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Put Yourself in the Scene

I would like to do something different this morning instead of simply reading the Scripture from Mark 2:1-12. I would like for you to imagine the scene described….

Imagine that you are living in first century Palestine and that you are standing outside a house in Capernaum by the Sea of Galilee. Can you picture the stone walls and the roof made of earth and straw? Do you see a crowd gathered around, wearing robes, and having dusty, sandaled feet? Can you smell the sea air? Do you hear the sound of the seagulls in the distance? Can you feel the warmth of the sun on the back of your neck? Perhaps you can smell the sweat of bodies packed close around and in this simple house with its few small rooms clustered around an open courtyard. Can you still savor the strong taste of the fish you had for breakfast?

Now I want you to imagine who you are in this scene. First, there is a crowd of people. Why are you there in the crowd in the first place? Perhaps you’ve heard the rumors spreading around about a guy named Jesus. You’ve heard that he’s an amazing teacher and a healer. Could it be that the stories are true? The only thing to do is to check it out for yourself. You’ve heard that Jesus has returned from a preaching mission all around Galilee. You have some free time today, and so you decide to visit Simon’s house and see if Jesus is there.

When you arrive at Simon’s house, a crowd has already gathered. You join the outer fringe of the crowd and try to listen as intently as you can. Jesus is speaking from inside the house, maybe twenty feet away from where you are standing. He has a strong, warm, resonant voice. You hear him telling a story. But then your attention is distracted by someone tapping you on the shoulder.

“Will you let us through the crowd?” the man behind you asks politely. But no one, including you, makes any room for the newcomers to get through. You try to turn your attention back to Jesus but it’s no use. You can’t help but notice that this same fellow who tapped you on the shoulder is helping three of his friends carry a paralyzed man on a mat. You see them disappear up the stairs on the outside of Simon’s house. What could they be doing?

Suddenly, there is a commotion inside the house. You ask the person next to you in the crowd what is going on. “Someone has dug a hole in the roof and is letting someone down in front of Jesus.”

OK. Let’s stop and change position. Now I want you to imagine that you are one of the friends carrying the paralyzed man on the mat. Obviously, you’ve heard the stories about Jesus healing people, or maybe you’ve even seen him do it. The person on the mat is important to you. Is this person a family member? Is he a lifelong friend? How do you picture your relationship to this person?

How far have you had to walk, with your other three friends, carrying your loved one on the mat? Have you come from across the village? From a neighboring town? From the other side of the Sea of Galilee? However far you’ve come, I bet it’s not been easy.

How do you feel now that you have finally arrived and you see this house packed with people? Do you wonder how you are going to get through, how you are going to gain Jesus’ attention? Do you feel like giving up? You have come too far to just walk away. There must be some way to get into see Jesus. One of your friends asks someone in the crowd to move aside, but they refuse. Another one of your friends asks, “What about climbing those stairs?”

“Yes,” says another, “We could make a hole in the roof!”

“The owner might not like that.”

“But we can’t just walk away. Now’s our big chance.”

It’s hard work, but between the four of you, you are able to make a hole in the roof in no time. Now you really have to make a nuisance of yourselves. And it is even harder work lowering your friend on the mat into the crowded house. You climb down into the house along with one of your friends as the other two lower your paralyzed friend. Once you get your friend safely on the ground, you look at Jesus.

You’ve never seen him up close before, but you’ve heard a lot about this man. What does Jesus look like? His hair is dark, like every other Jew in Palestine. His skin is dark too, and swarthy; he has obviously spent a lot of his life outdoors. He is lean and muscular. He’s obviously spent a good bit of time at hard labor. He’s never known the soft comforts of a wealthy life. He’s dressed simply in an off-white robe, all of one piece, simple sandals. But what you notice most are Jesus’ eyes. They’re brown with flecks of yellow. They are warm and inviting eyes. At this moment his eyes are sparkling and filled with amazement as he looks into your eyes and says, “Never have I seen such faith!”

How do you feel? You were just trying to do the right thing for your friend. But Jesus says you have great faith. Wow! That’s a boost.

Now, let’s change places once again. Imagine you are the person on the mat. How long have you been paralyzed? How did it happen? Were you born that way? Did you have an accident? Did it just happen all of a sudden? Do you feel like it’s your fault but there is nothing you can do about your paralysis?

How do you feel about these friends of yours who have carried you all this way? Aren’t they the best? When one of them suggested taking you to Jesus and seeing if he could heal you, of course you agreed right away. Why not? Anything is worth a try, right?

But you never imagined it would be this much trouble, getting into see Jesus. Your friends are lowering you through the roof of a house. You didn’t much like that idea, but there was no changing the minds of your friends. You are afraid you might end up more hurt than you were in the first place. And what if Jesus can’t do anything for you. What if he gets upset at this interruption?

But then, there you are, on the ground in front of Jesus. You look into his eyes and hear him say, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

How do you feel? Perhaps, you think to yourself, “How did Jesus know forgiveness was what I needed most?” For the first time in your life you feel deeply, completely loved. You know your face is turning red, but you don’t care. All that matters is that you are with Jesus. You’ve never met this man before, but something inside you makes you want to stay right where you are forever, never leaving Jesus’ side.

Now let’s change perspective once again. Imagine you are one of the scribes inside the house, listening to Jesus’ teaching.

You’ve been sent by the high Jewish court (the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem) to find out what this itinerant preacher is all about. You’ve heard partial reports about him and you’ve been commissioned to bring a full report back to your fellow scribes. You have studied the Hebrew Scriptures for most of your life, but you have never heard anyone teach like Jesus. His stories are captivating; he speaks with a kind of authority you have never seen before. He hasn’t been to any rabbinic school, but he seems to know more than any rabbi you’ve ever met, and he is so down to earth!

