Updated: Jan 17, 2022
Dr. RB McFee
The other day I was reading from The Chosen Devotional book, and came across the following Scripture reading….
“3 Then a paralytic was brought to Him, carried by four men. 4 Since they were unable to get to Jesus through the crowd, they uncovered the roof above Him, made an opening, and lowered the paralytic on his mat. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”…
Mark 2: 3-5 Berean Study Bible
Few Christians are unfamiliar with the events described above in Mark. It is frequently one of the events in the New Testament discussed at Sunday school, Bible study, and portrayed in most movies about Christ’s life. Moreover, this story like so many that describe an event in Jesus’ life, and His ministry, is layered, full of instruction, and inspiration, how to live fully in the Light of Christ.
Unfortunately, and too often, discussions of the story focus on the paralytic, Jesus curing the man, and the religious leaders trying to ensnare Him for doing so.
As important as these lessons embedded in those particular verses are, that’s not the full story. If it was, why did Jesus allow the events to unfold as they did? And why then would the Gospel writers have described the events leading up to Jesus curing the man, and going beyond the healing miracle, such as unmasking the hypocrisy, the legalism over love that the scribes embodied?
Because one of the most beautiful parts of this story in Mark 2 is frequently overlooked – the four friends carrying the paralytic. Four men taking time from their work and families to help their friend in a era where lost work was truly a sacrifice.
And carrying a paralytic is not easy – even for men used to manual labor. Paralytics are heavy – what is often referred to as dead weight. And require a lot of care. Clearly his friends provided both care, and caring. That alone is worth reflecting on, and remembering their contribution to our Biblical journey.
In the book Jesus in me by Anne Graham Lotz, the author reminds us that service to others is an act of love. She says “When we have grown in our relationship with the Father to the point where we love Him….it stands to reason we will be motivated to live in a way of love to Him. And the Holy Spirit quickens our love for God that we want to do something for Him. That’s what service is. Service is not something we have to do. It’s something we want to do. It’s an overflow of our love and worship of the One we are coming to know….”
Carrying a paralyzed friend up to the roof top, carving a hole through it, and then bringing him down from the opening into the midst of a crowd to Jesus, well if that isn’t love, I’m not sure what is.
What is your first reaction to Mark 2: 3-5? For me it comes down to three things –
First - The four friends, (or all five people) had enormous faith in Jesus’ capacity to heal the paralytic that they would do anything it took to meet Him, and realize His miracle. Jesus said as much in verse 5. These people were not much different than the woman with a bleeding disorder who knew if she could just touch Jesus’ garment she would be healed. These folks represent mustard seeds of faith fed on miracle grow, watered by Red Bull ™!
Second – The paralytic had amazing friends who took the meaning of “do anything” seriously, as if it was Ex Cathedra from the lips of Jesus Himself. Wow, now that’s true friendship! And as my mom always counseled – if you want a friend, be a friend.
Anyone who knows me knows my definition of friendship, what I call the 2 am test. Will you be there for your friends if they call in the middle of the night? Friendship and love are not always convenient. But then neither was being born in a stable, raised in a foreign land, and nailed to the Cross.
If you have ever treated or known someone who is paralyzed, it isn’t just loss of leg function. To care for someone in that situation is truly an act of love. It is not easy, clean, or convenient. And to do it while travelling on the dusty roads of first century Israel – without ambulances, specially equipped vans, let alone handicap accessible camels or other conveyances – that is friendship!
Even though Jesus’ reputation by that point had grown, with word of His healing the sick spreading around the region, to the average person, He was still mortal. A prophet, maybe even One truly in touch with God, but mortal nonetheless. At that time Jesus’ Divinity was still pretty much undiscovered territory. So to believe enough in Jesus, and to willingly travel with a paralyzed friend just to see the Nazarene, in the hope He could cure their pal, that is faith in action with a stick shift in top gear, and turbocharged love.
Third – The crowd needed a lesson in love, because if one reads the context leading up to verses 3 – 5, the four friends couldn’t get through the crowd to meet Jesus, and apparently no one was going to let them through, in spite of them carrying a man on a mat.
