“What Have You Got?”
Rev. Joan Shiels
recorded on 27 Oct 2014
READINGS FOR THE DAY
First Reading: Mark 2:1-12 From The Message by Eugene Peterson
After a few days, Jesus returned to Capernaum, and word got around that he was back home. A crowd gathered, jamming the entrance so no one could get in or out. He was teaching the Word. They brought a paraplegic to him, carried by four men. When they weren’t able to get in because of the crowd, they removed part of the roof and lowered the paraplegic on his stretcher. Impressed by their bold belief, Jesus said to the paraplegic, “Son, I forgive your sins.”
Some religion scholars sitting there started whispering among themselves, “He can’t talk that way! That’s blasphemy! God and only God can forgive sins.” Jesus knew right away what they were thinking, and said, “Why are you so skeptical? Which is simpler: to say to the paraplegic, ‘I forgive your sins,’ or say, ‘Get up, take your stretcher, and start walking’? Well, just so it’s clear that I’m the Son of Man and authorized to do either, or both . . .” (he looked now at the paraplegic), “Get up. Pick up your stretcher and go home.” And the man did it—got up, grabbed his stretcher, and walked out, with everyone there watching him. They rubbed their eyes, incredulous—and then praised God, saying, “We’ve never seen anything like this!”
Second Reading: An old Hasidic Folk Tale
One day, a woman who longed to know what heaven and hell were like was given a chance to find out for herself. God, giving the woman an opportunity to visit both places, asked her which she would like to see first. She asked to visit hell first. Arriving there she found herself at a splendid banquet. Around her, on all the tables were all of the finest foods she had ever seen. But no one in hell could eat the food because their arms didn’t bend at the elbow and they couldn’t feed themselves. Then the woman asked to see heaven. Upon entering she saw the exact same splendid banquet with all the same delightful foods. All the people in heaven couldn’t bend their arms at the elbow either. There was just one difference: In heaven people learned that they could feed each other.
I’m going to ask you to think back to the first reading today. It’s a story that’s usually called “Jesus Heals the Paralytic.” You probably think you know what the story says. But this morning, I’m going to tell you what it MEANS. In seminary we are taught to address the scripture with this question: What part of this passage speaks to you?
The answer to this varies from person to person.
Some people like the idea of Jesus as a “Miracle Worker” or “Healer” of physical ailments. They use it as evidence that Jesus truly worked miracles; walked on water, made the blind man see, that kind of thing. Other people identify with the “Forgiveness of Sins” part. They really are convinced that if they believe that Jesus is the only son of God, that their sins will be forgiven. This story touches them in that part of their hearts.
When I talked about this scripture at the Unitarian Fellowship they uniformly told me they did NOT like these two parts of the story. Jesus as “miracle worker” or “forgiver of sins” was not part of their belief system. I admit they are not part of mine, either. But still, I am moved by this scripture. It speaks to my belief system. It shows me how God works.
Remember, the original, question was “What part of this story touches you?” You have to look at it again, and then ask yourself if there was ANY IMAGE in this passage that makes you THINK? Is there any word or image in it that affects you?
I’ll tell you what draws me into this story. For me, this story isn’t primarily about Jesus healing the paralytic. That is superfluous. For me, it’s the four guys carrying the pallet. They really intrigue me. For some people, they’re incidental; unimportant. But I want to know more about them. They draw me into this passage in a way that makes it relate to me, my life, my world.
Looking at this story carefully, here’s what’s happening. At that time in Israel, Jesus is the Man of the Hour; the Biggest Act in Town; the Hottest Ticket in Capernaum! He had a new message about love and forgiveness that these people had never heard before. And, very importantly, he could heal people of physical ailments. The stories about Jesus were remarkable. Everybody wanted to hear him, see him, touch him, be healed by him.
And there’s this paralyzed man –
And who knows how long he’s been like this? The story doesn’t tell us that. But what the story DOES tell us is that he has four friends who obviously love him enough to put him on a pallet and carry him to the place where Jesus is. The story tells us that a lot of people have gathered to see him and hear him. It’s a big crowd – so big, in fact, that nobody can even wiggle up to the front. Especially four guys carrying a paralyzed man on a pallet. Do they give up? No.
These four are determined to get their friend in front of Jesus – to give him his shot being healed. They CLIMB THE ROOF, somehow, and get this man (still on his pallet) up on the roof (without dropping him!) and they still aren’t any closer to Jesus! So they DISMANTLE A PART OF THE ROOF and LOWER HIM DOWN with ropes, so he’s right in front of Jesus!
