Malankara World

Sermons Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Third Sunday in Great Lent (M'shariyo / Paralytic)

Sermon / Homily on St. Mark 2: 1-12

When a Room Is More Than a Room - A Sermon based on Mark 2: 1-12

by Prof. Dr. David Zersen, President Emeritus, Concordia University at Austin, Austin, Texas

Gospel: St. Mark 2: 1-12

A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven." Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, "Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, "Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? But that you my know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…" He said to the paralytic, "I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home." He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this!"


Sometimes an experience is more than just a little episode, and sometimes the place where it happens has more meaning than can be contained in that space in time. Recently, Ted Schroeder told a story in the spring issue of Thrivent, which recounted unicorn hunts on which his grandfather had taken him as a child. They walked together through the woods in Indian-like silence for long stretches, tracing the shape of a raccoon’s paw on the mud bank of a creek and savoring the smell of pine needles warming in the sun. "Each unicorn hunt," says Schroeder, "was an adventure in listening, watching and waiting… when the whole world became a song of praise to the one who created even unicorns, and set their path into the heart of those who can follow." ( Thrivent, Spring 2006, p. 32)

Each of us knows about such moments when fantasy becomes real, when story takes on structure, and when we learn for the first time that this day has within it the beginning of the rest of our lives. I can count such experiences on at least one hand; they were times when I expected nothing but walking up a hill in the sunlight, rowing across a lake at dusk or having a quiet conversation with a friend. I expected nothing at such moments, but was stunned to experience transcendence or to have a family room become a sanctuary.

In today’s text, a crowd of people expected something dramatic, perhaps a healing, perhaps a teaching. What they received was more than anyone bargained for. In those special moments, the room in which they were gathered became more than a room, and the meaning of life and its relationship to God and eternity were forever changed. Even we, in hearing about it today, can hardly grasp the full impact of Jesus’ words and actions. Let’s trace it once again to be sure we haven’t missed anything.

Wholistic Forgiveness

A paralytic’s friends help lower him through a Palestinian house roof made of sticks and clay, laid across larger logs. Unsaid is what chaos this must have caused below as stubble and sticks begin falling on those gathered around Jesus. Suddenly, the paralytic lowered on his mat finds himself before Jesus, who surprised by such confidence on the part of his friends, says, "Son, your sins are forgiven." The story ends with the man being healed and leaving on his own volition, much to the shock and praise of the crowd. But this is hardly the ending.

This is merely what happened in the room at a superficial level. But there is more here, and the "more" is what transformed this room into one of the spiritually transcendent moments in religious history. Some of the scribes were muttering under their breath that Jesus’ claim to forgive sins was totally inappropriate. This is blasphemy! Any pious Jew knew that there was a sacrificial system in which proper repentance and sacrifice preceded merited forgiveness—and there had been no talk of this. God’s respected framework for getting people to be mindful of authority, of guilt, of punishment, of penance had been sidetracked in these words and forgiveness had been pronounced too soon.

There was a system in Judaism that understood that sin had consequences, and when proper repentance had not demonstrated itself, then guilt remained. "Who sinned," Jesus’ disciples once asked him, "this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" (John 9:2) When the proper transactions had not taken place in terms of repentance and forgiveness, guilt could remain: the sins of the fathers were passed on to the children. It was assumed that penance preceded forgiveness, but something radical was taking place here. We hear about it in the Parable of the Loving Father (Lk. 15: 11-32). Before the prodigal utters his memorized speech about being unworthy and deserving only a place with the servants, his father runs to meet him, throws his arms around him and kisses him! This revolutionary newness burst upon those in the Capernaum house with such surprise that few grasped what was taking place. Forgiveness and penance seemed to be changing places. In some senses, forgiveness becomes the condition for repentance rather than the other way around! When God’s grace in Christ throws its arms around us, our eyes and ears are opened to the full depth of our sin and we are helped to repent of those sins to which we have been blind and deaf. (Raymond Schwager, Jesus in the Drama of Salvation). This is what really bothers the scribes. The very foundation of the system in which their lives and belief are grounded is being challenged here. The world is being turned upside down! "Blasphemy," they mutter.

Of course, what is not yet fully grasped in this moment is the full measure of grace that is unfolding in the drama of salvation. Jesus models—Jesus is the very initiative of God toward those who stand over against him, who disregard him. Jesus crosses the sacred boundary toward sinners and embraces them. And in doing this, in setting aside the ancient sacrificial system, he incurs the wrath of those who managed the system, getting himself killed in the process. As he goes to the cross, he sets aside forever the need for a system of penance and opens wide to all of us the outstretched arms of a loving God. But that’s to get ahead of our story.

