His life was unimaginably difficult. Crutches were the least of his worries; something to lean on while he walked would never be enough. There weren’t wheelchairs to assist him. There wasn’t a desk job for him to turn to for work and pay. In fact, there was hardly a livelihood or a lifestyle in his rural experience of the ancient world that would accommodate his physical limitations. Other New Testament stories about men who were paralyzed shows them sitting at the gates of cities, waiting for handouts from anyone who might pass by on their way somewhere else.
The man’s need was obvious, but the solution was harder to realize. Really, he needed a miracle, and although it was very early in Jesus’ ministry, word had already spread about the miracles he worked and the things he said. The friends of the paralyzed men knew that if he were to have ANY chance at all, he would have a chance with this Jesus. So they carried him - - on his mat, out of his home, down the road, and right to the very house where Jesus was staying.
Only there was one problem when they got there, and a large problem at that. They could barely even get THERE, because of the countless others who got there first. The friends were not discouraged, or if they were, they rose above it. Literally. Seeing no other way to get their friend to the one thing he needed, they climbed up on the roof of the house and carried their friend up there with them.
This is one of my absolute favorite stories of caring and compassion in all of Scripture. It shows the lengths to which friends will go for each other – risking life and limb dragging one of their own up onto the mud and straw roof of house just to get him a little closer to Jesus. There was no guarantee it would work. There were COUNTLESS ways this could have gone wrong, but it didn’t. And the man was healed. And his friends’ faith was noticed. It was by their faith, because of their caring that he was healed. It was because they believed his world could be different, and they carried him to that different place where he was made whole.
There are needs in the people, in the society, all around us. We heard just the tip of the iceberg of needs that we carry for ourselves and others this morning as we shared joys and concerns. We also know about the needs of the world beyond those we see on a regular basis. We know about the need for shelter, stability, and comfort for those whose lives and families have been left in shambles after tornados swept through town. We know about the need for real conversations and real solutions to the mental health crisis that plagues so many in our community and beyond. We know about the need for medical care in both rich and poor countries. We know about the need for peace in areas ravaged by war and terror. We know there are needs in this world, but the solutions seem unimaginable.
That is unless we imagine ourselves as the friends of the man who is paralyzed in the gospel of Mark. That is unless we find in this account the key to sustainable life in our local and global society. The friends of the paralyzed man knew his need, they CARED about him, and they carried him to the one who could meet it. They did EVERYTHING in their power, they worked to overcome every obstacle he faced, to meet the needs of the one whom they carried, to reach the source of the healing they sought. They didn’t just pity him. They didn’t just worry about how he would survive. They cared enough to do something.
Over and over again, in the anonymous surveys and in the face-to-face focus groups here at First Presbyterian Church last summer, and really not only then, but in just about every conversation I have ever had in this church when I’ve asked someone why they joined this church or why they have stayed through thick and thin, this one thing has been lifted up. First Presbyterian Church values caring for each other. Repeat it after me. “First Presbyterian Church values…” “caring for each other.” We care for each other when we mourn and when we celebrate. We care for each other when there are promotions and reductions in force. We care about each other when their cures and when there are deaths. We care for each other, and we carry each other. That this aspect of our life together rose to the top of our Core Values statement is no accident. It is deeply embedded in who we are and how we operate as the Church of Jesus Christ.
And this value couldn’t be much more biblical and faithful, unless we define that “each other” part too narrow. That is something we need to be careful about. Caring for each other, the people in this community of faith, the people who worship here or come to our Bible studies, the people who sing in our choir or help teach our Sunday School, it’s pretty easy to make the decision to care for these people, whether their names are on our membership rolls or not. What we have to be careful about is making sure we don’t limit our caring to the “each other” we know. It’s not enough to lower just our friends and spiritual family through the roof to meet Jesus, the challenging call of God is that “each other” is really “all people.” The teacher in Proverbs didn’t qualify the call to rescue those in grave danger by saying “the people you know” or “the ones in your church who go staggering to the slaughter.” Even in the law given to Moses way back in the time after the Exodus, God commands compassion for the aliens and foreigners and worshipers of other gods among the Israelites, reminding them, “you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
As a church we try to care for the people in our midst, the people we know and love and the people we have never met. We do it through prayer in worship and at home. We do it with the Deacon’s Helping Hands ministry. We do it less formally through friendships and relationships and word of mouth requests for help on behalf of one another. We also care through the Deacon’s Benevolence Fund, a fund supported completely outside of the church’s annual budget through individual gifts and the pork butt fundraiser.
As people who proclaim faith in God whose creation is good, Jesus Christ who heals the sick, and the Holy Spirit who renews the world, how can we do any less? How can we do any less than see the need in the community around us, in the people sitting in the pews next to us, and in those we hear about in lands far away? How can we do any less than see their need, our need, and carry one another to sources of healing, restoration, and wholeness? How can we do any less than care for all in the family of God?