But now you’re bothered by an interruption. Four men are lowering a paralyzed man on a mat. How dare they interrupt the teacher! Perhaps Jesus will get rid of them. But no. What is that Jesus is saying? “Your sins are forgiven.” How can he say that? Jesus is just a man, but he’s acting like God, forgiving sins. You look around at your fellow scribes. They all, like you, have seats of honor in the front row, right near Jesus. And they all, like you, have scowls on their faces. You’re all thinking the same thing, one word: blasphemy. But you’ve all agreed. No matter what happens, there’ll be no confrontation today. You’ll simply take your report on this Jesus back to Jerusalem. And so, even though you are seething on the inside, you keep your mouth shut.

Then Jesus looks straight at you. It feels like he is looking right through you, seeing what is in your heart. He asks, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts?” And you think, “How does he know what’s in my heart?”

Once again, it’s time to change places. Now I want you to do the most audacious thing of all. I want you to imagine you are Jesus.

You’ve been traveling around the Sea of Galilee, teaching in synagogues, healing people and casting out demons with the power that can only come from your heavenly Father. You are tired, but you are glad to be home, if you can call it home. It’s the house belonging to one of your disciples, a man named Simon who is about your age. You wake up after the first good night’s sleep you’ve had in a while, then no sooner have you had your breakfast, and people are gathering at your door.

“Teach us again Jesus, like that day you spoke in our synagogue!”

How can you refuse such an invitation? And so you sit down in a comfortable spot and begin telling stories about the kingdom of your heavenly Father, a kingdom you want to make real here on earth. Soon the crowd grows from a handful, to over thirty people spilling out the door and beyond.

Everyone in front of you is listening intently, including the scribes who you know have just arrived from Jerusalem to check you out. You know their motives can’t be good. They want to find something wrong with your teaching.

Suddenly, in the midst of speaking, you notice some straw and mud falling on your head and all around. You look up and see a small group of people lowering a friend on a mat. You are immediately grateful for the diversion. You quickly realize that this person on the mat is someone who needs your help, unlike the scribes sitting in front of you, this person knows he needs help. You look at this paralyzed person and his friends and cannot help but love them for their audacious move of making a hole in the ceiling. You know that this kind of faith, this kind of eagerness, can move mountains. But as you look at the paralyzed person on the mat, you realize his greatest need is not for physical healing. You know, deep within your heart, that this man has some hidden sins that he desperately wants dealt with, but he’s afraid to even speak the names of his transgressions. And so you cut right to the most important issue and say, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” The words tumble out of your mouth so easily because you know that is the greatest desire of your heavenly Father—to forgive his children for the many ways they go astray.

Immediately, you see a look of relief, and hope, and joy, and love on the face of this paralytic, and you are glad. But no sooner have the words of forgiveness left your mouth, you also realize that not everyone in the crowd is happy. You address the sour scribes in the gathering. You know that they think you are committing blasphemy. So you say, “Which is easier, to say to this paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’?”

You pause to let the question sink in. You stare down the scribes in the crowd, knowing there may be no action on your part that will make them believe, but you are going to try anyway. Besides, what these scribes think is not the important matter. All that counts is sharing what the Father has given to you to give away—whether that means teaching or healing or forgiveness or simple love.

And so you say to the scribes. “But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,” and then you turn to the paralyzed man and speak, “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go home.”
It’s no surprise to you when you see the paralyzed man do exactly as you have commanded. You have seen the Father’s power at work so many times before. But the crowd around you is amazed. They glorify God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”

Now, why have I invited you to engage in this exercise of imagination this morning? I have done this because I believe that each one of us, in our heart of hearts, actually is one of these people.

Perhaps you are a member of the crowd. You come to church to learn about Jesus every Sunday, and that’s good. But I also believe that Jesus wants so much more for you. Being part of the crowd is okay, but Jesus doesn’t want you to remain there. He has so much more for you to do than just sit on the fringe and watch life go by. Jesus has work for you.

Maybe you are like one of the friends of the paralyzed man. If you are praying for others, if you are bringing people to church, if you are sharing Jesus with others, then you are like one of the friends of the paralyzed man. You are bringing people to Jesus and that is one of the greatest ministries anyone can have.

Perhaps you are like the person on the mat. Maybe you feel guilty because of your sins. You need healing, perhaps physical, but more importantly spiritual. If you are the person on the mat, don’t feel bad. We’ve all been there at one time, or if we have not been there before, we will be there in the future. There is a time in every one of our lives when we need to let others carry us, care for us, and bring us to Jesus. If you are the person on the mat today, you need to hear these words and take them to heart: “Son, daughter, your sins, all of them, are forgiven. You are set free. You are loved more than you have ever imagined. Be healed. Go in peace.”

Maybe some of us here today are like the scribes in the story. Do you judge others? Judgment is a load that is just too heavy for any human being to bear: judgment of others, judgment of self. Why not roll that load off on to Jesus today? Then ask Jesus to show you the world and other people through his eyes.

Now let me finish, by saying the most audacious thing of all. I believe Jesus is calling every one of us to stand in his shoes before the world. I know none of us will ever be Jesus in the sense of being fully divine. But if we are followers of Jesus then we are all part of his Body and that means we represent him to the world. It doesn’t hurt to imagine what Jesus might do or say in a certain situation and then try to carry that out ourselves by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.” That means that we are called to teach, to forgive, and to heal in Jesus’ name. To hold back from such ministry is not humility, but disobedience. What word of grace or forgiveness might Jesus want you to speak today and to whom? Where might you take the healing, loving presence of Christ this week?


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