Lauren J. McFeaters
October 21, 2018
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I don’t know if any of you read The New York Times?
I read the digital edition.
But I’m an old-fashioned girl. I had a hard time when the Times went from black and white to color. I’ve gotten over it.
My usual reading trek starts with the US section, then World, then New York. But my favorite columns are The Ethicist, anything in the Theater section, the Film section, and anything by Matthew Desmond. My guilty pleasure? The Modern Love column.
Yup, Modern Love is one of my favorites. It’s full of weekly essays that explore the joys and tribulations of love.
The one Modern Love column[i] I’ll never forget is about Layng and Linda Martine, a married couple with a “love-at-first-site-kind” of marriage. They enjoyed years of what Layng calls “a charmed life,” that is until a horrendous car accident paralyzed Linda and changed the course of their lives forever.
This Modern Love essay, written by the husband, Layng, is about the emotional and spiritual aftermath of such an accident when a spinal cord is severed, and no movement is possible from the waist down. He says:
We knew we had a lot to learn, but we had no idea how much. Hearing the word paraplegic and paralysis made us focus on the big thing, the fact that Linda could no longer walk. Less anticipated were the smaller humiliations and inconveniences, like bathroom habits, sores that came out of nowhere and took months, years to heal, and inaccessible restroom stalls that caused Linda to have to catheterize herself in the public area where people were washing their hands and talking. And on it went, the list of indignities. She couldn’t watch television if she reached for her glasses and the remote fell off the bed. She wet the seat on airplanes and in friends’ cars.
But, Layng says, we’ve learned and adapted. Now we know the places with good handicapped-access bathrooms (Starbucks), which airline makes things easiest (Southwest), which cities have smooth curb cuts (San Francisco), and which movie theaters don’t make us sit four feet from the screen.
After Linda and Layng Martine finally arrived home from months of treatment and surgeries at the Hershey Medical Center, they sat at their dinner table and Linda burst into tears. “I don’t know if I can do this for the rest of my life,” she said. All her husband could say was, “We’ll do it together.” [ii]
We’ll do it together.
Oh, the places we’ll go.
Sounds like Jesus.
We’ll do it together. Oh, the places we’ll go.
In Mark’s Gospel, having just healed a man with mental illness, restored Simon’s mother-in-law, cured a leper, and many others of diseases and possessions, we find Jesus at home. He’s traveled to Capernaum and we’re told the crowds have followed him. Word’s gotten out. Word’s spread. There’s a man who teaches and heals and brings wholeness.
People want to see him. People want to hear him. People want to touch him.
Maybe that’s why when Jesus went back to Capernaum he returned to a standing-room crowd. It was wall-to-wall people inside the house and an overflow crowd on the outside too. Even with a shoehorn you couldn’t squeeze in one more person. Jam-packed — people pressing, body heat, smell, and sweat. We’re talking a big crowd in a small space.
Houses like this weren’t made for crowds. Scholars think it was more square in shape, made of clay, and had a set of steps along the side to access the roof so families could escape the heat of the day by reclining on the rooftop in the cool evenings
Inside the house with Jesus were the hot shots—some of the teachers of the law—Scribes—who wanted to hear this Jesus for themselves.
And sure enough, latecomers arrive, four men and their paralyzed friend, thinking they’re going to find a spot they turn and see the crowd beat them there.
Then one of them stepped back to get a better view. He sees the steps and says, “We’ll do it together. We’ve got this. There’s a place for us to go.”
So up to the roof they go. Slow but sure and I can only imagine that once up on the roof, they had to stop and listen for this man who was said to be a healer. And maybe it was because they could no longer hear him that they went full speed ahead and started digging – braking up clay, digging out the brushwood and branches to stuff their paralyzed friend, mat, and all, through the space between beams, right to the feet of Jesus.[iii]
You see Mark measures faith not by its orthodoxy but by its determination, courage, and persistence.[iv] And the places we’ll go with determination, courage, and persistence? Everywhere.
All the commotion got everyone’s attention—first the rattling and clatter, then the falling clay and brush, people dodging debris the best they could. Then a beam of light, silhouetting the form of a man on a mat being lowered, as those below caught him and lowered him to the floor.[v] Boom.
I feel like this is where we need to pause — to wave away the dust and grit, to wipe the sand off our shoulders, and pick the bits out of our hair. Because what comes next needs a cleansing breath to take it all in. ‘When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”’
Your sins are forgiven.
And man is lowered through a roof and Jesus says: “Your sins are forgiven.”
