Friendship, Faith and Forgiveness

(Epiphany 7, Mark 2:1-12)

 

2-19-06

When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”  (Mark 2.5)

 This morning our gospel reading is one of the more well-known of the many healing stories about Jesus.  And, it is a story about friendship, faith and forgiveness.

The setting is back in Capernaum .  Jesus has returned there, after traveling throughout Galilee , preaching and healing and driving out demons.  And as he returns to Capernaum , we see that his fame has increased, and he is in even more demand.

Jesus stops again at someone’s home and people are swarming all over the place, trying to get near him.  So many that there was no room left in the house for anyone else to squeeze into.  Even the doorways and window openings had people in them . . . people desperate to hear him teach or to touch the man who seemed able to cure any disease.

Many were still outside, unable to get in.  Among those who were outside were some people from town that had carried their crippled friend to see Jesus.  As they approached the house and saw the size of the crowd that blocked their way, they were dismayed.  So the looked around for another way to enter.

Four of the men climbed up on the roof of the house, and the others lifted the paralyzed man up to them.  Typical Palestinian houses of that day had roofs that were made by laying branches across beams and then covering them with a thick layer of hardened clay.  So the men were able to dig through the roof.  And then they lowered their friend down through the hole on a mat.  And beseeched Jesus to heal him.

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And when Jesus saw their faith – when he saw the extent that they had gone to for their friend – he was moved to act.  But he did not do the expected, did he?  No, instead of just immediately curing the man’s paralysis, Jesus forgave him of his sins.  I don’t know why Jesus first forgave, but I do know that the forgiveness part of healing is very important.

Maybe Jesus perceived that the man’s soul was more paralyzed than his legs.  And so he granted him the greater gift than physical healing. 

Or maybe Jesus saw a connection between the man‘s sins and his paralysis.  Maybe they were one in the same in this man.  Perhaps Jesus saw a man who was in bondage to sin.  A person’s whose life was crippled because of something evil in its past.  And once that bondage to sin was removed, he was able to rejoin society in a productive manner. 

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But Jesus’ act of absolution does not go unnoticed by the scribes who were watching.  They immediately confront him about his audacity to presume that he has the power to forgive sins.  They know very well that only God can forgive sins, and it would be blasphemy for any mortal to claim that power. 

Jesus banters with them briefly, and then he settles the argument by saying, “look, in order to prove that I am the Son of man and that I do have the power to forgive sins, I will do something harder – something that you can see with your own eyes.  I will heal this man’s paralysis.”

And that is what he does.  Simply tells the man to stand and pick up his mat and walk.  And miraculously, the man is able to do just that.

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Friendship, faith and forgiveness

Jesus is so impressed by the faith of the man’s friends that he is moved to help.  Let’s look at that a little closer.  Because it is important to understand that Jesus is not saying, that because the friends have the required measure of faith – enough faith that he will therefore act favorably on their request.  It is not the degree of faith of the friends that Jesus responds to. 

The fact is that the friends’ faith is what caused them to bring the paralytic into the house.  The friends acted on their faith and created an opportunity for the paralyzed man to in the same room with Jesus.  So his healing is not dependent on whether the friends are sufficiently worthy or are judged to have the minimum quantity of faith.  It is simply that they acted in faith and invited the presence of God into their friend’s life. 

We do something similar when we pray for others, don’t we?  We call on our faith on behalf our friends.  And God hears our prayers. 

And our faith can also lead others to faith.

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I have talked before about one of my favorite movies, Simon Birch.  You will remember that it is about a couple of boys growing into adolescence back in those wonderful 60’s of my youth.  Joe is a normal good-looking kid.  But his friend Simon Birch is not.  Simon is a freak of nature – born too small.  And he never grows out of that undersized start.  So at the age of 12, he is a two and a half foot dwarf trying to be a normal teenage boy.  Which is not an easy thing to do.

But Simon is not unusual just because of his small stature.  He also has an unusually strong faith. 

Early in the movie there is a conversation between Simon and Joe that I love.  In it, Simon is telling Joe one more time again about how God has a plan for him to be a hero.  Simon tells Joe that things will be different for him when God makes him a hero. 

Joe says, “Simon, you shouldn’t talk about that hero and God stuff.” 

Simon says, “Why not?  It’s true.” 

Joe says, “But you have no proof.”

Simon says, “I don’t need proof.  I have faith.” 

Joe says, “I have faith.  I just need proof to back it up.”

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In our gospel story, Jesus acts because of the faith that is shared between friends.  Sometimes we think that Faith is squeezing our eyes shut and saying I believe, I believe.  But that is not it at all.

Faith is sharing our understanding of God’s love for us with others.  Faith is not a feeling – as much as it is an action.  And it is when we share ourselves with each other – that God most noticeably shares his love and forgiveness with us. 

And that can come about in so many ways.  This story is about forgiveness and physical healing.  But we can also invite God’s presence into the lives of others just by the way we model Christian life.  We can do it through our kindness and generosity out there in the world – by living and acting in a way that cause others to want to know what we know – want to see what we see. 

We can bring others into the same house with Jesus by inviting them to join us here at Grace – to join us in any of the things that we do around here.  God acts in the lives of others because of our faith, when we first act on our faith and share what we see and what we know.

Friendship, faith and forgiveness

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Jesus also shows us how forgiveness is the key to healing.  By first forgiving the paralyzed man, he reminds us that healing begins with forgiveness.

Forgiving someone who has wronged you.  Seeking forgiveness for the mistakes that you have made.  Healing just cannot happen without forgiveness. 

There is an old axiom that says time heals all wounds.  That is undoubtedly true, but it doesn’t say that you will be alive to see it.  Believe me; you don’t have that much time.  Forgive or ask for forgiveness, and get on with your life now.  Don’t wait for time to take care of it; because you will surely still be bitter when your time runs out.

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In Simon Birch, Joe comes back to his home town after he is grown to visit the graveyard where is mother and Simon have since been buried.  And as he looks at the headstones thinks about Simon, he shakes his head and says,

“I am doomed to remember him, not because he was the smallest person I ever knew, but because he is the reason I believe in God. What faith I have, I owe to Simon Birch.”

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And that is the legacy that we want to have also. 

Not to be remembered because of what we did or accomplished in worldly terms.  But to be the reason, the catalyst, that someone (maybe just one person) came also to believe in God. 

To have our faith in some way help to heal another.  To have our faith in some way help someone find forgiveness in their life.  To have our faith in some way bring someone into the very presence of Jesus Christ.   

I truly believe that is about the most important thing that we can do in life.  The ultimate way in which we live the great commandment to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

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We print our mission statement in the bulletin every Sunday.  This morning it is on the bottom of page 10.  Our mission is, Through the grace of God to help each person experience God’s love and guidance.

That is what we are to be about.  And we do that primarily by how we live our faith. 

We do that by extending a helping hand to another; or, by letting someone know that we are praying for them; or by inviting another person to church. 

And those that come to this house, we welcome warmly.  And God’s love and grace will shine through us.  And Jesus will act on our faith just as he acted on the faith of the four friends in today’s gospel. 

Our faith doesn’t need to be perfect – we don’t have to recite scripture or explain it in great detail.  It only needs to be just enough to be seen.  Enough that another person is curious enough to come and see.  Come into our house of God.

And then we let the Holy Spirit do the rest. 

AMEN.