“When Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days, it became known that he was at home. Many gathered together so that there was no longer room for them, not even around the door, and he preached the word to them.”
The story of the paralytic being lowered through the roof of a house in Capernaum has always been intriguing from several perspectives. First-century roofs in Galilee were typically flat consisting of timber beams of sycamore or cypress wood set atop the walls of a structure about 6 to 8 feet above the floor. The timber beams supported branches or reeds mixed with thick layers of earthen “plaster” that had been dried to form a waterproof barrier above the structure.
Hearing of Jesus’ return, a group assembled to bring a paralytic to him in the hope that Jesus would heal the man. It takes four men to carry him, with others obviously involved. Credit this group of friends and neighbors for their faith, their charity, and their zeal in trying to alleviate the paralytic’s suffering.
Realizing that they cannot get near Jesus because of the crowd, they resort to the unthinkable. Some of them climb to the top of the roof, somehow tear open the beamed, thatched roof, somehow hoist the man on his mat to the top of the roof and somehow lower him on his mat into Jesus’ presence. Mark leaves us wondering how long it took to open the roof, lift the paralytic to the top of the roof and then lower him into the inside of the house. Nor does he reveal if Jesus continues preaching amidst all of the commotion.
Then Jesus, seeing their faith did the unthinkable himself. “Child, your sins are forgiven.” How surprised the entire crowd must have been at these words. They came, hoping for a miracle. Instead, Jesus forgives the man’s sins. What is this? This isn’t what we struggled so laboriously with the paralytic for. It was only when the scribes challenge Jesus words that he reveals his true identity. “Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming. Who but God alone can forgive sins?” Jesus retorts: “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth” – he said to the paralytic, “I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home” He rose, picked up his mat at once, and went away in the sight of everyone. They were all astounded and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this.”
This gospel passage challenges us to wonder, when we or others are suffering or in need, do we more often pray for a healing miracle before praying for the forgiveness of our sins. Isn’t Jesus trying to show us that the greatest gift that God can bestow on us is the forgiveness of our sins even before the alleviation of our sufferings? That’s what he did for the paralytic. First, he said “Child, your sins are forgiven.” Then he said, “I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home.” Perhaps the gospel is encouraging us to rethink the priorities of the things that we pray for.
Bill Berger has had a lifelong relationship with the Passionist Family. Bill and his wife, Linda, are currently leaders of the Community of Passionist Partners (CPPs) in Houston.