Today, being the second Sunday of Great Lent, it is also the commemoration of St. Gregory Palamas. Thus, there are two sets of Scripture and Gospel readings for this day. One set of readings is for the regular Lenten Sunday, the other is for the commemoration of St. Gregory Palamas. It always poses a challenge and creates a certain level of anxiety among priests when we have to decide what our subject topic is going to be on days like this. Do we preach on the appointed Sunday Scripture and Gospel readings or do we use those appointed for the commemoration of St. Gregory Palamas? Most of the time, when we finally sit down to write our homily for such occasions, we try to include elements of both. But today, I would like speak about the Gospel reading for the Second Sunday of Great Lent.
I am sure our holy father, St. Gregory Palamas, will not object to or be offended by my decision not mention or speak about him today in my homily. I am confident that he knows of our love, respect, admiration and gratitude for him and all that he has done in service to Christ and His Holy Church. He has truly been an example to many, including many bishops and priests, who, even today, strive to emulate his example in life and pastoral service.
I don’t know about you, but today’s Gospel reading about the man with palsy is one of my very favorites. Can you imagine wanting to see the Lord so badly that you and your friends go up to the roof of someone else’s house, remove portions of the roof, and lower your friend into that person’s house so that he could see the Lord? How would you feel if someone you didn’t know did something like that to your house? I mean, someone removes sections of your roof and opens a hole into it. Then they lower someone you don’t even know into the middle of, let’s say, your living room. There is a big commotion as those gathered hear the noise of the roof being ripped apart and then see this man on a pallet being lowered into the room. When all the commotion settles, the Lord heals the person, and everyone is astounded. Then, after a while, everyone leaves, but there is the hole in the roof. Now, the Gospel account doesn’t tell us, after all was said and done, if those who made the hole in the roof remained to repair it. We would like to think that they did. We have faith, in fact, that they did remain to repair the damage they had done to their neighbor’s house in order to get help for their friend. But, we just don’t know.
Faith is what today’s Gospel is all about. Faith is to believe in something you cannot see. We don’t know if the men who made the hole in the roof actually repaired but we believe they did. We have faith that they did because we want to believe they did the right thing. But faith is something not to be assumed or merely talked about; it is something that must be demonstrated in the way we live. St. James, the first Bishop of Jerusalem once said, “Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” (James 2:18).
In today’s Gospel, Mark tells us that “Jesus saw their faith.” Most people would say, “You can’t see faith. Faith isn’t in the physical, visible realm.” But it is, my friends, it truly is. And Jesus saw the faith of the four men who wanted to help their friend. But before we talk about that, let us take a moment to look at some other interesting points of today’s Gospel. Let us begin with the first two sentences.
“And again He entered Capernaum after some days, and it was heard that He was at home. Immediately many gathered together, so that there was no longer any room to receive them, not even near the door. And He preached the word to them.” (Mark 2:1-2)
These opening sentences of today’s Gospel reading often create confusion in the minds of some people. Why is this? Because the passage reads “it was heard that He (Jesus) was at home.” Many people say, “But this in incorrect. Jesus didn’t live in Capernaum. He grew up and lived in Nazareth. Now, of course, we know that Jesus grew up in Nazareth, but Capernaum and Nazareth are not far from each other. St. Luke tells us in his Gospel that when Jesus went back to Nazareth, after His Baptism and temptation in the wilderness, He was so thoroughly rejected by the people with whom He grew up that He left Nazareth and made Capernaum, which was a fishing village on the Sea of Galilee, His home base for the three years of His public ministry.
So what does it mean that Capernaum was Jesus’ home? Perhaps His Mother and brothers had also moved to Capernaum. Others have speculated that this may have been Peter’s house; that Jesus stayed in a room with the family of Peter and Andrew. Or Jesus may have had His own place, not one that he owned, but one that was made available to Him for use as needed.
Regardless of the specifics, when people found out that Jesus was at home, they began to gather in it. Although it was early in His career, Jesus was already starting to be quite a popular fellow. Here was this man who was healing sick people all over the lace. What did He have to say? Keep in mind that life in Palestine was a little more public than we are used to. Usually, the door would be opened in the morning and anyone was free to go in or out. It was never shut unless there was some special need for privacy. So, before long, the crowd filled the house and overflowed into the street, everyone trying to get closer to hear Jesus.
While the crowd struggled to get closer to Jesus, four men came bringing a paralyzed man on a stretcher. Some time ago, I read what one man had to say about a recent visit he made to Capernaum while on a group pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He said that his included a couple of folks in wheelchairs and he noticed that even today, Capernaum is not an easy place to maneuver if you are disabled. The roads are not paved smoothly, stairs and vertical rises make it difficult to get around, and you really have to rely on your friends to help you travel there if you can’t walk.
