In the midst of my relatively easy, middle class existence, it is far too easy to make Jesus easy, too. If I am not careful, the emotional Jesus who overturned tables in the temple courtyard and the revolutionary Jesus who proposed a year of Jubilee and who welcomed to him all the outcasts becomes watered-down, so that Jesus becomes no more than a serene and prayerful man who wanted to be friends with everyone.
Every third year, when Mark’s Gospel is the Gospel of choice for the liturgical year, I am reminded anew about how much I like it. I like it because it shakes me up and challenges me again to think about who this Jesus is. Reading Mark’s Gospel offers a stark contrast to the too easy image of Jesus who takes residence in my head when I am not careful. I do not always understand the Jesus of Mark’s Gospel, and he makes me uncomfortable, but those actually are good things, as it means I cannot turn this Jesus into my own image. It means I have to look closer, and it means I am challenged to think again about how I am living the call to follow Jesus in my own life.
Just as with last week’s reading, this week’s Gospel (Mark 2:1-12) poses a question and a challenge to me. My question is this: why does Jesus forgive the man’s sins at first and only later heal his paralysis? In my very human way of looking at the situation, I would think that Jesus would want to heal the man of the affliction of paralysis, something which likely cost him the ability to earn a living and to be part of the regular population. But by forgiving the man’s sins, Jesus teaches us something that can be hard to hear. By forgiving the man’s sins, Jesus met the man’s deepest need.
Similarly, our deepest need, the need which Jesus fulfills for all of us, is the need for forgiveness. When I think about the prayers that I say before I go to sleep every night, very few of them have to do with asking for forgiveness. Many are to offer thanks for the gifts in my life—good friends, healthy food to eat, and a roof over my head—and some are petitions, usually for healing from sickness for family and friends. But I rarely ask for forgiveness. See, this Jesus is not easy.
The challenge offered by this reading relates to characters who receive only a passing mention. We are told that four men arrive carrying the paralyzed man, and when they cannot get in the door, they make a hole in the roof and lower the man down. We are not told this, but I imagine that these men were friends of the paralyzed man. And we can assume from the reading that these men had faith that Jesus could do something to help their friend. Why else would they bother carrying him to the place where Jesus was? What else would motivate them to climb to the roof when faced with the seemingly insurmountable obstacle of the crowded doorway? These men were committed friends, willing to go out on a limb to help their friend find a better life. These men were also early believers, drawn to the power of Jesus.
These men lead me to ask what kind of friend I am to the important people in my life. Am I the kind of friend who makes excuses when things get difficult or do I stick by people, doing what may, at times, be uncomfortable or a stretch for me because it is what my friends need? Am I the kind of friend who puts up obstacles in the path of faith for others, or do I, in my own way, lead people toward Jesus?
What image of Jesus do you carry around in your head? Where do you think this image comes from? What challenges this image?
Who has served as a committed and faith-filled friend in your life? To whom can you now be this sort of friend?