Epiphany 7 - Carrying a Friend.
Mark 2: 1-12
6 June 2010
St. Luke’s, Burlington
By Stuart Pike
I’m not entirely sure what I expected when I decided to go to seminary. The word itself brought to mind images of studious young people - mostly men - who were very serious-minded and straight-laced. Discussion would be very esoteric, and I would probably find myself struggling to keep up.
I found another reality when I got there. There were about even numbers of men and women and over half were not that young. There were lots of people who had left a previous career to go back to studying theology. We had nurses, teachers, factory workers, business people, a forestry student, and others. Along with the serious discussion there were plenty of fun times. What a wide variety of people there are who go to study theology! There were plenty who didn’t study full-time and would only do one or two courses in a semester.
It was among this mix of personalities that I met Margaret who joined us for a couple of courses when I was in second-year. If I ever had an image of a theology student, she wasn’t it. I mean she was old! It wasn’t only that she had a motherly image: she had a grand-motherly image, and, in fact, she was a grandmother. The wisdom with which she spoke during discussions didn’t have much to do with formal studies, but more with her experiences in life.
Margaret used to coddle us. She was always asking me if I had eaten, perhaps because I always had a lean and hungry look! Mostly, she would beam at us. Big smile, oh-so-gentle voice. If a discussion got a little hot as they are wont to do when earnest budding theologians start spouting opinion, she would wait for a chance to speak and would often tell a simple story which would bring home the point. Or else she would just continue to beam at us.
It was little by little and story by story that we were gifted with her own story. This gentle grandmother had lived through some tough times. I was grateful that I only heard the tragedies one story at a time, and interspersed with other stories of love and great fun. When she was a young girl living on the Prairies, her mother developed TB and had to live in a Sanatorium and she would be allowed to visit only occasionally. Amazingly enough, after living for years in that sanatorium unable to walk she survived until the discovery of the drugs which allowed her to return to her family. Her daughter, Margaret, had already grown up by then and so had lived most of her childhood as the only woman of the household.
She married young and had two children and life was good until she was diagnosed with cancer. It was only after many months of surgery and chemo and years of follow up, that she was declared cancer-free. It had been a long hard battle but the worst was yet to come. Not long after her recovery she found out that her son was also sick with cancer. After a couple of years of illness he died. She felt completely undone.
She spoke of how she felt abandoned by God. She spoke of the great anger in her which didn’t seem possible in the gentle woman I knew. I asked her how she had handled it all. How did she end up theology student.
She told us how some time after the death of her son, she met a woman in town who went to a Church which she had occasionally frequented. The woman recognized her and told her, we are praying for you. Margaret could barely speak in reply but said that she was grateful because she was completely unable to pray herself.
It was through that connection that she found her way into a Church community which supported her all the way to a strong faith. She realized that when she was so beaten down that she had no faith left, that she was carried by the prayers of others.
In today’s Gospel, from Mark, we have a story of four people who carried a man to Jesus to be healed. The man was paralysed, and so could not get to Jesus by himself. He was totally dependant on the actions of those who cared for him.
It is quite a story. We have been hearing the last few Sundays of how famous Jesus was becoming. As so in today’s reading there are so many people waiting outside the house that there is no way they can get through. Are they daunted? Not at all. They simply decide to climb up to the roof and take it apart over Jesus’ head. I wonder why I wouldn’t have thought of that! It sounds like quite an operation because the bible says that first they removed the roof, and then after digging through it, they let the mat down with the man on it. The Bible doesn’t mention the dust and plaster that collapsed on top of Jesus and the people with him. And it doesn’t really mention Jesus’ initial reaction.
I imagine Jesus teaching and stopping suddenly, “What on earth is that noise? Oh, I see, someone is coming through the roof!” I imagine him breaking out in laughter. We know he doesn’t respond in anger at the destruction. “Who the hell is going to fix my roof!” It simply says that when he saw their faith he says to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Note that it isn’t the man’s faith, it is “their” faith - the four who carried him.
Isn’t that an odd thing to say? He doesn’t place his hand on his forehead and say, “Be healed.” He says, “Your sins are forgiven.”
It is important to realize that sin isn’t only about the really wicked things that we do. Sin is anything which separates us from God. It could be by our own action or inaction. Or it could be by the godless circumstances in which we might be living. But, in this instance, I think Jesus is speaking metaphorically, and is simply stating an obvious fact. His friends have dug through a roof to get this man to Jesus! Jesus is saying that by doing this, the separation which existed between this paralysed man and God had been removed. It is pretty clear that Mark tells this story to say that by getting to Jesus, one gets reconnected to God.
Mark is saying: get yourself to Jesus. It doesn’t matter the obstacles: if people are in your way, go around them. If a brick wall is in your way, go over it. If a roof is in your way, dig through it. Bust your way in! Be innovative if you have to. Jesus won’t mind, he will recognize the faith which is involved. If you get yourself to Jesus, your sins will be forgiven too. Whatever is separating you from God will be removed.
But the most important lesson that I have taken from this reading is the one about the friends, and what they do for the paralysed man. They do it because they have faith and because their friend can’t do it for himself. That is what the Church is all about. It is about being a community of faith for each other, and especially for those who can’t do it on their own.
The fact is that, sooner or later, most of us will be in a situation when we have run out of prayers and we have no faith left for ourselves. Some of us have already been there. The Church is to be there for us then. But even more important than being part of the Church for your time of need is being there for other people.
I don’t know how many times I’ve hear people say that you don’t have to go to Church to be a good Christian. I think they’ve got it wrong. In order to be a good Christian, you have to be the Church and going to the worship of the Church is simply a part of being the Church. The most important part of being the Church is what you do for others all the rest of the week. Being part of a community of faith is an essential part of that. That’s being Church.
Being one of the four who carried their friend is what it’s about. Being the one to bring someone to Jesus, who can’t get there themself, no matter the reason, is being the Church. Praying for others and being the one to say, “We’re praying for you” is the same as being one of the four who carried a friend. Amen.