“As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No. Jesus Christ, whom we preached among you, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. For in him every one of God’s promises is a Yes.”
2 Corinthians 1:18-20
It must have been a bit hectic.
The reputation of the rabbi Jesus as a teacher and healer has been spreading across the landscape, and he has attracted a crowd that has filled this house in Capernaum to overflowing.
As latecomers jockey for position around the doorway, there’s some kind of ruckus overhead—and suddenly sunlight pours through a gaping hole in the roof—and a paralyzed fellow on a stretcher is lowered down right into the midst of the jostling throng.
It must have taken some doing for these four men to haul their friend on to the roof of this dwelling— and it certainly took a lot of chutzpah for them to tear a hole in that roof of reeds and clay so they could lower the paralytic into the jam-packed room below.
But it seems they were desperately determined that Jesus would take notice of their ailing friend—and they weren’t going to let social convention stand in their way.
Sometimes it takes a village to restore someone to health—sometimes, to quote the Beatles, it takes “a little help from your friends.”
Probably there were more jeers than cheers from the crowd as this body descended from above along with dirt and debris from the damaged roof.
Now Jesus could have been indignant about the paralytic literally “dropping in” and causing a commotion.
He could have given the paralyzed man and his companions a good dressing down for disrupting the proceedings.
Jesus could have told them that he only did healings by appointment or when there were scheduled services.
He could have told them he only recognized people who came in the front door.
But apparently Jesus was not at all put out by this sudden intrusion.
The text indicates that Jesus was actually impressed and delighted with the ingenuity of the paralytic’s friends and their gritty, gutsy engineering feat.
One wonders if Jesus was amused and maybe even burst out laughing when the ceiling gave way and this man came down on his stretcher like he was being delivered on a dumb waiter.
Well, maybe the reason Jesus wasn’t thrown off balance by this group crashing the scene was because he was used to improvising, turning on a dime, taking his cue from whatever turned up.
For the most part, his ministry seems to have been unplanned and unrehearsed.
Jesus seems to have been a virtuoso at seizing the moment—and evidently he did just that when the paralytic, so to speak, fell out of the sky and landed at his feet.
Now, of course, we don’t know what caused this man’s paralysis.
But we know somebody can be so demoralized, so dispirited, so weighed down with shame or guilt or worthlessness, that he can’t get up when he’s down—like the woman I once knew who went to bed and never got up for a year.
We know that someone can feel so bad, so drained, so diminished, so beaten down, so humiliated, that she loses all her oomph and wherewithal and can hardly lift a finger—we know that shame or abuse can brutalize someone into a state of virtual paralysis.
Now this story of Jesus healing the paralytic follows an interesting sequence.
Jesus first tells him, “My son, your sins are forgiven,” which befuddles and scandalizes the scribes, the local clergy, who think it is blasphemous for Jesus to claim the authority to forgive.
Whereupon Jesus says to the scribes, “Well, which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘take up your stretcher and walk’? But so you know the Son of man has authority to forgive”—Jesus then says to the paralytic, “Get up, pick up your stretcher, and go home.”
And to the amazement of all, the man who was paralyzed immediately gets up and, carrying his stretcher, walks out of the house.
In this episode, Jesus seems to be insisting that forgiveness is the motive power of healing—forgiveness, he seems to be saying, is what enables healing.
Now to us, the words, “You are forgiven,” may seem pretty bland and innocuous—they don’t tend to pack much of a wallop.
And so we might ask how these commonplace words could carry the force of healing.
Well, for one thing, Jesus’ words of forgiveness to the paralytic are not Yes and No; that is, he does not say to the sick man, I will give some consideration to helping you if you can convince me that, if healed, you will clean yourself up and fly right.
Jesus’ healing agenda does not specify any qualifications, preconditions, or exclusionary clauses —Jesus takes the paralytic just as he is, to paraphrase the old hymn.
And we are led to believe that Jesus’ words of forgiveness are more than words—that they carry the force of a ringing, electrifying Yes—a seismic, earthshaking, unqualified Yes that so powerfully validates this man that it shakes him loose from whatever demons of fearfulness or guilt or self-loathing have tormented him.
Maybe the paralytic is someone who has sustained an onslaught of traumatic Nos in his life which have overwhelmed the Yeses and reduced him to a vegetative state—and Jesus’ electrifying Yes drastically changes the chemistry of this man’s condition.
Let’s suppose that Jesus’ stupendous Yes of forgiveness has more voltage than electro-shock therapy—that Jesus’ electrifying Yes of forgiveness is so full of mercy and life that it shocks the paralytic into health, raises him off the mat, and puts fresh wind in his sails.
Now Jesus never claimed that the power of forgiveness and healing originated with him—he spoke of himself as only the agent of God’s momentous, electrifying Yes.
