Take Your Mat and Walk
One of the most moving events in Mark’s Gospel is the scene where Jesus has returned to Capernaum after being gone for several days. (See also Mt. 9:1-8, and Lk. 5:17-26) He is teaching in a house and the place is jammed thick with people, so much so that they spill out onto the street. Four men come to the house bearing a paralytic friend of theirs on a thin bed, all of them hoping that Jesus will cure this dear friend of theirs, and believing that he can. There is no way into the house, of course. But their love for their friend, and their shared desire that he might be healed, makes them turn their desperation into creative action. They carry him up onto the roof of the house and begin to tear away the roof material so that they can lower their friend down into the room before Jesus.
Can you see it in your imagination? Can you hear the sounds up on the roof, see the dust beginning to sift down from the ceiling into the room as the materials are peeled away by the four friends? Can you see the shaft of light that suddenly bursts into the room when the sky is opened to it and then, the paralytic, being lowered into the room before Jesus? Can you see the eyes of the paralytic, wide with hope and faith? Can you hear the murmurings of the people in the room? Now shift your focus to the eyes of Jesus. See the love and the understanding in them. It is as if there is no one else in that room, but he and the paralytic. Then Jesus says the strangest thing: “Son, your sins are forgiven you.” (Mk. 2:5) He says this because he knows the faith that those friends and this paralytic have in him. Hear the stunned silence in the room.
As the story continues, we see that there are some teachers of the law in the room. In their minds they are thinking something like this to themselves, “Who does he think he is? Only God can forgive sins. This Jesus is a blasphemer.” Jesus, of course, knows their minds, and says to them, “Which is easier: to say to the paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk?'” (Mk. 2:8-9)
At this point of the passage, I often find myself thinking about the paralytic. He, too, must have been stunned with those words. “Son, your sins are forgiven.” I can imagine him thinking, “I did not come all this way, and my friends did not go through all this effort on my behalf, just to have my sins forgiven. I want to walk!”
Then Jesus, the true teacher, tells them all, “I want you to know that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then he tells the young man to, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” (Mk. 2:10-11) Can you see the joy in the eyes of the paralytic and the amazement in the eyes of everyone else in that room when the paralytic rises to his feet?
Yes, the young man lowered before Jesus was physically paralyzed. Jesus, seeing the faith of the young man and his friends, is going to answer their prayers, and he is going to give him an even greater healing, one that he did not know he needed. Like the paralytic, and all the others in that room, our own spiritual lives are sometimes paralyzed by our sins, especially those unique, and particularly paralyzing sins of religious pride. If we, like the teachers of the law in this passage, use our faith to look down on others, to accuse them of “blasphemy” and the like, never seeing our own hypocrisy, our own nonspiritual arrogance, we are as “paralyzed” as those ʺteachers of the “law” that were present in that room that day. Jesus could cure the paralytic, because he could see his faith. But Jesus was also trying to get the teachers of the law to see that their pride was paralyzing them, preventing them from seeing who he really is and growing in their faith, just as much as the paralyzed young man was prevented from walking by his disease. Jesus loves them as much as he does the paralyzed young man. His question to them (and to us) is really meant to wound each of them (and us) with the truth, deeply enough that they (and we) will finally ʺseeʺ the causes of their (our) own unhappiness and their (our) need to be healed from it. Only when we ʺseeʺ the causes of our own paralysis, will we seek to be “cured” by Jesus’ forgiveness. Only then will we be able to look into Jesus’ eyes and see the love there. Only then will we be able to hear him say to us, ʺSon/daughter, your sins are forgiven. Rise up, take your mat and walk.ʺ And, oh, what joy we will know in that healing forgiveness.