bowed by the heaviness of it. It's as if all of his life is rolled up in that sack, the weight of years of incapacity bearing down on him, a burden he has always carried in one way or another.

His left hand is still locked in a kind of tight paralyzed grip, perhaps the residue of hands forced into that shape for a lifetime, and even the freeing of his hands have not yet convinced him that he can use them, except ever so carefully.

The paralytic's eyes are downcast, looking at the road under his bare feet, contemplating what his life will be like now. In fact, his right leg is exposed and it is unwithered, his strong muscles looking as if they have not been the only problem holding him back. Behind him in the distance is the house where the crowd is still gathered in the doorway, and one can see why you couldn't get in, there are so many of them. Jesus has come out of the house and is tending to another person lying on a pallet.

Finally, there is the roof of the house, that roof through which the paralytic's friends lowered him dramatically so that they could position him in front of Jesus. The four friends are still on the roof in the painting where they are patching the hole that they have dug, an artist's sense of humor perhaps. They are repairing the damage to the house; thereby satisfying everyone who has ever asked the question, "But what about the roof?"

I guess it was the least that they could do. I mean these folks had done some real physical damage to the house and it needed attention. It's one thing to get your friend some help in the most resourceful way imaginable, and quite another to create a homeowner's insurance claim that would be hard to explain.

Nonetheless, the anonymous "Netherlandish" artist of the sixteenth century settles once and for all what really good fellows these friends are. They not only tear the house open to get their friend the help he needs, but they also repair the damage! The story is really quite amazing if you think about it. Jesus has gained a reputation as a healer. First it was the man with an unclean spirit, and then Peter's mother in law that he healed, then diverse people in Capernaum that came to him, a leper cleansed outside of the city when they were on the road, and then, back at home, this paralytic. Jesus is really on a roll in these first two chapters of Mark's gospel.

And I find it astounding that the friends in this story are able to accomplish what they do. The story really hinges on them. They must have heard about Jesus, or maybe one of them had been present to witness some of the earlier healings and came back to the others raving about Jesus and his curative power. Whatever it was that had preceded, the four friends convinced the paralytic that they were going to get him some help, come hell or high water.

So they gathered up that poor diminished paralytic and wrapped him in his bedding and got him on his pallet and started working their way toward the house where Jesus was staying.

Imagine how their hearts must have sunk when they saw that everybody else in town had the same idea. Everybody who had a problem of any sort had come to the house that day for help. It was like the subway at rush hour, people packed against the doors, squeezed in everywhere, faces smooshed against the windows, nobody moving in or out. It was impossible to get a man on a pallet carried by four friends into the foyer much less into the living room. They laid him down for just a minute so that they could think. And one of them got the bright idea that they should crawl up on the roof break it open, and lower the paralytic down.

In the living room below, there must have been a gasp when the first of the thatch and dried mud started to drop down and it was apparent that the house was being broken into.

Once he is lowered into the house, the paralytic says and does nothing. In fact, he doesn't even ask to be healed. Not a word passes his lips. Instead, Mark tells us that when Jesus saw their faith, meaning the faith of the friends, he healed the paralytic. And that's pretty remarkable in and of itself, don't you think? I mean we wouldn't bat an eye if Mark had said, when he saw the faith of the paralytic, he healed him, but instead it was the faith of the friends that moved Jesus, and so he healed the paralytic.

The story inside the story, is the controversy that ensued when Jesus performed the healing. It would have been a lot simpler if Jesus had just said, "Be healed." But instead, he said, "Son, your sins are forgiven." A forgiveness that links healing and sin in a way that makes most of us get very uncomfortable. It certainly made the scribes uncomfortable, because they questioned in their hearts who Jesus thought he was, forgiving this man's sin, when they knew that only God could forgive sins. It was the beginning of a controversy that would eventually do Jesus in. It deserves a sermon of its own, but not today. Today I want to stick with the story of the friends, and what they had to do to get the paralytic the healing that he needed.

There are two aspects of the story: the barrier that forced the friends up to the roof, and the faith in Jesus and love for their friend that caused them to break open the house to get him to the one who could heal him.

First the barriers. Most of us in the church are oblivious to the possibility that we might stand in the doorway blocking the access of others who want and need to get to Jesus; who want to get inside the house that is the church, so that they, too, can make their way to God. And yet, often without even thinking of what we are doing, we do stand in the way.

Sometimes it's because we are shoulder to shoulder, so close and friendly and all supportive and interlocked and blessed by the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love that nobody can break through, we're so tight with each other. You've probably played that game in junior high, where you make a circle and grasp hands and try to keep the person out who wants to come in the circle, until finally they just give up, it's too exhausting trying to break in.

