John Alan Turner

Writer, Theologian, Consultant, Speaker, Teacher

Feeling "Letdown"

There's a great story in Mark 2 that I learned back when flannel graph was PowerPoint. It's the story of a paralyzed man whose friends lower him down through the roof while Jesus is teaching a house full of people. As I've thought through this story, I've come to the conclusion that this is a really funny scene -- with a bittersweet ending.

The backstory goes like this: Jesus appears on the scene with a flourish of miraculous activity. In Mark 1 he drives out an evil spirit and heals Peter's mother-in-law (note: do not confuse the two). Then the whole town brings every sick person they can find. Jesus leaves town to spread the message, driving out more evil spirits as he goes. Then, Jesus heals a man with leprosy. By the beginning of chapter 2, Jesus is finding it difficult to leave the house because the crowds mob him everywhere he goes.

Now, when he comes back to his home base, the people crowd the house so badly the Fire Marshall should have shut them down.

Meanwhile, four guys have a friend who needs help. He's paralyzed. We don't know why. We don't know how long he's been like this. We only know that these four guys figure if they can get their friend to Jesus, Jesus will heal him. That's a perfectly reasonable expectation on their part, right?

They get to the house, but they can't get in. Somehow they figure out how to get up on the roof above where Jesus is...teaching?

Now, I do not for one minute believe the crowds were there to hear Jesus teach. They wanted a show -- More miracles, please. Drive a demon out or something, please!

The four guys are undaunted and refuse to let something as flimsy as a first-century roof stand in their way. They start digging.

Cut to Jesus teaching. The people are tolerating him, anxiously wondering when the main event is going to start. Then bits of dust begin filtering down from above. Jesus looks up and a clump of plaster dumps on his face.

No one is listening to Jesus anymore (if they ever were to begin with). Everyone's wondering what in the world is going on up there. How long did it take until the hole was large enough for them to fit the cot and the paralyzed guy through it? How hard was it for them to get the paralyzed guy up there in the first place? The dead weight of a full-grown man is not easy to carry up stairs!

Now they begin the process of lowering this guy. Did they rig up some kind of rope-and-pulley system, or did they each just tie a scarf to one corner of the mat he's lying on? What happens when he gets eye-level with Jesus?

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say Jesus probably started laughing. It's a ridiculous situation, isn't it?

Finally, the guy is there on the floor. Everyone knows what happens next, right? The Bible says, "When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man...".

How's that sentence supposed to end?

It's supposed to end with some variation of "You are healed," isn't it?

Nope. Not this time. This time Jesus says, "Son [because Jesus was from their version of the Dirty South], your sins are forgiven."

Note: No one yells, "Woo-hoo! His sins are forgiven! Hallelujah!" No applause erupts. People are not amazed at this. What's the paralyzed guy supposed to say? "Alright, guys. I guess you can pull me back up now. I still can't walk, but my sins are forgiven, so I've got that going for me now." What are the guys on the roof thinking? "We did not drag his butt up here and dig a hole in the roof so his sins could be forgiven!"

I imagine everyone felt at least a little bit letdown -- disappointed. "We were hoping for something...more...something sexier...something dramatic...we wanted a healing."

Eventually, Jesus does heal the guy, and the crowd goes nuts -- shouting and slapping each other on the back and saying things like, "Can you believe that? How awesome was that?"

Jesus took care of a guy's eternal destiny and everybody yawned. He temporarily made a guy's body work and they were ecstatic.

And maybe Jesus was the one left feeling letdown.