Can you imagine how much trouble all that would be? How much time, creativity and commitment and effort it took? What a hassle! Clearly these guys loved their friend enough to go to a great deal of trouble! Enough to get INTO great deal of trouble for line-cutting and wrecking a guy’s roof!
This scripture caused me to ask myself, “If I were paralyzed, are there four people who would carry my pallet? Are there four people who would risk injury, ridicule, or arrest to get me an opportunity at getting healed? Are there? Who? Can I name them?”
I’ve given that some thought. Who cares that much about me?
How about you? What if you were paralyzed? Are there four people who would carry your pallet? Who? Can you name them? Or, turn the question around. Who do you love so much in this world that you would carry their pallet? For whom would you go to so much trouble?
There are many ways to understand these Bible stories, many ways to explain them. Ask yourself how it touches you.
I’ve been entertaining existential thoughts about my place in the universe. I was thinking about it when the cold weather moved in this last week. First, the mention of snow flurries showed up in the forecast. We’ve still got all those beautiful leaves on the trees but this cold brings a powerful message. Winter is on the way. No matter what you were thinking about before, when it turns cold you realize that winter applies to you, and cannot be postponed or ignored. Very soon you will wake up in the morning and you will feel cold and you realize that certain preparations for winter must be done.
And perhaps, like me, you had been thinking about all of your complex problems and about your destiny and your personal identity – but now you don’t have to worry about that anymore. Winter has found you and it has given you a new identity; a person whom winter will soon seriously attempt to kill! This is one of the many advantages of spending the winter in Door County!
When we spend the winter here, we are forced to realize that we’re all just mammals. Winter gives us a simple list of what we have to do: Put the storm windows up, get the winter coats and boots out, get inside! And then, after that, you can think about your destiny again if you’d like to.
Winter simplifies everything, so we’re able to put aside manners to some extent. It’s a free season for complaining on a scale we wouldn’t dare to do in spring or summer. Mid-Westerners were not brought up to complain. And they know that they shouldn’t. But when real winter comes those rules are suspended and we feel free to complain!
So, when you have some people over for dinner, you’ll hear them cut loose on everything. Whatever is bugging them, they get to gripe! Oh it starts out polite enough, but by the time you get to the second bottle of wine, one of the guys starts in on the NFL and baseball! “There are too many teams; there used to be a time people played for the love of the game and now its money, money, money!”
When he says this to you, you cannot be the calm, reasonable person who says “Oh I don’t think it’s as bad as all that.” That’s not your role in this conversation! You’re supposed to top him! You’re supposed to pick up the litany of complaints and carry it to include the President and the Congress and “… the bozos in Washington!” Winter is a great time for complaining.
And it doesn’t matter that other people had a harder time. When your great grandfather came over from the old country, he worked so hard for three years until he could bring your great grandmother over. He homesteaded; hard, hard work all summer and fall. And then he worked in the lumber camps all winter. His life was much harder than yours.
But that does not affect your right to complain! You must never give up the right to complain, because it lasts for such a brief time – just a Wisconsin winter!
Garrison Keillor talks a lot about being a little kid in winter–and he remembers that winter used to scare him to death. But Garrison comforted himself with the thought of his storm family in town. All of the kids who rode the bus into town from the country were assigned a “storm home” in case a blizzard should come up. His was an old couple, the Krueger’s. He imagined that they had come to school and selected him as their storm child. He imagined that, of all the kids in the playground, their eyes had lit on him, and they shouted, “Him! We want him – the tall one with the glasses!” He always felt that if he walked up to their door and knocked on it, they would welcome him. Mrs. Krueger would say, “Oh, we always hoped that you would come! We’ve been waiting for you.” In time, of course, the Krueger’s died. But he kept appointing other people in their place; people who would be his “storm home” in case of a storm in his life.
I do the same. Even on the coldest, darkest winter days, even carrying a cold around in my head, I think to myself that I could always go and stay with friends. People who, if I knocked at their door, would be glad to see me. And who, when I told them that this would be a long visit, would accept it gracefully.
If you can think of four people who would provide you a storm home – four people who would carry your pallet – then you have real love in your life. You have God in your life! Because I think the old sampler on the wall was right.
God is love.
So that’s my understanding of this morning’s scripture. Our lives are precious and wonderful and sacred. If we just have eyes to see it.
Peace be with you.