The crowd was huge, filling the little house to overflowing. Jesus was in town. The people flocked to hear him. All kinds of people – the curious, the devout, the skeptical, the religious. They were all there, packed into a little house, spilling out onto the street. And Jesus did what Jesus always does – He preached the Word.
Four men came to the house. They were carrying their paralyzed friend on a pallet, a kind of flat board with handles. No motorized wheelchairs back then. No handicapped access. No way to push through the crowd to Jesus. They decide to dig through the roof and lower the man on his pallet down with a rope to the feet of Jesus. Imagine being the owner of the house. Mark says that Jesus “came home.” Perhaps it was back to Peter’s mother-in-law. You invite Jesus to your home, next thing you know the whole town is in your living room and some strangers are digging a hole through your roof. It takes all the romance out of “house church,” doesn’t it?
Jesus is impressed. He sees their faith, their stop-at-nothing, determined trust in Him, that He could do something for their paralyzed friend. He does a surprising thing, an outrageous thing, something He hadn’t done before. He says to the man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” He absolves him.
Do you think that’s what the four friends had in mind when they carried their paralyzed buddy to Capernaum and dug through the roof and lowered their friend to Jesus? Is what what they had in mind? An absolution? “Your sins are forgiven?” No, they were thinking healing, miracle. They were expecting Jesus to lay His hands on their friend and say the healing word and their friend was going to walk home. Or perhaps climb up to the roof and help them fix the hole.
What did you expect when you came to this house today? A miracle perhaps? Answers to your problems? Peace in your life? Success? Happiness? What did you hear? What did Jesus say to you? “I forgive you all of your sins.” Scandalous, outrageous.
“Blasphemous!” say the religious types, the teachers of the Torah. Who does this Jesus think He is? God? Only God can talk like that. Only God can forgive sins.
Absolution is an outrage to our religious sensibilities. That’s why a lot of so-called “progressive churches” have stopped using it in their services. You don’t hear confession and absolution talk anymore. People say, “That’s no way to start a service. What a downer. Admit that your a sinner. And then some guy in a bathrobe says, ‘I forgive you all of your sins. What’s up with that?”
“Cheap grace” goes the religious protest. Forgiveness can’t be that easy. You have to earn it, right? Repent. Change. Promise to be good. What did the paralyzed man do? He did nothing. He was carried by others on a board, lowered to Jesus. St. Mark doesn’t record a word from the paralyzed man. Could he talk? No prayer, no confession, no promises. He wasn’t even there to be forgiven; he was there for Jesus to fix his legs.
That man is a perfect picture of each of us. Spiritually paralyzed, unable to move one little step in a Godward direction. We have to be brought to Jesus, as babies brought to Baptism. We are paralyzed in sin and death. There is nothing more paralyzing than death, is there? We can’t move. Sinful by nature, sinful in thought, word, and deed. Unable to free ourselves. Can you say to a paralyzed man, “You need to get yourself to a doctor, son?” No more can you say to a sinner, “You need to get yourself to Jesus. You need to give your heart to Jesus. You need to decide to follow Jesus.” Nonsense. The dead are paralyzed.
I have a little problem with the English translation in our liturgy that has me say, “Lift up your hearts,” and you reply, “We lift them up to the Lord.” Lots of lifting going. Lifting those hearts up to heaven. Feel the burn. Liturgical aerobics. The Latin simply said, Sursum corda. “Heart up.” And the people said, Habemus ad Dominum. “We have them to Lord.” No lifting. Just open, empty hearts waiting like the paralyzed man on his mat looking up into the eyes of Jesus.
“You were dead in sin.” Not kind of sick, dead. Not sort of limplng, paralyzed. Laid out. Dead. “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in trespasses – it is by grace (gift, undeserved kindness) that you have been saved.” (Eph 2:1,4)
“Your sins are forgiven.” Literally, “your sins are loosed.” The chains have fallen off. The weight on your shoulders is lifted. Your sins are Jesus’ burden now. You can’t have them anymore. They’re His, and He died with them. Those are words of freedom and life. They lift you out of the paralysis of sin and death and set you on your feet. If all that Jesus had done for the paralyzed man that day was say, “Your sins are forgiven,” that would have been more than enough. Remember what the Catechism says: “Where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.” Everything you need is in those absolving words of Jesus.
Jesus knew the scandal of those words. He knew what people were whispering in the back rows of the crowd. He knew what those religious experts were muttering under their breath. “Who can forgive sin except God alone.”
Jesus addresses them. “Which is easier to say to a paralyzed man: “Your sins are forgiven,” or “Arise and take your pallet and go home”? So which is easier? You’d say, “Well, forgiveness because all you have to do is say words, right?” Oh yeah? Try it next time someone sins against you, and you pray the Our Father, “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” To forgive isn’t easy. It cost Jesus His life on a cross, His blood shed for the sin of world. Absolution doesn’t come cheaply. It’s free to us, costly to Jesus. And so for that matter are the words, “Arise and walk.” Those words too cost Jesus His life, who bore our sicknesses and sin in His own body.
They are both for God alone to say. That’s right. And Jesus, standing in the middle of that crowded house with the hole in the roof, is God in human flesh, the Word Incarnate, whose words are Spirit and life. The God who said through the prophet Isaiah:
“I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” (Is 43:25)
Jesus looks down at the paralyzed man lying there on his board and says, “I say to you, arise, take your mat, go to your house.” Jesus’ words do what they say and say what they do. The man arose and immediately (everything is “immediately” in Mark) he took his pallet and in full view of a whole house full of people walked out. And the people were astonished and glorified God. “We’ve never seen anything like this.”
If we could talk to that crowd, we might say, “You ain’t seen nothing yet.” You think that was something? Watch when Jesus dies on a cross and rises from the dead three days later. That’s how the world will know for certain that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. He got up and walked out of His tomb three days after He died to pay for your sins.
In many ways this house is like that house where Jesus raised the paralytic. Perhaps not quite so crowded, though we can always hope. And we don’t have to cut through the roof to get to Jesus. He’s accessible to each of you in the water of Baptism, in the words of forgiveness, in the Supper of His Body and Blood, in the preached Word which has the authority of Jesus, the Son of God, who died and rose from the dead.
Nowhere else can you see water be a Baptism, a new birth, a washing of sin. Nowhere else can you see a man forgiving sin with the authority of Christ. Nowhere else can you eat bread that is the Body of Jesus and drink wine that is His blood. Nowhere else but in the church that is gathered by the Spirit, the congregation which is open to heaven.
It took four men to bring that paralyzed man to Jesus, to dig through the roof, to lower him on a rope. Four faithful men. Do you know what we call that? Evangelism. Mission work. Bringing the sin-paralyzed to Jesus, bringing them to the house where Jesus is. They won’t come on their own. They can’t. They’re paralyzed. They can’t come to Jesus. They have to be brought by those who have been given ears to hear, mouths to speak, legs to go, arms to carry. That’s the church scattered in mission, bringing the sin-paralyzed to Jesus so that they too might hear those loosing words, “Your sins are forgiven.”
What Jesus did for that paralyzed man, He does for you gathered here today. He forgives your sin. And on the Last Day, by that same Word and authority, He will raise you from your grave. You ain’t seen nothing yet. Now you must hear it, and believe it.
In the name of Jesus,