Reciting Mark this morning, the first two chapters and into three…
Encountering, loving Jesus, the Beautiful Outlaw in each story.
Why did I wait so long to do this – to memorize and meditate in and on these stories of him?
I see him looking at the roof above literally coming apart, pieces of dirt and grass and God knows what else falling on him, around him. People in the overcrowded room falling back, making way. Does Jesus stand up? Or does he merely continue to look up – his hand no doubt shielding his eyes – as he looks up with bemusement at the progress of the four sets of hands furiously digging through the roof of the third world peasant home? And now the hole is big and wide and long enough to lower the mat with a paralyzed man.
Has Jesus even bothered to say anything more in this house teaching? I think not. He welcomes the interruption, the intrusion.
Jesus watches. Jesus sees their faith.
As the paralyzed man is lowered right before Jesus, does the man say anything? An awkward, “Hi”? Perhaps an embarrassed apology for the mess and intrusion caused by him and his friends for “dropping in” like this?
We do know what Jesus said. I am struck by the first word.
This isn’t condescension. It’s what he calls the twelve in that upper room after three years of walking dusty roads with them. It’s what John the beloved in his twilight years repeatedly calls his community of friends in Jesus. Beloved. Intimate. Affectionate. Valued.
“Do you know me, sir?” I can imagine the man saying. The paralyzed man. What an apt picture of us all. Paralyzed. Emotionally, intellectually, verbally, relationally, spiritually. Constipated. Stuck.
“Child” is the last word we have for ourselves as we peer up from the mat of our own paralysis.
ταλαίπωρος ἐγὼ ἄνθρωπος.
Those are Paul’s words as he puts himself on the mat of his paralysis, classically translated, “Wretched man that I am.” Yeah, that’s more like it. Those would be the words right out of the paralyzed man’s mouth if he could even overcome his paralysis of speech.
Wretched. Oppressed. Weighed down by so much I can barely lift my head – and I feel nothing in my legs, my arms, my heart. How long? Nothing perhaps except pain. It’s odd, those who bandy about the phrase “I’m just a wretch in his grace” or some such as a religious handle…they have in my experience been some of the most obnoxious people. A contagious false wretchedness masking pride; a religious, poxy wretchedness paraded as a virtue. A whole new level of paralysis of the religious kind. Some of them (called “scribes”) were sitting in that room with Jesus brushing the dust off their heads and tunics (and books) as Jesus says to the paralyzed man, “Child.”
And then, unexpectantly, startlingly, scandalously, and oh so offensively, he adds five more words:
ἀφέωνται σοι αἱ ἁμαρτίαι σου
“They have been forgiven – your sins.”
Did the man even know he was looking for that? Had he asked? Had he mumbled the sinner’s prayer? In one swoop, in six precious words, at Jesus’ initiative he calls forth the man’s dignity for all to see and then equally visibly restores both spirit and body.
“And he got up, took up his mat, and walked out in full view of them all.” No slouching or crouching or cringing or crawling. No worm, no pond scum this. Behold the man. Homo Erectus. Man fully alive. No longer an object of anyone’s pity – least of all his own. “For we have not received a spirit of slavery again leading to fear, but we have received a spirit of sonship by which we cry out, ‘Abba, Father,’” says Paul. “Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy,”says Peter echoing Hosea.
And so, just when was the last time you heard his tender voice directed towards you with that precious word that captures in one syllable what is truest about you? When is the last time you heard him, while lying on the mat of your paralysis, “Child”?