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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.    He’s always in the middle of the action, but never lost in the crowd.

Contrary to the religious art adorning our great grandparent’s living rooms, Jesus is no white guy.  But like my friend, Jesus can never get lost in the crowd.   Everywhere he walks in Mark’s 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 we’re with Jesus in Mark’s opening chapter, we’re out of breath just trying to keep up.   Jesus is no white guy and we never lose sight of him in a crowd. 

Wouldn’t it be great if we got rid of all of the other chapters in Mark except this one?  We’d 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 picnic—Jesus 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 friend’s health back hatch an ingenious plan: “let’s 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 you’re singing A Mighty Fortress is Our God, white dust from the pulverized drywall drifts down over the congregation.  

First-century Palestinians made their house walls of stone—a 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 climate—like Arizona or the Australian outback—the 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 you’re 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, there’s 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 one—the one who turns problems into picnics—to 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, that’s 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?  He’s blaspheming!”   Jesus has just destroyed a good thing—a 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 healing—he’s 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 megalomania—the 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 there’s 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 God’s name or when someone insults God; blasphemy also happens when someone claims an attribute of God for themselves.   Whichever door you enter, you don’t 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 died. 

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. 

It’s 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.  That’s 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: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t 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 lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or 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 . . .[1]


Just as one word from Jesus could end this man’s years of exile on a mat, one word from Jesus could end years of exile from God.  Jesus gave him a package deal—forgiveness 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:   “That’s right.  Only God can forgive sin . . . so who do you think you’re dealing with?”  Do you know that?   Amen.


[1] Wayne Martindale & Jerry Root, The Quotable Lewis (Wheaton: Tyndale Publishing, 1989), p. 340.