Well, the church can be like that. Someone wrote me a letter of concern this week regarding the image the church conveys about itself as inclusive, and asked whether that is really so. He noticed that most of the people being ordained as officers last Sunday were white. Not very many people of Asian heritage, or African, or Caribbean, or Hispanic. Not many.

And on our website, how many faces are white and what that says to a person of color who is looking on from afar and wondering what they will need to do in order to be welcome in the house, or whether the roof may have to cave in before that happens. I explained that we do indeed have diversity on our boards, women, Hispanic, African American, Caribbean extraction, Asian; that the nominating committee actively reaches out to invite more participation from people of diverse backgrounds, but not everyone accepts that invitation. Still there is more that can be done.

I remember attending a college function here in town and talking with a man whom I discovered lived in this neighborhood only a block away and who had never visited here for worship. I said, "You'll have to come some Sunday. Our services are at 11:00 o'clock." And he said, "Which church is that?" And I said, "On the corner of Fifth Avenue between 11th and 12th." He said, "Is that the church that has the iron fence all around it?" And I said, "Yes." And he said, "Oh, that church always looks closed to me, the gates are kind of foreboding, so I just thought that church wasn't open any more."

Many of our younger couples come to the church, new to the city, sometimes looking for a church to settle into, maybe even a church in which to be married. And they are married here, and then tend to drift away because they don't get connected with other young couples here. Some older and newer members complain about that, saying, "They just come here and get married and use the church, and never come back again."

But I wonder, do we ever ask ourselves what it is that we might do to help our newly married couples get more involved, or do you have to break open the roof to get inside? The church as an institution can be a bit foreboding in a culture that is not very familiar with rituals and creeds any more, and has forgotten how to pray, and has never read the Bible, or been baptized. We are trying to be the church in a new and challenging age, and it is more like the first century in Corinth or Galatia or Ephesus today than it was fifty years ago when everybody went to a mainline church and was learning their catechism together, and saying the creeds by memory. Everybody knew the Lord's Prayer and the Apostle's Creed in Eisenhower's America. But even Christians today do not know them.

People who come to church often consider themselves seekers rather than believers today. No wonder some people who have never been to church before prefer worship to be more like a rock concert than an experience of the sacred and holy. I'm not proposing that we disconnect the organ in favor of a rock band or start meeting in the auditorium of the New School rather than in this glorious sanctuary. But rather that we ask ourselves how we can keep the doorways open and the reception warm and the hospitality flowing and the access routes accessible so that all God's people, those on pallets and those on good and brave and sturdy legs can make their way in and feel at home and know that they are welcome, and that both God and we are glad to see them. It is, after all, God's house they're trying to get into, not ours.

Having heard that caution about the dangers of closing ourselves off in the church, inadvertently blocking the doors, we need to hear the other part of the story about the friends who are willing to do anything to bring the paralytic to the place where Jesus is.

These friends in the story are amazing. They are determined to get the paralytic help no matter what the cost. And it is their faith that becomes the occasion of the healing of the paralytic, not any faith that the paralytic expresses on his own.

I think about the role of friends in our lives, the people in the stands who cheer us on, and how their faith in us brings us healing. Carlyle Marney, wise sage of the church, was the first to coin the phrase "balcony people", those saints who look on from afar and inspire and bless us and wish us well.

Sometimes it is those balcony people who believe more in us than we believe in ourselves. They are the ones who know our name and whose example inspires our faith. They go before us to serve as lights to our path and guides to our way. And sometimes when we cannot get to help ourselves, they are the ones ready to carry us.

The best of friends speak the truth to us and tell us not what we want to hear, but what we need to hear. Someone so invested in who we are, and yet so un-invested as well that they offer us a perspective no other can give. The Wisdom writer of proverbs describes their role this way, "Well meant are the wounds a friend inflicts, but profuse are the kisses of an enemy." 1

I think about the kind of friendship that these four held for the paralytic in the story. Because in all honesty, someone who is paralyzed is not necessarily a winsome friend in return, someone who, at surface level, is not able to give back much. To be a friend to someone who is dependent on basic support is to take on a serious responsibility. After all, this paralytic, depending on the severity of his physical challenges might not have been able to bathe, dress, get to the toilet, or even feed himself.

To become the friend of a person who has physical limitations is to enter into an intimate covenant relationship in which help is often assumed and necessary. It is not uncomplicated because sometimes the person who most resents this relationship is the person most dependent upon it.

Friendship is a delicate balance between being available and intervening, between being aware of when to offer help, and when to allow one's friend to choose that timing. It is learning not to impose your own truth, your own way, your own answers on another person's challenges in life, but allowing your friend enough room to learn her own answers in her own time. That is, after all, the only time and the only learning that counts.

