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Do Not Wait for the Brick
February 23, 2003
by Tony Grant
I now invite you to turn in your Bibles to the gospel of Mark, chapter 2 and follow along as I read verses 1-12. Hear what the Spirit says to us.
1 When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home.
2 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.
3 Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them.
4 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.
5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven."
6 Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts,
7 "Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?"
8 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?
9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Stand up and take your mat and walk'?
10 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"--he said to the paralytic--
11 "I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home."
12 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!"
Amen. The word of God. Thanks be to God.
The Thrown Brick
I have heard the following story from several sources. It seems that a young and successful executive was traveling down a neighborhood street, going a bit too fast in his new Jaguar S-Type Sedan. Who could blame him, with his Jag boasting a 3-liter, 6-cylinder, 240-horsepower engine, with 5-speed automatic transmission? He was watching for kids darting out from between parked cars, however, and slowed down when he thought he saw something. As his car passed, no children appeared. Instead, a brick smashed into the Jag's door! He slammed on brakes and spun the Jag back to the spot from where the brick had been thrown. He jumped out of the car, grabbed a kid with a buzz cut and wearing tattered cargo pants. The executive pushed the kid up against a parked car, shouting, "What was that all about? Who are you? What the heck are you doing?" Building up a head of steam, he went on. "That's a new car and that brick you threw is going to cost a lot of money. Why? Why did you do it?"
"Please, take it easy. I'm sorry, I didn't know what else to do," pleaded the youngster. "I threw the brick because no one would stop." Tears were dripping down the boy's chin as he pointed around the parked car. "It's my brother," he said. "He rolled off the curb and fell out of his wheelchair, and I can't lift him up." Sobbing, the boy asked the executive, "Would you please help me get him back into his wheelchair? He's hurt and he's too heavy for me." Deeply moved, the driver tried to swallow the rapidly swelling lump in his throat. He lifted the young man back into the wheelchair and took out his handkerchief and wiped the scrapes and cuts, checking to see that everything was okay. "Thank you," the grateful child said to him. The man then watched the little boy push his brother down the sidewalk. It was a long walk back to his Jaguar ... a long, slow walk. He never repaired the door. He kept the dent to remind himself not to go through life so fast that someone has to throw a brick at you to get your attention.
God whispers in your soul and speaks to your heart. Sometimes when you do not have time to listen, he has to throw a brick at you. It is your choice, every day: Listen to the whisper - or wait for the brick.
The four friends in today's gospel account heard the whisper, which is why they took the drastic action they did. They learned that a healer named Jesus was in the town of Capernaum, so they put their paralyzed friend on a mat and carried him to Jesus.
The Hebrew name for Capernaum is Kefar Nahum ("Village of Nahum"). It was an ancient farming, fishing, and trading center on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. Archaeological research shows evidence of habitation at Capernaum by the third millennium B.C. By the time of Jesus, Capernaum covered an area of approximately fifteen acres, and had a population of slightly less than one thousand people.
Jesus was staying at what the text calls his home. Of course, his home was in Nazareth, but it may have been that he was staying at the house of Peter and Andrew which served as his base of operations (1:29).
Let us look for a moment at what Jesus said to the paralytic. He declares the mans sins forgiven (v. 5). This leads to the charge of blasphemy. Ordinarily, this charge involved the deliberate dishonoring of God's name (Exodus 20:7; Leviticus 24:16), and was a capital offense (Leviticus 24:10-16; Matthew 26:65-66). The dishonor in this case, in Mark 2, is the equality that Jesus assumes with God. Only God can forgive sins. If Jesus can forgive sins, then he is God. As Christians, of course, we recognized Jesus as God, but this was not a principle that Jewish religious authorities were willing to accept.
The point of the story comes in Jesus' answer to his rhetorical question to the scribes (v. 9): Is it easier to release someone from physical bondage or from spiritual bondage? Is it easier to forgive sins or heal the body. By his action, by healing the paralytic, Jesus demonstrates that he can do both. This miraculous healing, like all of Jesus' miracles, points beyond itself to a deeper significance, namely, the identity of Jesus as Son of God and savior..
