Sermon February 14 2021 ~ Mark 2:1-12 Through the Roof Rev. Betsy Hogan
Do you ever respond, when someone tells you ‘thank you’, by saying ‘no problem’?
A number of years ago I read an article that I still think about now and then. It was more of a rant, actually, than an article – and it was all about the writer's issue with people saying 'no problem' instead of 'you're welcome'. When someone says thank you.
And it was a bit overblown, to be honest. Really quite ranty. About the increasing use of 'no problem' sort of unwittingly shaping our sense as a human family that helping or favours should only be asked for and should only be done as long as they're going to be 'no problem'.
Which I found kind of an interesting thing to consider. But at the same time... A lot of helping and favours we do really ARE no problem. And saying that is usually just meant to be reassuring. Which in its own way IS actually an expression of caring for how the other person feels. So it does still sustain the fundamental essence of 'loving our neighbour', even if perhaps not as purely as 'you're welcome' does.
But still, even if the article was ranty, it did have a point that 'you're welcome' might be a better default for us to cultivate.
Because sometimes it actually IS a 'problem', whatever’s needed or asked. And that's okay. And we do it anyway because we want to help. And I think that’s meaningful – not just theoretically but actually to the person being helped. That they’re cared enough about that someone wants to do this for them. Not because it’s ‘no problem’ as so many things are, but because they’re worth it.
I can’t imagine the paralyzed fellow in the story from Mark’s gospel that we heard this morning enjoys the fact that there’s so much that he can’t do without someone else’s help. We don’t know anything about either how long he’s been paralyzed or how complete his paralysis – all we really know is that he clearly can’t walk on his own. If he’s always been this way since childhood, then he’s lived a lifetime having to rely on other people. If there was an accident or an illness, on the other hand, he may be still getting used to or even battling his need for help.
But in either case, it isn’t any fun. And if ever there was a doing of a favour for someone that wasn’t ‘no problem’, this man’s friends getting him close enough to Jesus that he can ask to be healed is NOT no problem.
Instead it’s almost ludicrous, it’s so NOT no problem. Really, one of the most fun-to-imagine scenes in all the gospels.
First they try to battle their way through the crowds with the poor fellow on his stretcher, presumably getting knocked about in every direction.
Then they inexplicably haul him up, stretcher and all, onto the ROOF, which I’ve always wondered why they didn’t try for a window first, but anyway….
And then, in the crowning glory of biblical farce, they proceed to dig a great big hole through the probably foot of thatch that the roof was made of, and triumphantly lower him down through the hole, still on the stretcher, right down over Jesus’ head.
It is a magnificent accomplishment. And what it is NOT is no problem.
Which may be something that the paralyzed man struggles with, wishing that he didn’t have to put anyone out in this way, but at the same time – it’s profoundly to be hoped that he’s also moved and inwardly warmed by how much it means they care about him.
I mean, they dug a hole through a roof for him! If that doesn’t make him feel beloved, he really isn’t paying attention! So even before the miracle of healing that Jesus performs that day, it seems to me, something pretty meaningful had been made manifest there.
Because sometimes there ARE limits as to how far we can go, alone. Sure, the fellow in the gospel passage is literally paralyzed and his lack of mobility makes his need for others’ assistance obvious, but even beyond the obvious, sometimes there ARE limits as to how far we can go, alone.
Sometimes the crowd, the wall, the roof – there is only so much that one person alone is ever going to be able to do to make his way through, to climb her way over, to dig his way beyond. Sometimes, help is needed. To get there.
And what it seems to me is especially beautiful about this particular miracle story is that that reality isn’t presented with any moral judgment, or any attending speculation on how much the fellow in need really wants to be helped. There are other stories in which Jesus only does a hoped-for miracle when someone basically harasses him into stopping on his own behalf, or he even demands a clearly articulated request from someone in need before acting – but not in this case.
There’s no moral judgment here. There’s no assessment of how much this healing might be justified, or how much it’s really “deserved”, in relation to how much effort the person in trouble has personally expended on his own behalf.