That’s what’s going on here. This man has four friends helping him out. They want to take him to see Jesus, but there was no way to get in the door. Sop what could they possibly do? This was important. They had to see Jesus. So they carried the man up on the roof. In Palestine, the roofs were flat. They would be used for rest and quiet, for drying clothes and storing things. In 1 Kings 17, we read about Elijah living on the roof. In Acts 10, Peter is up on the roof praying. So, generally, there were stairs going up along an outside wall.
According to some scholars, the roof was usually made of beams about 3 feet apart. These beams would be filled with twigs, then packed with clay and covered with dirt. If that were the case, it would have been an easy matter to dig between the beams without doing much damage to the house.
Then the paralyzed man was lowered down to Jesus, and when Jesus “saw their faith,” He both healed and forgave the paralytic.
I want you to think about this for a moment. If you were going to visit a famous rabbi who had a large following, who possessed some degree of prominence, and if you wanted to treat the rabbi respectfully, as the Jews were taught to do, and in addition you wanted him to heal your friend, you would certainly try to make a good impression upon him by treating him well. That last thing you would do is tear up his house! It just really doesn’t seem to make much sense that you would destroy this rabbi’s house and then ask him for a favor, that you would expect him to treat you well after that. It is perhaps because it doesn’t make much sense that Jesus was led to see their faith.
Let me explain what I mean by that. These men evidently heard Jesus talk about Himself. How He said that the Son of Man had come to seek and to save that which was lost. How he said the Shepherd would leave the ninety-nine in the pen and go out and find the one that was lost. How he said that he was the Physician who had come to care for the sick rather than the well. And I am sure that throughout His teaching in those early days in the Galilean ministry, Jesus repeatedly made the point that needy, broken, hurting, and desperate people were the very ones for whom He had come and on whom His ministry was focused, that He was there to serve them in love and charity.
And these men were audacious enough to believe Him! They were boldly saying, “if You say so, we are going to trust that You care more about people than buildings, and we are going to tear a hole in Your roof and put before You one of the very kinds of people You said You have come to help.” They believed the things that He had said about Himself and they acted on their belief. They were willing to go through great lengths that other people would regard as questionable.
I think that illustrates a point about how we are to experience and live the Christian life. Let me ask you this. Is there anything bold about your own faith? Jacob wrestled with an angel, who was really nothing short of God Himself. He wrestled all night, then grabbed Him and held on saying, “I will not let You go unless You bless me” (Genesis 32:26). Let me tell you, that’s a pretty bold thing to do and say to God. And yet, boldness is a word that the Hebrew writer uses to describe how we ought to approach the throne of grace. (Hebrews 4:16)
There is a boldness that comes by believing deeply that God means what He says. Someone once said, “When we are asked to describe our relationship with God, if the first adjective that springs to our minds is ‘polite,’ then we have a problem. It means that we are not listening. There needs to be a boldness with which we confront the Lord, and insist in His presence that we are going to take His word seriously and likewise expect Him to take us seriously.”
You see, a hole in the roof was no problem for Jesus. People have always been, and always will be more important than buildings to Him. So He saw both a faith in action taken by these four men. I want to look at three qualities of their faith that I believe need to be a part of our faith as well.
The first of these qualities is that of caring. Jesus saw four men who cared. These four men were not thinking of themselves. They didn’t need a special blessing from the Lord. But they had a friend who did. And they went to a lot of trouble to get him the help that he needed. The reason is that he was important to them. They cared about him. They loved him.
Someone has well said that “The won’t care how much we know until they know how much we care.” Certainly Jesus set the supreme example in this regard. There’s a beautiful story in Matthew 11 where John the Baptist was in prison. He heard about some of things Christ was doing and he sent two of his disciples to find out if Jesus truly was the Messiah, the Son of God. Jesus said, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf here, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.” (Matthew 11:4-5)
In the above passage, we see a man who truly cares about people, who hurts where they hurt, who is concerned about their needs. I don’t know about you, but I am grateful that Jesus didn’t just come to the earth, preach a couple of lessons a week about how sinful people were, and then ascend back to heaven. It helps to know that our God is full of compassion; that He truly cares about us and our problems.
As the Body of Christ today, we have got to be a people who truly care. St. Paul wrote, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with them that weep.” (Romans 12:15). In other words, care. Get involved in the lives of others. It is so easy to sit back, wrapped up in our own lives and our own problems, so that we don’t really care about anyone else.
What a tremendous difference it would make if we would just spend a bit of each day looking for someone who has a need. It might be a brother or sister in the Church. It might be your next-door neighbor. It might be someone who has a material need. It might be someone who needs a babysitter for a couple of hours. It might be someone who needs someone to talk to. It might be someone who needs some help with housework, or a ride to the store, or to a doctor’s appointment. It might be someone who is anxious to learn more about God’s Word. Remember, “They won’t care how much we know until they know how much we care.”
