7th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Breaking Through the Roof

At the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus declared his purpose and mission in this life:  "The time is at hand, and the Kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news."   After curing Peter's mother-in-law, Jesus' first recorded "work of power" is the healing of a solitary leper. The details, as we saw in last week's Gospel, are few but this encounter sets the stage for what would become a problem for Jesus all throughout his ministry. At the end of that account Jesus' fame is already beginning to spread and he is unable to travel anywhere without being recognized. And so, as today's Gospel tells us, after some days spent attending to the people in the countryside,  he returns to Capernaum for a bit of rest. But the news of his presence there soon spreads like wildfire.

Jesus finds himself mobbed by an excited and sympathetic crowd - some have gathered to listen to his words but others have come to seek healing. There were four such people on this particular day, carrying a paralyzed man on a litter or mat. The paralyzed man could do little to help himself, and in fact, he depended almost entirely on these other folks. Less fervent friends might have given up - there was simply no way they could get close to Jesus in this large a crowd, no way to catch his eye or make themselves be heard.

But these are not just fair-weather friends, they are more than simply determined: they are driven.  They will get to Jesus in any way possible.  So they come up with a plan.  They will climb to the roof, remove the thatch and the branches, and even the tiles, break through and lower their friend down right in front of Jesus.  At that, he would be sure to notice. 

There must have been quite a commotion as they came through the roof. And there would have been dust perhaps choking, blinding dust - as they landed in the midst of everyone and before Jesus.   There must have been a bit of chaos. And we can imagine the owner of the house screaming at them, pleading with them to stop - for they were, in fact, ruining his home. 

Jesus did indeed notice.  Mark tells us: "When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, 'Son, Your sins are forgiven'". This is an unbelievable response. It shows how attentive and responsive Jesus is. And yet this was not quite the work of power or miraculous cure that most folks were looking for.

Particularly the Scribes.  They simply see and hear Jesus' response, which seems to make no sense under these circumstances, and take it at face value. They are not really watching what Jesus is doing or trying to understand his actions with the heart of faith. They are simply looking for trouble, looking for something to criticize. And Jesus can see right through them.

The good faith of the paralytic and his four friends stands in direct contrast to the bad faith of the scribes.  Jesus has already identified the faith that characterizes this little group of men, one sick and the others his helpers. This will always be his primary intention: to look for faith, to engender faith, to support faith, and to reward faith whenever and wherever he finds it.  Nothing has been said by these men, no words of humble supplication, no fervent affirmation of faith has been spoken by any of them; but by their actions Jesus saw their faith.

Faith is a steadfast commitment to God, despite appearances and without proof.  Faith implies a relationship with God; it is not simply religious knowledge. But the Scribes want a demonstration that Jesus' words ("your sins are forgiven") are true.  They want proof.  So Jesus again responds.

In order to show them that "the Son of Man has power over sin" he reaches out and tells the paralytic to get up and go home.   Still without a word, not even a word of gratitude, the paralytic, now healed, picks up his mat, walks through the crowd and returns home. We are simply left to wonder what happened to his four companions - or who fixed the roof, for that matter.

The story leaves us with a big lesson:  Our Christian commitment is measured not only by our own strength but by our collaboration, and not by our weakness but in our willingness to he raised up and supported by the community.   "Jesus saw their faith." If this is the case, then faith can characterize a whole community. It is not simply a private or individual matter.

Sometimes we may feel alone and helpless, our faith in tatters, threadbare. But we are blessed if we have a community to love and care for us. Even when our faith seems so very fragile, we can be sustained by the faith of those around us, and we are blessed  when we are supported and raised up by the helping hands of others.  But so too will more be demanded of us; we will be expected to raise up our suffering brothers and sisters.  

Today we see a man who is weak, but sustained and, literally, carried by strong friends. We see friends joining together, each picking up a comer of his mattress, knowing that none could carry it alone, but working together, they could transport their paralyzed friend to a place of healing.  The example of these men also serves as a challenge to our church.  People are paralyzed and laid low in many ways: poverty, unfair hiring and work practices, domestic violence, poor educational opportunities, war, drugsā€¦ the list goes on.

Breaking through roofs is a ministry that we cannot afford to leave for others.