I'm teaching a scripture course at the parish on St. Mark's Gospel. The following story was part of what we covered this week. As I was teaching, my mind flashed back to sixty years ago...
And when Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room for them, not even about the door; and he was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and when they had made an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "My son, your sins are forgiven." Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, "Why does this man speak thus? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, "Why do you question thus in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, `Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, `Rise, take up your pallet and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins" -- he said to the paralytic -- "I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home." And he rose, and immediately took up the pallet and went out before them all; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, "We never saw anything like this!" - St. Mark 2:1-12
This is one of the Gospel stories that has captured my imagination from the time I was a child. I can still hear my old Sunday School teacher reading it to us. As she explained it to us, there wasn't any question about the miraculous healing itself -- Jesus had, of course, healed the man. The lesson she drew out of it (and this was what impressed my child's mind) was the obvious love the friends had for this man. They were so persistent! They couldn't get through the crowd, so they willingly put in the great effort of carrying their paralyzed friend up to the roof-top, making an opening large enough, and then letting him down into the presence of Jesus.
It was such a simple lesson she was imparting to us about friendship, as our young minds considered the effort these men were willing to make. I remember she asked us about how we treated our friends. Did we become impatient when someone couldn't keep up with us in a game? Were we cruel toward someone because they weren't part of our close circle of friends? Did we go out of our way to show kindness to others?
As those of us in that class of very young children listened to her, it formed new and unaccustomed thoughts of unselfishness in us (you know how self-centered children can sometimes be!) and I believe it was one of those moments that brought us a deeper idea of friendship. Suddenly in our minds we began considering the importance of befriending people not for what we could get, but rather, for what we could give.
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