And so it seems that the writer of the Gospel of Mark is telling us that the Yes of forgivenss that Jesus bestows on the paralyzed man and that raises him off his sick bed is nothing less than God’s Yes of forgiveness—and in the same breath the writer seems to be telling us that this electrifying Yes of mercy and healing is also spoken to each of us.
And so it is—this message of God’s unqualified, unswerving Yes is intended for our consumption—it is addressed to us.
If you were looking for an example of something that is just about the direct opposite of this electrifying Yes of the gospel, the television program “American Idol” would qualify.
“American Idol” specializes in ridiculing the vulnerable and reveling in the embarrassment of the defenseless.
But the electrifying Yes of the gospel validates and endorses us exactly when we are most vulnerable, most embarrassed, most unimpressive.
And whenever we hear the good news of this Yes and welcome it and take it in, this Yes releases us from the intolerable weight of the past and revitalizes our morale, motivation, immune system, all of us—and it always takes a human face and voice to make this real and actual to us, someone who incarnates this Yes.
Now wouldn’t it be fair to say that ordinarily our attitude toward ourselves, our neighbor, and life itself is both Yes and No?
An experiment was conducted with ten subjects; they were instructed to read the following two statements: “(A) You are extraordinarily generous, ecstatically loving of the right person, supremely knowledgeable about what is wrong with this country, capable of moments of insight unsurpassed by any scientist or artist or writer in the country. You possess an infinite potentiality. (B) You are of all people in the world probably the most selfish, hateful, envious, the most devious, the most frightened, and above all the phoniest.”
The subjects were then asked, “Which of these statements most nearly describes you?”
Sixty per cent of the subjects checked both A and B, in others words, Yes and No.
We cherish ourselves and yet berate ourselves unmercifully—it seems that more often that we would care to admit our plight is similar to that of the woman in the cartoon whose husband says to her, “I like you—you don’t like you.”
Our judgment of others is a varying mixture of approval and disapproval, Yes and No—some people rate high on our approval scale but there are many, in this parish and beyond, who we have a hard time getting on with, who rankle us, who grate on us, whose views and beliefs make us fume, who we can’t find common ground with because they like football and we like opera, who seem aloof and unfriendly, who, worst offense of all, disapprove of us.
And with regard to our attitude toward life, I don’t think it would be far-fetched to say we both love life and fear and mistrust it—Yes and No.
Well, the cornerstone of the church, of this community, is God’s electrifying Yes that is spoken to each of us—it’s what we are all about.
This Yes is an overarching Yes that spans all our conflicts, tensions, and differences.
In a sense, this parish is a laboratory where we are all reminded of the electrifying Yes that has been spoken to each of us and where we then practice saying this Yes to one another, especially to those who offend us or from whom we are most alienated—this readies us to carry this Yes into the world at large.
Whenever we let the power of this gospel Yes validate us anew, whenever we say yes to this Yes, we find we can be ever so kind to ourselves and those we meet—not that we cease to disagree or struggle with others—but we can be profoundly kind in a way we can hardly believe.
Whenever we permit this Yes to take hold of us and work its effects on us, we discover that we have a renewed trust in life’s generosity and goodness and that this Yes has opened up a new future for us.
And whenever we allow this electrifying Yes to permeate and revitalize us, we find we have a passion to express this Yes to just about everybody who comes our way, especially those who don’t have an inkling that this Yes is for them— and we primarily express this Yes to others through the language of kindness— kindness is the language that everyone understands.
Sister Elaine Roulet has long had a passion for carrying this Yes to the inmates of the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for women—the murderers, drug addicts and courier “mules,” prostitutes and thieves, she has grown close to in her 47 years of serving as chaplain there.
Not long ago she found out that a woman nicknamed Sexy, a terminally ill, two-time loser, was distraught because her beautiful head of hair had been the casualty of chemotherapy.
“What really upset her,” Sister Elaine recalled, “was not that she lost her hair but that she lost her teeth, and she would die that way on the inside.”
“Well, Sexy’s last rites turned out special. Sister Elaine remembered how ‘the very kind prison dentist said, “Look, we can’t make her false teeth—she’ll be dead soon.” But then, the chaplain said, ‘…he made a plaster mold on his own, and we ran around to dentists, begging them, and one directed me to this guy, some kind of dental mechanic, who finally laughed and made a set for nothing.’”
Sister Elaine said, “Sexy loved her new teeth, smiling as much a possible with them before her death,” and then the chaplain proceeded to list the half-dozen people who had helped Sexy obtain this final touch of elegance.”
And then Sister Elaine added, “And the point of this story is you don’t do anything alone, in prison or outside: look at all the people who got Sexy her teeth.”
Well, we’ve gone from Jesus healing the paralytic to rubbing shoulders with others in the parish to Sister Elaine and a prisoner named Sexy—but it all has to do with God’s electrifying Yes of mercy and healing that is stronger than any No.
The Rev. Robert Dwight
Christ Episcopal Church
February 18, 2006