Why Does He Talk Like That?
a sermon based on Mark 2:1-12
by Rev. Thomas Hall
A friend of mine is the founder of an orphanage in
India. I always look forward to his
newsletter. He captures pictures of laughing
kids, kids at study and kids at the swimming hole. And
then I see his pictures of the narrow streets around the orphanage jammed with hawkers and
merchants. People are everywhere. My friend, however, is never lost in the crowd. Right in the middle of an ocean of brown skin and
jet black hair towers this thin, bald, white guy.
Hes always in the middle of the action, but never lost in the
Contrary to the
religious art adorning our great grandparents living rooms, Jesus is no white guy. But like my friend, Jesus can never get lost in the
crowd. Everywhere he walks in
Marks opening scenes something astounding happens:
people drop everything to follow him, a fevered mother-in-law jumps out of bed at
his touch, a guy reclaims his life from demons, an outcast returns to normalcy. When were with Jesus in Marks opening
chapter, were out of breath just trying to keep up.
Jesus is no white guy and we never lose sight of him in a crowd.
Wouldnt it be
great if we got rid of all of the other chapters in Mark except this one? Wed see healings here, exorcisms there by
this tall thin Jesus. And after that, he could
be resurrected and the story would continue through us.
What a novel story!
If our first glimpse of
Jesus in chapter one is that of Jesus turning problems into picnics, then chapter two is
about the fire ants marching in to rip into the cake.
The crowds are still gathering around Jesus like before, but a brooding
jealousy hangs over the house where Jesus stays. The
story begins like another picnicJesus preaching his message and so many eager ears
about the place that no one can even get close to him.
Mark describes how four
desperate guys who want their friends health back hatch an ingenious plan:
lets make a hole in the roof! Can
you picture this happening during Sunday morning worship?
Right during the Call to Worship you
hear overhead the buzz of a circular saw blade biting into roof tiles, followed by sledge
hammer blows that shake the sanctuary. And as
youre singing A Mighty Fortress is Our God, white
dust from the pulverized drywall drifts down over the congregation.
Palestinians made their house walls of stonea mixture of sun-dried earth and straw
like our southwestern adobes. Their single
story houses had just one room and had an outside staircase along one wall for access to
the flat roof. In a hot climatelike
Arizona or the Australian outbackthe roof became an extra room for star-gazing and
drying everything from grains to olives.
How could anyone break
through a roof? Fairly easy if youre an
ancient Palestinian. The roof itself had
wooden beams running the length and was covered with a matting of reeds, branches and mud. The roofs were fragile and would need to be
replaced every fall to get ready for the winter rains.
The four probably dismantled the roof top with their bare hands to let their
friend down. Still, theres nothing more
annoying and inconvenient than a bunch of guys like fraternity brothers tearing your house
up. But Jesus, far from seeing any problem
with their action, is taken by their courage and faith.
Now at this point in the
story we know what will happen next. We would
expect the Jesus of chapter onethe one who turns problems into picnicsto say
the following: I admire your faith, I
say to you get up and go home. Everyone
would be amazed and wonder about this powerful healer.
We might even expect the healed guy to jump up off his pallet and run up
onto the roof and begin repairing what his friends broke.
But no, thats not
what happens. Jesus says instead, My
son, your sins are forgiven. Sins? Forgiven? Where
does that come from? And what does forgiveness have to do with this poor
man who cannot walk under his own steam?
Enter the fire ants. Why
does this fellow talk like that? Hes
blaspheming! Jesus has just
destroyed a good thinga great picnic of teaching and healing to swarms of eager
people. His words do seem out of line. First of all, Jesus seems to have ignored the
obvious need that a guy is in need of healinghes lying there immovable on his
cot and Jesus forgives his sin. And
another thing. A person who would presume to
forgive sins would suffer from megalomaniathe mental disorder characterized by
visions of personal grandeur. Whom makest thou
thyself? Who can forgive sins but the one who
defined sin in the first place? Jesus comes
deadly close to claiming a piece of God without coming right out and saying so.
Why does this fellow talk like that? Well, people say a lot of things under
the circumstances. Add to that the fact
that theres a huge crowd swell around Jesus and the astounding action of the
demolition brothers and the presence of prominent religious scholars; all of that adds up
to a potential nervous slip of the tongue.
Still, to make such a
claim would naturally fall under the category of blasphemy.
Blasphemy happens when we misuse Gods name or when someone insults
God; blasphemy also happens when someone claims an attribute of God for themselves. Whichever door you enter, you dont want
to enter into blasphemy. This sin carried a
heavy price: capital punishment. To be charged
with blasphemy meant getting dragged out of town and clobbered with big rocks until you
So we have a problem
here. Megalomania? Nervous faux pas?
Blasphemy? Capital offense? Why does this fellow talk like that? Indeed, that is an honest question.
Mark invites us, like a
theater audience, who have just witnessed the drama, to answer their question.
What answers could we give to account for Jesus strange talk? Definitely not misguided sense of humor. Maybe these words did come from a megalomaniac,
someone claiming part of God for himself.
. . . Or not. Mark leaves us with another option: Jesus = God.
Its one thing to
go around blathering about forgiving sins; even claiming such authority. But when, in the same breath of forgiveness that
same person raises a crumpled body up to walk again who been let down through a demolished
ceiling, the options narrow. When the words,
Your sins are forgiven roll off the tongue as easily as the words Get
up, pick up your mat and go home, we are left with but one option. Thats the option that C. S. Lewis came to in
his own journey:
Jesus told people that their
sins were forgiven. . . .This makes sense only
if He really was the God whose laws are broken and whose love is wounded in every sin.
. . . I am trying here to
prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him:
Im ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I dont accept His
claim to be God. That is the one
thing we must not say. A man who was merely a
man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunaticon a level with
the man who says he is a poached eggor else he would be the Devil of Hell. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him
and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense
about His being a great human teacher. He has
not left that open to us . . .
Just as one word from
Jesus could end this mans years of exile on a mat, one word from Jesus could end
years of exile from God. Jesus gave him a
package dealforgiveness and wholeness, for they both come from . . . well, God.
Only God can forgive
sin. The crowd knew that. The brothers knew that. The religious leaders knew that. Everyone knew that.
Through this miracle, Jesus is saying to us:
Thats right. Only
God can forgive sin . . . so who do you think youre dealing with? Do you know that?