And that means more than expressing concern. It means actually helping people out with their problems. It means rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands dirty.
St. James said, “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?” (James 2:14-16).
Indeed, what good is it? Caring about people only has meaning when we are doing something. Jesus saw four men with a faith that cared. We need to have the same kind of faith. We need to be a people who care about one another, and a people who care about the physical and spieitual needs of the world around us.
The second characteristic is that of sharing. Jesus saw four men who wanted to share the love of God through Him. These four men didn’t want to take the paralyzed man to a chariot race, or to an outdoor market; nor did they want to take him down to the lake to go fishing. No. They wanted to share the love of God with him, which they believed was fully present in Jesus. Truly, they wanted to share Christ with him. And that made all the difference in his life.
The Church needs to be a people with a faith that is anxious to share Christ. Like Andrew. St. Andrew is not one of the prominent apostles. Not like James and Joh, or Peter, his brother. But every time we read about Andrew, he’s bringing someone to Christ. He brought his brother, Peter, to the Lord. He brought the boy with the fish to Jesus. He brought some Greeks with questions to Jesus. No, Andrew is not recognized as great. But he shared Christ with the people around him. And when you stop to think about it, what could possibly be greater than that?
We ought to feel about Christ the way the apostles did when they said, “We cannot help speaking about what we have heard.” (Acts 4:20). They couldn’t hold it inside of them. They had to share it!
The four men in today’s Gospel reading were men in good health. They didn’t need a special blessing from the Lord, but they brought someone who did. And that’s the goal of all Christians. Indeed, what greater compliment could be given than to say, “he brought people to Christ”?
The third characteristic which the four men possessed was that of perseverance. The Lord saw four men who wouldn’t give up. These four men brought their friend to Jesus. But when they got near the house, they saw that there was no room to get through.
Now, if you had been in their place, what would you have done if you arrived at the house and seen all those people crowded around and overflowing out into the street? Would you sit back and wait for the crowd to leave? Would you say, “Let’s just go home; we will never get in”? Not these four men.
Now, if they had quit at this point, they would have had a good excuse or reason to go home. But they were not looking for a way out. It’s amazing how many people are looking, it seems, for a reason to get out of doing something. They always seem to have a “reason” for their unfaithfulness to the things of the Lord.
But these four men had a faith so great that it refused to die in the face of obstacles. They didn’t want to quit. They couldn’t bring themselves to say, “We can’t do it.” They were determined that nothing would stop them from seeing Jesus. Their friend was sick and Jesus had the power to heal. And they were determined that they would bring the two together, at any cost to themselves.
And that is exactly what it took – a cost. It cost them the time to carry their friend to the place where Jesus was. It cost them the effort to carry him to the roof of the house. It cost them the trouble, effort and time to tear up the roof and let him down. It cost them the favor of the people on whose heads the rubble was dropping as they ripped up the roof. It cost them the favor of the owners of the house, whose roof they tore up. And it probably cost them the money to pay to repair the roof. But they were willing to do whatever it took. And it probably increased their faith, because difficulties test us, and thereby cause our faith to grow.
You see, our failures as churches and as individuals generally lie not so much in our obstacles and problems as they do in our lack of faith. We’ve already decided what’s not going to work and who’s not going to respond and what can’t be done. And somehow that soothes our conscience a little bit when we don’t do anything because “it wouldn’t do any good anyhow.” There are many who are anxious to cry, “It can’t be done.” And until we put forth the effort, it won’t be done. But so much can be accomplished when we recognize the power of God. “I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me.” (Phillipians 4:13).
The Lord’s work has not always been accomplished by talented people or intelligent people or strong people. But it has always been done by people who believed in the power of God, who did what they could, relying on God to supply the rest.
There is a poem I was read, that was written by Edgar Guest, that I like. I keep it in my prayer book and read it wherever I get down or frustrated by the challenges and obstacles I encounter in my life. I would like to share it now with you:
“There are thousands that tell you it cannot be done. There are thousands to prophesy failure. There are thousands to point out to you, one by one, the dangers that wait to assail you; but just buckle in with a bit of a grin. Just take off your coat and go to it; just start to sing as you tackle the thing that “cannot be done,” and you will do it.”
Sop, here were four men who refused to have a defeatist attitude. There were some obstacles in the way, yes. There were probably people who said it could not be done. But their faith led them to put forth the effort and the Lord rewarded them. Their actions made visible their faith to Jesus, and to others who saw it. Our actions will make our faith visible to the watching world. A visible faith is a faith that works. In the four men mentioned in today’s Gospel, Jesus saw faith, determination and concern for others. What does Jesus see in us?