Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven… ‘I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.’ And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them
Mark 2:3-5, 11-12
“May I borrow some faith?” That’s the picture that comes to my mind as I read this story from the Gospel of Mark. I am struck by that phrase in the text, “When Jesus saw their faith.”
This is a story that I thought I knew already. It’s a story I’ve heard all my life. To this day I can picture Mrs. Reedy, my Sunday School teacher, setting up her easel and flannel graph to tell us children the story. I still see her smoothing out the wrinkles on the flannel and then placing the bright felt cutout figures on the board. The first to go up was Jesus, followed by listeners pushing in tight. Then there was the figure of the saddest looking man being carried on a stretcher by four friends. But today I am seeing something in this story that I had not seen before: the borrowed faith of his four friends.
I’m trying to imagine what it cost the friends to bring the paralyzed man to Jesus. Likely it meant a day’s missed wages. But they had heard about Jesus and were determined to get their friend to Him. It must have been difficult to load their friend’s limp, dead-weight body on a make-shift litter and then lug him through the village. Then when they arrive at the house, they discover so many other people wanting to see Jesus that the crowd spilled into the street.
Houses in Galilee of that day had outside steps leading up to the housetop. It was pleasant to sit on the roof in the evening and catch the evening breeze. The four friends hoisted the paralyzed man up the outside steps to the rooftop. Once on the roof, the Greek text says that they literally “unroofed the roof,” and “dug through it.” The roof would have been constructed of crossbeams covered with thatch and hardened mud. Hastily the men dug through the roof and sunlight flickered into the room
With debris and clods of mud dropping here and there around Jesus, they lower their friend into His presence. It is then that the text says, “When Jesus saw their faith.” It was upon seeing “their” faith that Jesus said to the man “your sins are forgiven…take your mat and go to your home.” The text tells us nothing about the paralyzed man’s faith, or lack of it. It was the faith of the four friends that won Jesus’ approval.
I read the story now and remember times when friends believed for me. Times when I was paralyzed by fear, doubt, grief, self-accusation, and perfectionism, my friends had just enough faith to take me to Jesus. They prayed for me, and believed for me as I struggled to believe.
Recently, a friend in another part of the country called and asked me to pray for him. In his voice I heard weariness and doubt: he needed me to take him to Jesus. He wanted to borrow some faith, and for me to carry him to the throne of grace.
I know how important friends are to our faith. Sometimes they pick us up, hold us close, and carry us to Jesus. Sometimes we do it for them. I think this constitutes a kind of faith, a faith that can even be borrowed, when faith is running low.
Sometimes I sit in my men’s Bible study group and think of the men who are not there. I think of the problems and temptations they battle, and I sense the Spirit telling me to hold them close, and take them to Jesus. I think of a friend exhausted from months of chemotherapy, or a friend who has given up her battle with addiction, and I want to take them to Jesus. I have few answers for my friends, and often feel so powerless to help, so I take them to Jesus. He is the one who has the power to forgive and to heal.
Several weeks ago, my wife Rita, for no special occasion at all, gave me a card that has become so meaningful to me. On the front of the card was the word “Ubuntu”. It’s a Swahili word that literally means, “I am because of us.” The sentiment is true of Rita and me, because we are husband and wife. But it is also true of all of us as Christians: “I am because of us.” This is what the Apostle Paul was saying: “So we, who are many, are one body in Christ.”
We make this journey together. We are because of the friends who pick us up, carry us, pray for us, and believe when we find it hard to believe.
Grace and peace–Tim
Photo by h.koppdelaney