Paralysis comes in many forms, you know. Not just in the physical. There is also spiritual paralysis, and emotional, and psychological. We freeze-up with fear sometimes, or with anxiety about tomorrow, or with self-pity or grief or blame, a sense of helplessness that gets a grip on us and seizes our ability to move forward in life.

Fortunate are those who have friends who can point in the direction of help, or even bear us up on their shoulders in difficult times; friends so ready to help us when we are ready to ask for help that they will even break through the roof and lower us to the place and to the One who can bring us healing.

We are meant to be friends like that in the church. Friends who are ready when the time is right to do everything we can to bring others to the place where help is available and even our faith can be used by God to bring healing. The friends in the story are, after all, the heroes of the piece. It is their faith that Jesus notices and that effects the healing of the paralytic.

Jesus chose twelve disciples to walk with him the dusty trails and desert sands of a time long ago and a land far away, a land that I will return to see once again by tomorrow's light. Some of the twelve proved better friends to him than others. But in John's gospel as they sat at table the night of Jesus' arrest, he said to all of them, "I have not called you servants, but friends." 2

And ever since, we have been invited to serve him as friends as well, like those friends who bore the paralytic to the house that day that Jesus was at home; friends who would not stop at anything to make sure their companion found the healing he needed.

We all need a friend or two like that in our lives, four would be an abundance. And I wonder if the old adage about friends is never truer in this respect than in any other; that in order to have a friend, we must first be one.

Friends, let us love one another as Christ has loved us, because by this everyone will know that we are his disciples. 3


1 Proverbs 27:6
2 John 15:15
3 John 13:34-35.

© Copyright Jon M. Walton, 2006.

Between Shadow and Reality

by Dr. Ravi Zacharias

Gospel: Luke 5:17-26

In an interesting encounter between Jesus and the paralytic given to us by Luke, we see a defining reminder of the relationship between soul and body, the temporal and the eternal. The friends of this paralyzed man did everything they could to bring him within the sight and touch of Jesus.(1) They even disfigured the property of the person in whose house Jesus was visiting in the hope that he would perform a miracle for their friend. I suspect they must have reasoned that if Jesus could make a paralyzed man walk again, then replacing a roof would be a minor problem. But as they lowered this man within reach of Jesus, they were not expecting an apologetic discussion.

"Which of the two is harder," asked Jesus, "to bring physical healing or to forgive a person's sins?" The irresistible answer was self-evident, was it not? To bring physical healing is harder because that would be such a miraculous thing, visible to the naked eye. The invisible act of forgiveness had far less evidentiary value. Yet, as they pondered and as we ponder, we discover repeatedly in life that the logic of God is so different to the logic of humanity. We move from the material to the spiritual in terms of the spectacular, but God moves from the spiritual to the material in terms of the essential. The physical is the concrete external - a shadow comparatively. The spiritual is the intangible internal - the objective actuality.

Yet we all chase shadows. We chase them because they are a haunting enticement of the substance without being the substance themselves. It takes a jolt, sometimes even a painful jolt, to remind us where reality lies and where shadows seduce. Jesus was so aware of this weakness within us that he often walked the second mile to meet us in order that something more dramatic might be used to put into perspective for us what is more real and of greater importance to God. Yes, he did heal that man, but not without the reminder of what the ultimate miracle was. Once we understand this, we understand the relationship between touching the soul and touching the body. In this instance, Jesus followed the act of forgiveness with the easier act of physical healing. If the paralytic was a wise man he would walk with the awareness that the apparently less visible miracle was actually more miraculous than the more visible one—even as his feeling of gratitude for his restored body would remain a constant reminder to him of the restoration of his soul.

As I have pondered this and the many other examples of Jesus' acts of mercy, I look at our hurting world that is desensitized to the gospel message - the message that cleanses the soul, heals the inner being, and brings light to the body. Our world is weighed down with pain, fear, suffering, and poverty. Our world is so broken that if we were to stare reality in the face, we would wish it really were only a shadow and not an actual embodiment. Such is the blind eye people turn to the familiar and dismiss as mere shadows what is tragically real. Sadly, both body and soul are forgotten in the process. The cost in human suffering is beyond computation.

In such a world, the question becomes: Does Jesus still lift body and soul out of the shadow and bring it into the light? I believe he does, and what an answer is the cross upon which "He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows." Such is the power of love. It is Christ who shows that unless a person's pain is understood one will never understand a person's soul. He himself is the best reminder of what is real and what is shadow.


(1) Cf. Luke 5:17-26.

About The Author:

Ravi Zacharias is founder and chairman of the board of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.


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