Then they lowered the man on his mat, right down in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “My child, your sins are forgiven.” … “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!” [Mark 2:4b-5,11 (NLT)]
Jesus had returned to Capernaum and the word was out—the rabbi from Nazareth could heal. People were flocking to Him and the crowd followed Jesus right into the house where he was staying. Four friends of a paralyzed man carried him to see Jesus but the house was so full they couldn’t get through the door. Determined to get to Jesus, they carried the paralyzed man up the outside stairs to the rooftop and started to dig through the thatch. Picture the scene. The room is jam-packed when a disturbance is heard overhead. Dried mud and straw start to fall into the room, a head peaks through, more straw and dirt come spilling through the opening, a mat is dropped, and then four men lower their paralyzed friend down to the ground right at the feet of Jesus.
Rather than heal the man, however, Jesus forgave his sins. Then again, Jesus always put first things first; even more important than health is the forgiveness of sin! Scandalized, the scribes thought His words blasphemy since only God can forgive sins. To prove His authority to forgive, Jesus then healed the paralytic. While the forgiveness of the man’s sins couldn’t be demonstrated, the scribes couldn’t refute the validity of his healing when the once paralyzed man jumped up, grabbed his pallet, and walked. Imagine the gasps of the astonished people as he worked his way through the crowded room to the door.
This story tells us we must be stretcher bearers. When our friends are weak, we should bring them to God as did those four men when they placed the paralytic at Jesus’s feet. We often think that Jesus healed the man because of his faith. Look more carefully at the words; Jesus healed the man because of the faith of his friends! They were so sure that Jesus could heal him that nothing discouraged or stopped them. Like them, nothing should stop us from carrying our friends (or even people we don’t know) to God in prayer. Yet, how often do we offer to pray for someone and pray just once, haphazardly, or not at all? Our faithful prayers can make a difference!
For the last several months, I’ve been praying for a toddler with metastasized cancer. Hundreds of us, many of whom don’t even know her (including fifty from my Tuesday Bible study), have joined in bearing her stretcher and placing it at Jesus’s feet. What looked absolutely hopeless in October looks hopeful today; her scans are good and she’s begun physical therapy. Knowing she still has to face a transplant, radiation, and immunotherapy, her stretcher bearers will continue to carry her until the day she lifts up her pallet and goes home—which brings me to another lesson from this story. It is God, and God alone, who has the authority both to forgive our sins and to answer our prayers. No matter how deep our faith, not everyone whose stretcher we bear will be healed. Some may pick up their pallet and go home to their family but others will pick up their pallet and go home to God. Nevertheless, let us never forget that before Jesus healed, He forgave; while health is not guaranteed, forgiveness is. Thank you, God, for your saving grace!