Immediately: Man with a Mat
Today we’re beginning a new worship series, focusing on the gospel of Mark and theme of Mark’s often repeated word, “Immediately.” Back in June we spent a little time looking at this concept in Mark, when we looked at the story of Jesus calling the disciples. In that story alone, the word immediately occurs a handful of times – Jesus sees and immediately calls some of his first disciples, and they, in turn, immediately stop what they are doing and start following Jesus. I told you that Mark is both the oldest gospel – it was the first written of the four that are in our Bibles – and it also the shortest – where Matthew and Luke fill their stories of Jesus with details and verses, Mark always seems to take as few verses as he can to get his point across. I shared with you that Mark’s hurried nature and his nearly 30 uses of the word immediately suggest to us that Mark wants us to feel the immediate nature of the gospel – the good news that Jesus comes to share about repenting and experiencing the reign of God on earth is a message for right now – and that Mark wants our response to be pretty immediate – he’s given us all the information he feels he needs to repent and follow. If we believe what Mark says about Jesus, why would we wait? Act now, immediately.
Throughout November, we’ll look at some of the stories farther into Mark’s gospel where the word “immediately” appears and we’ll try to figure out together what, in each case, makes Mark want to hurry things along. Today, we read a story about a man who was paralyzed being brought to Jesus for healing by some people. They have to lower him in through the roof since so many people have gathered to listen to Jesus teach, hearing he was back in town. In through the roof is the only way that can be found to get the man to Jesus.
There’s a lot of information we don’t get in this story. We don’t know much about the paralyzed man, the man on the mat. We never hear a word from him or from the ones who brought him to Jesus. The text says four people carried his mat, but it sounds like there may have even been additional people involved in the effort to get him there – four of whom actually carry the stretcher.
When Jesus sees “their” faith, we read, as in, the faith of the whole party of people who got the man to Jesus, Jesus forgives the man’s sins. He just announces it: “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Apparently there are some scribes there, educated Jewish men who acted as lawyers, interpreting and caring for the Torah – they’re there listening to Jesus too, and they question Jesus’ words in their hearts, thinking that Jesus is speaking blasphemy when he announce the man’s sins are forgiven. Blasphemy is an action which profanes or insults God, and claiming authority to forgive sins would have been seen as usurping God’s power to forgive. Still, this is the only time I can think of where the scribes are grumbling in their hearts instead of openly questioning Jesus. Jesus knows their hearts though, and asks them: What’s easier? To say, “Your sins are forgiven” or to say, “Stand up, take your mat, and walk?” We don’t know if the scribes would have had an answer to that question. But Jesus just continues on, saying that he will heal the man physically so that people will also know he has the authority to heal spiritually – Jesus can forgive sins.
Jesus says to the man, “Stand up, take your mat, and go home.” And immediately, he does just that. In fact, as far as Mark records, he doesn’t say anything to Jesus, or anything in this whole scene! He is brought to Jesus by friends, he is healed and forgiven, although we know nothing about what sins Jesus forgave of his, and he goes home, all without a word in the story. And here, again in this story, a fairly unique response: everyone is amazed and glorifies God. At least here, at least now in the beginning of Mark’s gospel, even the scribes who had been questioning in their hearts seem to join in the rejoicing.
We can imagine ourselves in many roles in this story – a scribe, a stretcher bearer, in the crowd. But first, today, I want us to think of ourselves as the man on the mat. Since we know so little about him, since he never speaks for himself, we can put ourselves into his position. How would it feel to be brought to Jesus? How would it feel to know that your sins were forgiven? How would it feel to have that forgiveness embodied in your own physical healing, complete and instant? This man’s life is changed in an instant. Immediately. Immediate is what Jesus wants us to know about his ability to heal our souls, forgive us, and love us.
Today, on this All Saints Sunday, I want us to consider the people in our lives from the perspective of the man on the mat: Who carried our stretcher to Jesus? Who walked alongside of those stretcher carriers? Who was willing to remove parts of a roof in order to help you? Who moved out of the way inside the building so that mat could be set down, maybe a small role, but an important one nonetheless? What faces were in the crowd, looking on as you were carried to Jesus? Who had questions at first, but eventually gave glory to God because of how God has been at work in you? As we think over our lives, there are so many people that have brought us to the relationship with Jesus we have today, that have taught us, encouraged us, sometimes carried us, sometimes removed roofs for us, or sometimes even just made room for us at Jesus’ feet. These are the saints in our lives. These are the people that we honor today. The people that in some way have made space for us, who have looked out for us, who have carried us, who have loved us enough to make sure that we can be near Jesus, and experience the immediacy, the fullness, the completeness of what Jesus offers to us: healing, forgiveness, new life.
We are called, in turn, to remember that we can play this role for someone else. Where are we in the story where someone else is the man on the mat? What role can you play in making sure someone gets the gift of life Jesus urgently offers?
And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this!’ Thanks be to God. Amen.