I've always loved the story of the paralyzed man whose friends carried him to Jesus.
They knew Jesus was in town, and they knew Jesus was the only chance for their friend to walk again. So they carried him to the house where Jesus was preaching, only to find that there were so many throngs of people inside and surrounding the house that they couldn't get anywhere near their Healer.
So they climbed on the roof, dug a hole through the ceiling, and lowered their paralyzed friend into the room. When Jesus saw the faith of the friends, he forgave the man for his sins and told him to take up his mat and walk.
There's so much in this story, so many themes. Faith. Persistence. Forgiveness. Healing. Friendship.
But in the course of my journey, I've recognized another theme: Heaviness.
I bet the paralyzed man was heavy. "Dead weight" perhaps. He couldn't do anything for himself; we don't know the extent of his paralysis, but some translations refer to him as a paraplegic. His abilities were certainly and severely limited. He could do nothing without the help of his friends.
But they knew what he needed, they scooped up his mat, and they carried him to Jesus. And when the path wasn't easy, direct, or short, they didn't give up. They climbed on the roof, dug a hole (we're not talking about removing a few shingles), and lowered him into the room.
They loved him that much; they believed that deeply in his healing.
I've been thinking about how he felt to lay on that mat, to watch his friends work so hard, believe so much.
I bet his friends were sweaty. Maybe they were breathing hard with exhaustion. Maybe the friends traded places to redistribute the weight. Perhaps they had blisters on their hands.
I wonder about the thoughts of the paralyzed man.
"Oh, my, look at you. Look at all of you. I'm sorry you're so tired. I'm so sorry your hands hurt. I'm so sorry you have blisters. I'm sorry this is so hard. I'm sorry I'm so heavy. I wish I could do something. I wish I could help you... I wish I could help you carry me."
But he couldn't. He couldn't change his situation, he couldn't figure out how to weigh less. He couldn't help his friends. He simply had to let them love him.
But I imagine he prayed for their encouragement, for their rest, for the Lord's abundant blessing on them for their faith on his behalf.
I imagine he said many things to them. Or perhaps he simply thought the words, over and over.
"I'm sorry I'm so heavy. I'm sorry this is so hard. Thank you for carrying me. Thank you for loving me this much."
On the mat, I have been blessed, humbled, loved, overcome.
As I have grown and changed and found my strength again, I began to see new words in the story.
When Jesus healed the man, he said, "Take your mat, and go home."
In that parable with the man on the mat, when the man is healed, he gets up and walks.
None of this running around, carrying the next guy, or climbing up the rope from which he was lowered. Jesus tells him to go home. Maybe Jesus knew that the man on the mat would still need to be at home gathering strength.
As you read this, the invisible you on the other side of the screen, I wonder where you are today.
If you need to be carried,
if you are aware of how helplessly heavy you are,
if you need to rely on the faith of others in the absence of your own,
if anyone is holding you above the waves.
Or if you are learning to walk again, and if you need to be reminded that walking is enough,
That you don't always have to rush yourself to healing.
Healing is growing.
You can't rush it any more effectively than you can make a flower bloom.
Or maybe you are the one who is healed and whole,
if you are the one with the blisters on her hands from the weight of those who need her strength,
if you have been filled up to be emptied again.
May you feel the spectrum as you carry,
as you are carried, as you carry on,
Mat or no mat, temporarily paralyzed or in full function, in year one or year two, writing beautifully or quietly reflecting, waiting patiently or impatiently, whatever the status of your heart, I am praying for you.
I pray that you are gathering strength. I pray that you are finding your feet under you, and making your way carefully home.
May you feel blessed, humbled, loved, overcome.
* * *
After a few days, Jesus returned to Capernaum, and word got around that he was back home. A crowd gathered, jamming the entrance so no one could get in or out. He was teaching the Word. They brought a paraplegic to him, carried by four men. When they weren't able to get in because of the crowd, they removed part of the roof and lowered the paraplegic on his stretcher. Impressed by their bold belief, Jesus said to the paraplegic, "Son, I forgive your sins."
Some religion scholars sitting there started whispering among themselves, "He can't talk that way! That's blasphemy! God and only God can forgive sins."
Jesus knew right away what they were thinking, and said, "Why are you so skeptical? Which is simpler: to say to the paraplegic, 'I forgive your sins,' or say, 'Get up, take your stretcher, and start walking'? Well, just so it's clear that I'm the Son of Man and authorized to do either, or both . . ." (he looked now at the paraplegic), "Get up. Pick up your stretcher and go home."
And the man did it—got up, grabbed his stretcher, and walked out, with everyone there watching him. They rubbed their eyes, incredulous—and then praised God, saying, "We've never seen anything like this!"
Mark 2: 1-12