Instead, it just unfolds without comment. Sure, pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps is great, but sometimes there are limits as to how far people can go, alone. That’s just the way it is. Sometimes help is needed to get there. It’s not something to be ashamed of, it just IS. This fellow’s not going to get in the room unless his buddies dig a hole through the roof for him. That’s just reality and it’s reality not just for him, but for a lot of people and maybe even for us sometimes.
It’s an important reminder for us, I think. Not only because WE might be the people who need the help – and need to recognize that not as a personal failing but just part of being human…
But also because it challenges what we may well believe, either consciously or sub-consciously, about the virtue – and I mean that in a moral sense – the moral virtue of being able to make it on our own. Or do it on our own. Or manage on our own. Or overcome adversity and pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, on our own.
It challenges what we may believe and certainly what our culture proclaims about the inherent goodness of those things. And then it challenges the social policy we create that reflects that belief.
Because instead, here, what Jesus without question or comment simply responds to is the need of someone who arrives -- a little ungracefully down through a hole in a cloud of roof dust to be sure – but who arrives only because other people got him there.
Sometimes there’s a limit to what people can do on their own. It’s good news, if we ARE those people and need to let go of that fear that it means we’re weak or somehow not what we should be.
But it’s also good news even if we’re NOT those people, or more likely if we’re not YET those people. Because when that assumption that everyone should be able to manage On His or Her Own gets challenged, then our understanding of how much care we owe one another as members of one human family, how much responsibility for each others’ well-being we do in fact carry, is really changed. And broadened. And deepened. And that in turn can change a whole social atmosphere.
The earthquake in Japan this week, in Fukushima where a previous earthquake caused the huge nuclear accident a decade ago, it reminded me of a story I heard back then that I don’t mind telling you I literally found breath-taking in its overwhelming beauty. You might remember it too. It was a news story about Japanese senior citizens – a whole lot of Japanese senior citizens – who volunteered to go to the restricted zone in Fukushima to clean up the radiation. So that younger workers wouldn’t have to.
Because the clean-up had to be done -- but doing the clean-up would put a person at significant risk for cancer within ten to twenty years. And so the seniors said better themselves who might not even live that long to GET the cancer, than younger workers who almost certainly would.
I was floored when I read it. It speaks to a level of mutual responsibility and care that I really have to say I found amazingly moving. Talk about, as Jesus himself put, greater love hath no one than this, to lay down his life for his friend…
And I would think, I would hope, that the impact of that kind of selfless generosity on the part of some, on behalf of the rest, would be felt in the social atmosphere maybe even for generations. How could it not be?
There may be a lot of things that we can manage on our own, and there may be a lot of things that others can manage on THEIR own. But sometimes there’s a limit. The fellow on the stretcher isn’t getting anywhere near Jesus if his friends aren’t digging through a roof on his behalf and holding the ropes to lower him down.
And I think in a way for us, that should be part of the ‘wonderful’ that this miracle lifts up for us. Because not only does it give us ‘permission’ to ask for help when we need it, and not only does it encourage us to be the helpers when we CAN be, but it also speaks to the surpassing beauty of having an attitude toward one another that is that deeply generous and mutually responsible.
Because digging through a roof is not ‘no problem’. Lots of things are! Digging through a roof is not one of those things. But when things that are not ‘no problem’ happen anyway, when our mindset toward others is the openness of ‘you’re welcome’, you’re worth it, to whatever effort it’s going to take, no matter how much problem it may be – that I think is already a miracle that even Jesus would celebrate.
Because I know it doesn’t say it in the bible story – it doesn’t even imply it, so I know I’m really out on a limb here -- But doesn’t it seem possible that when Jesus looked up that day and saw a fellow on a stretcher dangling through a hole in his roof, hovering there on ropes over his head, doesn’t it seem likely that Jesus burst out laughing? Just cracked up in pure astonished delight? I bet he did. And why not? Because before he even had to do a single thing, it kind of already WAS a miracle.
Thanks be to God who challenges us to be miraculous. Amen.