Patricia Raube asks it this way, does he mean to imply that the man is somehow responsible for his own paralysis, for this dreadful condition that makes his life a nightmare? The people crowded into that room would have heard it differently. This juxtaposition—sin and sickness—would have made sense to them. It’s a tune they have heard before.
Sin and sickness are often said to be connected. Think of all the examples in scripture.
- Here’s one, Miriam, sister of Moses who dares to question his authority—and so God smites her with leprosy. Pretty clear cut: her sin leads to sickness.
- But then there’s Job where the connection between sin and sickness is challenged…suffering terribly Job is not a sinful man, he is a righteous man.
- But a lot of the time, each one of us will see or hear about someone’s dire disease and think, what has that person done to bring this on? [vi]
There’s another way in which sin and sickness are related. Just as in our day. Sin and sickness go hand in hand—corporate sin, communal sin, society’s sin:
- The kind of sin that oppresses people and keeps them from enjoying even the fruits of their own labor, or from being able to be productive in the first place.
- The kind of sin that locates toxic waste near slums, so that the people living there suffer from chronic disease.
- The kind of sin that says we must never speak about the sexual battery, and exploitation that has literally laid bare women, youth, men, children.
- The sin of a racism that is so metastasized that we give up thinking we have any responsibility for stomping out its lethal hold on the human spirit.
- The kind of sin that renders the weakest members of society expendable.
- There is a connection between sin and sickness… it’s just not the one we expect.
‘When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”’ Their faith. Your sins forgiven.
Jesus looks upon these five friends and the places they were willing to go for one another, what they were willing to do together, not letting anything stand in their way.
Jesus sees — faith.
Whether faith in himself, or faith in their friend, or even faith in one another — we have no idea. But Jesus sees faith. And through that faith, a man is set free. [vii]
It’s not blasphemy.
It’s not a violation of the law.
It’s not sacrilege.
It’s a gift.
A gift of forgiveness that turns into freedom; that turns into glory.
Maybe it’s like that for Linda and Layng Martine from the Modern Love column. Now, decades later, having lived within a devoted marriage and ardent friendship, they’ve clawed through the ceilings of plaster and limits of boundaries to find a life together.
They have three children.
Linda started driving again. Her car has hand controls.
And Layng says:
So long ago since that fateful night, looking across the dinner table at my wife, or seeing her across the room at a party, the hopeless crush I have on her is as wonderfully out of control as when I first saw her more than five decades ago. I’m still thrilled when after work, I pull in the driveway and know I’ll soon get to see the beautiful, very funny person I live with.[viii]
You know, there’s one more thing about this passage. One more thing we should say. Martha Spong reminded me of it:
Sometimes I wish someone would put us all down through a roof and lay us before Jesus; lay us right there at his feet so he could look us right in the eye, and we could look at him, and then he would forgive us and fix what is broken in us.
Maybe that’s what happens when we come to worship.
We have one of those flat ceilings, you know. Look up.
It’s the kind of ceiling a hole could be broken through. The kind someone could break through and lower us on our mats, right into the pews. There’d be rattling and clatter, chunks of plaster would fall with dust and grit and sand. It would be a beautiful mess.
And who would do the lowering. Who would those people be?
Maybe that’s exactly what we’re doing for each other. Maybe it’s the person sitting right there beside you – you know – the one you’ve known for fifty years. And then the one on the other side that you’ve not yet met.
We’ll do it together. We’ve got this. The places we’ll go.
Oh the places we’ll go when we:
- pray for one another
- sing for one another
- hold one another
- challenge one another
- and find a way to get on top of the house, dig down through it, and put one another right where we need to be; right at the feet of Jesus. [ix]
Thanks be to God.
[i] Thank you to Patricia Raube for a reminder of this essay from her sermon, “Fierce Friendship: A Sermon on Mark 2:1-12.” March 15, 2009, magdalenesmusings.blogspot.com.
[ii] Layng Martine Jr. Modern Love: “In a Charmed Life, a Road Less Traveled.” The New York Times, March 6, 2009, nytimes.com.
[iii] Virginia Stem Owens. Looking for Jesus. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1998, 41, as quoted by John Scott McCallum.
[iv] Alan Culpepper. Mark. Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2007, 77, as quoted by John Scott McCallum.
[v] John Scott McCallum. Sermon: “Whatever it Takes.” First Baptist Church, Hot Springs, AR,
June 29, 2014.
[vi] Patricia Raube. “Fierce Friendship: A Sermon on Mark 2:1-12.” March 15, 2009, magdalenesmusings.blogspot.com.
[vii] Patricia Raube.
[viii] Layng Martine Jr.
[ix] Martha Spong. Sermon: “They Removed the Roof.” Feb 13, 2012, marthaspong.com.