Wholistic Healing

There’s more taking place in this room—and this is more than a room. Jesus asks, "Which is it easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘get up, take your mat and walk’? And then, to show the interrelationship between these words, he provides the corollary to "your sins are forgiven," and tells the man to get up and walk! That the crowd is astonished, and that some scholars say that two stories are being combined here—one about a healing and another an argument about forgiveness-- is all neither here nor there. In the theology of Luke, Jesus is a wholistic healer. He knows what contributes to human dysfunction, whether psychic or physical, in ways greater than we understand. He knows that when a burden of guilt, a lack of confidence, a desire for vengeance or a lustful longing overcomes us, there are psychological and physical manifestations. Those of us who have ministered to people in hospitals know of many experiences when those with physical maladies could find no obvious diagnoses. I remember a woman who had problems with almost everyone, in the congregation and in her own family. She had indescribable stomach pangs for which the hospital tests provided no explanation. We spent an hour together praying and unburdening her anger against even me. When she went home a few days later, there were no further symptoms, because the Healer had touched her with his forgiveness and she had become whole.

Sometimes this healing takes places in human settings that are not yet recognized as spiritual, in rooms that are not yet called sanctuaries. I have a number of friends who call themselves agnostics, even a few who say they are atheists. They suffer the same problems that Christians suffer. Antagonisms result in hurt feelings, jealousy and lust lead to estrangements and greed creates unnamed desire. You don’t have to be religious to have sin and guilt. And when in a human situation, a transcendent moment occurs in which one forgives another or provides a new or healthier direction, then there is an otherness to this moment which even the non-religious have to acknowledge as an emancipating or wholistic gift. That we may choose call such a moment grace is another story. We reach out to one another across the painful divides which separate us from non-religious friends because of our worldviews, and we know that in one word or another, it is love beyond all telling which holds us in the palm of its hand. Regardless of the room’s name, it is sanctuary.

There are therefore two profound things happening in this story that make this room more than a room. On the one hand, Jesus is taking people beyond their traditional understanding of piety and penance to a new claim that God accepts them unconditionally. Jesus goes to the cross to make good this claim that ends the sacrificial system and opens the door to full righteousness through grace alone. On the other hand, Jesus is helping us to understand that we are complex beings in which physical and spiritual dimensions interact. If we cling to the spiritual dimensions, if we remember that we are loved and forgiven in Christ, enormous impact upon our physical life results. Spiritual healing is not as wacky as some make it out to be. The drama of T.D. Jakes or Benny Hinn conducting an exorcism on TV may be extravagant showmanship, but there are spiritual demons in all of us that only God’s extravagant kindness can cure.

Where does this leave us? In the 100th Anniversary Year of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s birth, we can well remember that he worried about cheap grace, about people who claimed too easily the forgiveness which God offers and to which they did not live up. And in certain historical contexts, it is altogether proper to ask whether Christians have taken seriously the embrace that claims them before they are even ready to love in response. We who believe in infant baptism know this story very well. But it is to put the cart before the horse if we now turn it around and reinstate a system of penance from which we have long ago been freed. What Paul once said, all of us can now confess: "This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am chief!" (1 Tim. 1:15) That truth involves no cost; the debt is paid. At the same time, we recognize that these sins from which we have been forgiven, have the power to affect us profoundly, psychologically and physically. We are not so simple as to assume that all physical maladies result from spiritual gravities—we are not Christian Scientists. We know that matter is real and that viruses and genetics can have their impact. However, we daily look for ways in which we who stand before our futures bold and free can shake loose the chains that still bind us to others, to systems and to ancient fears and hatreds.

We claim a forgiveness freely and generously given, and we know that in this moment, and in this room, or in any time and place where our recognition of God’s embrace takes hold of us, new beginnings can occur—beginnings that can lead to healings and wholeness and abundant life.

Take a look at the room in which you’re hearing this—or reading this. Ask yourself what it would take to see this room as a sanctuary, a place of beginning again. Ask yourself from whom you need to free yourself, from what old system or perspective you need to separate yourself. In every place in which you are present with Jesus, there is an opportunity to allow life to be turned around and to see what eye has not seen and ear has not heard. Where Jesus is present, a room is always more than a room.

See Also:

The Paralytic and His Four Friends
by Edward F. Markquart

Healing the Paralyzed Man
by: Rev. Dr. V Kurian Thomas, Valiyaparambil

Devotional Thoughts for the Third Sunday of Great Lent
by Rev. Fr. Laby George Panackamattom

Devotional Thoughts for Palsy - Paralytic (M'sariyo) Sunday
by Jose Kurian Puliyeril

Sermons, Bible Commentaries and Bible Analyses for 3rd Sunday in Great Lent (Paralytic Sunday)

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