One has to wonder, where was their compassion? To be sure there were others in the crowd likely in dire circumstances as well; people with leprosy, blood conditions, seizures, or outright near death’s door. But there were also spectators, and curiosity seekers, as well as some of the religious leaders, who came to try and trap Jesus in some theological legality.
Not exactly poster children for people of faith, or a reflection of the very love they were hoping to get from Jesus, but lest I judge, something way above my pay grade, I wonder, how often might we have done the moral equivalent.
Have we raced home from church, or maybe turned on the television after a long day at work, when our gut says someone might have needed a hug, a phone call - some of our time? How often have folks eaten at a restaurant when a homeless person is outside the doors begging, without sending a meal, or providing for that person’s needs? Have we done an errand for our shut in friends, when to do so would be inconvenient? Love is inconvenient. That’s what makes the four men, four friends, so remarkable.
When we do something for someone who cannot repay the kindness, that is an act of love.
Reading Mark 2: 3-5 also reminds me of the slogan adopted back in the early 1940’s for Father Flanagan’s Boys Town ministry …. “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.” It truly represents the miracles that have occurred at that remarkable place over the last hundred plus years, the philosophy of bearing others’ burdens, having folks care for, and about you.
Those words and the story of Boys Town also inspired a song so titled by the Hollies. Here’s the link. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jl5vi9ir49g
If ever a pop music song had Biblical overtones, and epitomized many of the lessons Jesus was trying to teach us, it is “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.”
Consider the opening verses….
“The road is long, with many a winding turn, that leads us to who knows where, who knows where.
But I’m strong, strong enough to carry him. He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother”
From He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother, by the Hollies (songwriters Bob Russell and Bobby Scott)
How many people are strong enough to carry another’s burdens, and willing enough to do so? More often than not, the capability is there – but is the awareness, willingness and courage there?
In all fairness, sometimes people are concerned about overstepping, or making someone feel awkward, even indebted for the kindness proposed. True love is low calorie, and guilt free.
And sometimes the notion of taking on someone else’s burdens seems a bridge too far when one’s own challenges are mounting.
I remember a sermon by Rabbi Steve who asked the congregation a powerful question; “What will make the human heart want to give?” Which suggests the need for inspiration from Above!
Personally I feel enormously blessed for my faith family. Thinking about our community of believers at CCUMC – the stories of kindnesses would fill many blog articles.
But one member, and conversation in particular comes to mind and is emblematic of who we are as a faith family. Someone I could picture as one of the “four men” letting the paralytic down towards Jesus. A year ago a friend from church and I were doing some holy conferencing – which is to say ‘faith chatting’ with a fellow believer. He mentioned his concern about some folks who had moved, and how he wished they could return to the region so our church family could take care of them.
Our faith family does look beyond our own experiences to seek out those in need. In spite of a pandemic we reach out to the homeless, to those isolated at home. We think of those needing ministries of kindness. We share Christ’s Light.
“If I'm laden at all, I'm laden with sadness. That everyone's heart isn't filled with the gladness, Of love for one another”
From He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother, by the Hollies (songwriters Bob Russell and Bobby Scott)
Can we inspire others? Can we reach out more? Can we share more? Can we invite others to join us in bearing the burdens of others? We know not everyone has felt the joy of helping others on a regular basis. Yet anyone who has ever helped someone knows we feel enormously blessed; perhaps even more so than the recipient.
How often have you heard if you want to feel better, and take your mind off your own burdens, help someone else with theirs?
One thing I know – when you are in the right house of worship, when you have found one that truly is a faith family, you not only have four friends and many people willing to bear your burden and carry your mat, you have a community of believers to share your faith journey, to love and be loved, to grow in Christ’s teachings. It is about community.
“Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ”
As people of faith, and Christ’s disciples we still are not immune to challenges, infirmities, pain, and sorrow. But through it all, like the “four men” carrying their ill friend, we too have the privilege, opportunity and responsibility to carry each other’s burdens - even in the midst of our own difficulties,
Thankfully through Jesus’ Grace, we don’t need to drop from a roof, or help others do so to meet our Lord. Prayer is the mat and ropes that connect us and our friends to our Savior. But it is a comfort to know, if we need someone’s physical presence, love and support, our faith family will carry that mat, too.
So who have you lowered through the roof lately?