Sunday, April 15, 2012

Making up the Gospel

People love telling stories. We exaggerate and expound. We like re-telling other people's stories. As well-meaning Christians we find ways to explain the unexplainable in the Bible. I believe we do this to make scripture more entertaining, palatable, or to fit the supernatural into our frame of reference. We want to connect with God's Word and unfortunately we often create stories from the Bible instead of taking them at face value. I am no exception.

This weekend I attended a Young Lives (a Young Life ministry for teen parents and their children) retreat and our speaker read the story of Jesus healing a paralytic from Mark 2. She was a young woman who obviously loves God and wants to share the Good News. But she included in her re-telling of the story a phrase that doesn't appear in Mark, Matthew, and Luke: four friends brought a paralyzed man to Jesus. The gospel of John doesn't include a version of the story from Mark 2:1-12:

A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’?  But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”So he said to the man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”

The speaker read directly from the Bible and gave her own observations of the story. Then she invited us to a time of discussion. I couldn't stop thinking about those "friends" that she had mentioned. For four faithful friends to find a way to haul a paralyzed man up onto house, through a crowd so large you couldn't even stand near it, to have the gall to dig through a roof (apparently unconcerned with the consequences of destroying property), lower their poor helpless outcast friend through the opening, and plop him on top of Jesus in order to be healed, is pretty amazing. The story speaks of determination, faith, and true love. It's an engaging story told to people of all ages and abilities. Maybe that's why we use it so often in Christian education. 

Often our pictures and our versions of the story from Mark 2 are so "clean" they are watered down versions of  Jesus' power and grace and the rawness of human interactions.

But I have a problem with it. I think we made it up. Where in the Bible does it say that these four men were the paralyzed man's friends? It doesn't. We assume that they were his friends. We like to believe they were his friends. It makes a nicer story if we call them his friends. I'm not convinced they were his friends. We also like to imagine the paralyzed man as meek and helpless from birth, a beggar void of wrongdoing, laying helpless by the side of the road. So in the spirit of make-believe and out of the desire to connect with God's Word in a personal way, here's my version:

There was once a strong man who was so arrogant he thought he could do anything he wanted, regardless of how it affected those around him. Because of his selfish attitude, he had no friends. One day he found a wild horse, grabbed it by the mane, and tried to ride it. He did this in a foolish attempt to impress a beautiful young woman he would soon take as his bride. The horse reared up and threw the man to the ground. The man laid there in agony; his back broken and instantly paralyzed from the waist down. In one moment the man lost everything. No longer could he walk or work. His bride-to-be was given to his younger brother and even his family cast him aside, since he was of no use to them financially. 

The man spent his days sitting by the town gate. His arrogance turned to bitterness and his heart was hard, his tongue venomous. As the townspeople would come and go, the man would yell out, "give me something to eat you pigs, throw me a shekel." He berated the people for not helping him. When they did give him a bite to eat or a small coin, it was not out of pity, but a futile attempt to shut him up for a few minutes. Day-after-day he cursed the wild horse for bucking him, demanded assistance from passersby, and spat at the woman and his brother when he saw them. The townspeople grew to hate the man even more than they did when he was healthy. He was a blight to their community and a real pain in the neck! 

One day, four of the town elders heard that Jesus was coming. They had been told of the miracles that Jesus was working all over Israel. They wondered if this was the answer to their prayers. Finally, a man that could heal...maybe Jesus was The One who could make the angry man walk again. If so, Jesus might be able to get this evil man up and out. They prayed and made a plan to take the man to Jesus. It was worth a try, as they could no longer stand the daily verbal abuse. 

Jesus entered the town and the crowds began to gather. Escaping the beating sun, Jesus went into a home to preach and heal. The four town elders went to the paralytic man and told him about Jesus. The man was indignant and called them stupid. "I'm not going with you...No man can make me walk again. Now get away from me you idiots!" But the four men were determined to bring the paralytic to Jesus. They found a large mat and forced the paralyzed man to lay down while they tied him to it. With the paralyzed man screaming obscenities at them all the way, they walked to the home where Jesus and his followers had gathered. When the townspeople saw who the elders had on the mat, they would not make room them to get into the house. The townspeople despised the bitter angry man and saw no need for Jesus to use his powers to heal such a wretch. 

But the elders were determined. If Jesus could heal the man, perhaps he would be able to get up and leave. With all the trouble they had gone to, the elders knew they must find a way to get the paralyzed man to Jesus. Around the back of the home they found some large stones. Stacking the stones as a way to access the roof, in the miserable heat, they pulled and tugged the man to the top of the house. The elders began to claw at the roof tiles and soon they had made a small opening in the ceiling. One of the elders peered in and saw Jesus healing a sick woman. With renewed strength, the elders ripped open the roof until they had made an opening large enough to drop the paralyzed man at Jesus' feet. Jesus was usually the one doing something shocking. But here Jesus stood amazed and delighted by the elders determination and faith.

Jesus looked at the tortured soul placed before him. The paralyzed man wasn't grateful to be in this place. In fact he was clearly enraged. Jesus saw the man's broken spirit. He looked at him and said, "Son, your sins are forgiven." Immediately the paralytic's countenance changed. In an instant the words that Jesus spoke changed his heart. He felt a peace as never before and he sat their astounded by the rush of love that was washing over him.

Some of the teachers of the law in the house looked at Jesus and condemned him for speaking blasphemously. "Only God has the power to forgive sins." Jesus affirmed that he indeed was the Messiah. He answered the teachers of the law by saying, "Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’?  But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”So he said to the man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” The man got up and went home with a smile on his face and joy in his heart. The townspeople were amazed. They now stood in awestruck wonder as the man walked out and praised God by saying, "We have never seen anything like this!"

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