blog 1They are flocking to Jesus, coming to him from every nook and corner of Judea. They’ve heard the stories, caught the rumors of new teachings, felt the rumble of excitement. Something is going on. Something’s happening. And everybody who is anybody wants to be there as a witness.

Today, the crowds gather in a home. They are packed into every cranny, stacked against walls, children hoisted to parents’ shoulders. Inside the house, there is standing room only. No one can move. No more can enter.

Still the people press to catch the sound of Jesus’ voice. They surround the house, pushing into doorways and windows, standing on tip-toe, ears pressed against walls. Everyone is craning to hear Jesus as he stands within and teaches.

Suddenly, right in the middle of a word of wisdom from the Son of God, every eye is torn from his face and drawn to a noise emanating from the roof above their heads. There is scrabbling and scratching. A fine dust begins to filter onto upturned faces. Then chunks of muddied straw and plaster rain down. Mothers throw their arms protectively about their children’s heads. People elbow for shelter beneath the meager furniture.

A hole opens in the ceiling. Hands reach down to rip away more and more of the ceiling. Soon there is a gaping chasm in the roof above the Teacher. Even he stares up in amazement, silent now and curious.

After a pause, after a considerable amount of fumbling and shouting, a man is lowered through the gap on an improvised sling. First his feet and legs appear, then a tattered robe, then a face both embarrassed and hopeful. Because there is no room to lower the man to the floor, he hovers, caught between the people staring up at him and the men above grunting at the task of manning the ropes.

The man is obviously paralyzed. The wasting and stillness of his legs proclaim his plight. A paralyzed man, dangling at the end of his rope, dependent on the friendship of those above and the mercy of One below.

Jesus watches and waits. He lets the tension build. He lets the questions form in the minds of those watching. He lets the friends handling the ropes sweat for a span. Then, at just the right moment, using just the right words, he speaks. Not the words you might expect to hear, however. Not the words we have heard him speak before: “Be healed” or “Pick up your mat and walk.”

Instead, he announces, “My son, your sins are forgiven.”

If you look closely, you can see the bewilderment in the eyes of the man hanging from the ceiling—he has come for healing, not forgiveness. If you listen hard, you can hear a gasp coming from the people as they realize what Jesus has just claimed—healing takes immense power, but absolution requires absolute authority. And if you take the temperature of the room, you can feel a spike in the heat radiating from one particular corner of the room where a knot of bearded, be-robed patriarchs stand whispering to one another—“Who does this man think he is?”

The religious authorities, like the rest of us, are there to watch and listen and gauge the crowd’s reaction to Jesus. But they have another purpose, in addition. They don’t expect to be moved by what they hear from Jesus or amazed by what they see. They don’t intend to become true believers or avid followers of this misfit Messiah. They are present to find something with which to accuse Jesus … some unfortunate slip of tongue … an incitement to revolt … a hint of heresy.

And now they have what they’ve come for. Now the simpleton carpenter has gone from purveying spiritual pablum to dispensing forgiveness of sins. No one forgives sins except God himself. Right? “We’ve got him!” they celebrate. Never has blasphemy sounded so sweet to their eager ears.

But Jesus knows what they are thinking. Not one to shrink from naming elephants in the room, Jesus looks at the religious leaders and challenges them with a simple question: “Which is easier to say—‘Your sins are forgiven’ or ‘Get up and walk’? Which can be proven?”

He turns to the paralyzed man but speaks for the benefit of all in the house—even the Pharisees: “To show I have authority to forgive, I will demonstrate I have power to heal. I cure this man so that all who are willing,” he cuts a glance to the men in the corner, “may understand that I have come from the Father.” His eyes linger for a moment and then return to the man suspended from the roof. “You … come down. Gather your things and walk home.”

And he does. (Mark 2:1-12)

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