The Friends Faith
But today, let us concentrate on the faith of the man's friends (v. 5). Specifically they had faith in Jesus' ability to heal. Notice that it is not the victims faith that causes him to be healed. We are never told that the paralyzed man had any faith. It is his friends who have faith. The principle here then is the power of vicarious faithwhich leads directly to the power of intercessory prayer. Intercessory prayer is prayer for others. Intercessory prayer works not because others have faith, but because we have faith. Therefore we can pray for anyone, and the question is not: Does the person we are praying for have faith in Jesus? The question is: Do we have faith in Jesus? We can pray for atheists. We can pray for infidels. We can pray for people of other religions. It is not their faith that is the motive force. It is our faith.
Love Sees The Need.
Last week, I preached on I Cor. 13faith, hope, and love. The four friends are a good illustration of that chapter. They had faith and hope in Jesus, and a real love for their friend. They had the kind of love that sees the need. They saw that their friend needed help. That is what love does. It sees a need.
Derek Hammond writes: Through God's grace, we managed to deliver 30 tons of relief food to Afghan refugees during Nov./Dec. 2001. This worked out to 1,400 food parcels, providing eight days of food per family. The situation was desperate, with thousands of Afghan children being orphans and nowhere to go or anyone to go to. Many were sleeping out in the open, huddled together in groups for warmth. During distribution, many women and children became hysterical in an effort to receive aid ... they were desperate ... many crying when there was not enough food ... fighting often broke out in their attempts to secure food and aid items. There are more Afghan refugees than any other population in the world. [Derek Hammond, "Aid to Afghan refugees," Faith in Action Web site, November-December 2001, Liaafrica.org.]
Derek Hammond has certainly seen a need in Afghanistan. If war breaks out with Iraq, there will probably be another million refugees who need food, clothing, shelter. Will we see their need. But sometimes it is easier to see needs in far away countries like Afghanistan and Iraq than in York. I was thinking this week that I do not have a single Black friend. I do not know a single black person well enough to say that he or she is my friend. Therefore, I do not know anything about the needs of the black community in Yorkand that is well over a third of the population of the city. Before we could address the needs that they might have, we would have to know about those needs. And the same is true of the rest of York. What do you and I know about the needs of poor people in York?
To have a vital Christian witness, we must go beyond acts of charity. We must go beyond the desire to feel good about giving. What is most valuable is active partnership between people in need and people who want to help. The most important gift we can give is the creation of relationships within which people of different backgrounds can learn to trust, respect, and work together.
Loves Carries Burdens
The four friends demonstrated the kind of love that carries the burden. They carried their friend. Burdens are not easy things. In the box office smash The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, a small scene speaks to the issue of burdenbearing. An elven queen, Galadriel, passes a test by overcoming the temptation to take a powerful ring from the hobbit Frodo. With the mounting scrutiny and pressure, Frodo expresses to the queen how alone he feels in his role. She tells him, "You are a ring bearer, Frodo - to bear a ring of power is to be alone." In a moment of vulnerability, Frodo fearfully confesses that he does not like the pressure. He wants someone else to be the ringbearer. Galadriel replies, "But this task was appointed to you ... for even the smallest person can change the course of the future." Frodo had a burden, the ring. We also have a burden, the burden of love. The task that has been appointed to us is to love others. It is a dangerous task that makes us vulnerable. It is a task that requires us to do something. To say that we are called to love others is to say that we are called to help others.
Love Finds a Way
The four friends also had the kind of love that finds a way. Straw bales. Rammed earth. License plates. Windshields. Salvaged wood. These are the construction materials students at Samuel Mockbee's "Rural Studio" use to build dream houses for poor people in Hale County, Alabama. For 10 years, until his death in 2001, Mockbee challenged, shaped and discipled middle-class students from Auburn University in what he called "the classroom of the community," where they experienced the "smell and feel of poverty." The Rural Studio's curriculum moves its more than 430 students beyond paper architecture to an artistic, ethical and political discipline rooted in community. Student Jennifer Stanton said about her semester, "I learned life is not about money. It's about where you put your importance." [-Rose Marie Berger, "Building dreams," Sojourners, May-June 2002, 34.] Samuel Mockbee saw a need. Poor people in Alabama need housing. He found a way. The four friends found a way into that house where Jesus was. That is what love does.
