I’m terrible at artsy-craftsy things. Terrible. But I understand why we do crafts in Sunday School, because making the image of a story has the power to imprint it on us in different ways. There are some stories I remember because of the pictures in a book or a children’s Bible, but there are others that became part of my life through cutting paper or coloring or gluing things together or twisting pipe cleaners or some combination of the above plus or minus popsicle sticks and string (although I prefer yarn).
It must have been a group project. I want to think it was, because it’s hard to imagine I constructed the three-dimensional paper house with the removable roof and the man on the stretcher alone. I also hate to think of the poor teachers who might have been supervising a classroom full of kids all working individually, with scissors (I forgot those before) and crayons and string and all that paper.
When he 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. (Mark 2:1-4, NRSV)
I remember the house, and I remember how fragile it seemed, and I can see the flat little man on the paper stretcher. I think the edges of the paper folded around a string on each side, the long ends used by the friends to lower the paper man into the house.
We children, of course, lowered him ourselves.
We were the friends who removed the roof.
There is a long discussion in the story about the difference between healing and the forgiveness of sins.
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!” (Mark 2:5-12, and isn’t it a pity we don’t read it every three years?)
I don’t remember that part from when I was a little girl, sitting in the big Sunday School room at Court Street Baptist Church, where Mrs. Kersey, the minister’s wife, oversaw everything with grace and creativity and kindness and beauty, oh my goodness, such beauty in the eyes of this little girl. I only remember it was his friends who made sure he got to see Jesus.
They removed the roof of a house. Listen to that! Don’t just pass it by. Read it out loud.
They removed the roof!!!
And after having dug through it…dig that!
I have an unsurprising tendency, as a liberal Christian who also majored in English, to suck the reality out of Bible stories and teach them as metaphor. And there are surely many metaphors to be explored. But we need to hear this story literally.
(Make a note of the date. I asked you to read something from the Bible literally. This won’t happen often.)
We need to hear it.
They carried their friend on a stretcher, their paralyzed friend, and because the crowds were so enormous, they took him to the roof of the house and REMOVED THE ROOF and DUG THROUGH IT and lowered him into the middle of the room where Jesus was.
Sometimes I wish someone would do this for me, put me right in the middle of it with Jesus, put me right in front of his face and make it so he will look me in the eye and see me and fix what is wrong with me. And I’m not sure whether he would offer to heal me (my toe joints are pretty bad right now) or forgive my sins (they’re pretty bad right now, too), but I know I would take either.
And sometimes I realize that’s exactly what we’re doing for each other, friends, when we pray for one another. We see the crowded situation around Jesus, and we find a way to get on top of the house and remove the roof and dig through it, and we put our friends in need right where they need to be, in front of Jesus.
Thank you for doing that for me. I’m glad to do it for you, too.