Love Works Miracles
Lastly, love works miracles. When the friends arrived, they found that the house was packed, and the crowd was spilling out into the street. There was simply no way that they could elbow their way inside, especially with the human load they were carrying. So they grabbed some bricks of their own, figuratively speaking, to get the attention of the others. Climbing to the roof of the house, they dug through the roof. That is, they dug through the thatch and dried mud, which were the customary roofing materials in Palestinian domestic constructions at the time. Then, they lowered the paralyzed man down to Jesus on his mat.
When Jesus saw their faith, he proclaimed to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven." Then he said to the man, "Stand up, take your mat and go to your home." And he stood up, picked up his mat and walked out through the front door, amazing everyone in the house. Through Jesus Love worked a miracle.
Love Move Us To Act Now
God whispered in the souls of those four friends and spoke to their hearts. He inspired them to seek out Jesus, using whatever means necessary, and to trust him to heal their paralyzed friend. When the foursome dug through the roof, Jesus looked up at their dusty faces and saw their faith shining through. Would he see the same in us?
Tragically, most of us are moving too fast and making too much noise to hear the gentle voice of God. Our windows are rolled up, our heaters are blowing, our CD players are cranked, our 240-horsepower engines are roaring, and we have little chance of hearing the whisper. We don't pay attention until we get hit by a brick. And then - when we do try to get involved with others, it can still fall short because our connection with the needy and marginalized is often slim and none. We touch the lepers, warns Miriam Adeney, "at arm's length, without ever leaving the security of our own turf. Loving our neighbors means something more. It means being vulnerable. It means entering into their pain. When God in Jesus came to live among us, He shared our troubles and felt our hurts." That is what love does. It cause sus to feel the pain of others and feel a burden for them.
There is a task appointed to us, a task that comes to us as the whisper of God. We will hear the whisper only when we are willing to feel the pain of all our neighbors. When we become vulnerable enough to share their troubles and feel their hurts, and then take actions that show that we love our neighbors every bit as much as we love ourselves. Our love is not just a warm and wonderful feeling, but must be revealed in concrete actions if it is going to reflect our Christian faith. For if "a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food," observes the letter of James, "and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,' and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead" (James 2:15-17).
Faith without works is dead, says James, and that's why the foursome in Capernaum had to punch through the roof to get their paralyzed friend to the healer. It was only when there was dust on their faces and dirt under their fingernails that Jesus looked up and saw their faith. So what are you going to do to make your faith visible?
The young executive in the Jag lifts the hurt boy back into his wheelchair, takes out his handkerchief and wipes the scrapes and cuts. That's active faith. Another person spends a day each week reading and singing with patients on an Alzheimer's unit. That's visible faith. A family devotes some time on a regular basis to working at the thrift store or at Path. That's faith in action. An individual serves as a Stephen Minister and acts as a caring presence in the life of someone who is feeling alienated from friends and from God. That's faith you can see. Still another person meets fellow believers on a mission trip or works on issues of social justice. That's faith combined with works, in a vital and world-changing way. The key is to listen for the whisper, and then act. To get up, get moving, get lifting, get carrying, get climbing and get digging ... whenever you hear the gentle voice of God calling you to do some work on behalf of others. Sure, some barriers may separate you from Jesus, and from people around you. But like the fearless foursome of Capernaum, you can break through them.
And when you place the needs of the world in front of Jesus, amazing things can happen. The paralyzed can be healed. The hungry can be fed. The oppressed can be freed. The poor can be helped. Peace can break out, justice can be done, and hope can replace even the most desolate forms of despair. Love can work miracles, but It all starts with hearing the voice of God, and taking action. And doing it before God has to hit us with a brick. Amen.
Adeney, Miriam. "A wake-up call to become global Christians." Christianity Today, September 12, 2001. ChristianityToday.com.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 4/22/03