For Such a Time as This We Must Be Undeterred and Faithful
There is a powerful lesson found in the Gospel of Mark that serves to challenge people of faith as we confront a time where defiant and fierce discipleship and leadership is required. The second chapter of Mark describes an incident where men were seeking to bring a paralytic to Jesus. Yet, because of the crowd gathered around Jesus, the men were unable to get to Jesus. So they removed the roof of the home and lowered the paralytic down through a hole in the roof in order for Jesus to speak to the paralyzed man. And in the midst of it all a tremendous miracle happened in which Jesus said to the paralytic, “rise take up your pallet and go home.” The paralyzed man subsequently rose and walked out into the crowd to the amazement of those who were gathered.
The fourth verse of this passage is particularly relevant, “And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and when they had made an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic lay.”
There are three brief points that we ought to thoughtfully consider.
- Healing Happens When We Dismantle Structures
The Gospel of Mark provides a series of narratives — firsthand eyewitness accounts of the power and the humanity of the Son of God. Jesus casting out the unclean spirit within men. Jesus causing men to cast aside their occupations as fisherman of the sea and become fishers of men and follow him. Jesus cleansing those who were sick, and diseased, and filled with demons. Jesus feeding five thousand with two loaves of bread and five fish, serving as a reminder of God’s economy.
But it’s in the second chapter of Mark, where we find Jesus in Capernaum, which provides greater context. In deconstructing the relevant passage it is clear that the act of tearing off, the act of removing a portion of the roof, is an illustration that healing occurs when structures become dismantled.
We live in a world where the structures of society, the powers and the principalities, have served more to oppress the people of God than uplift them. Structures. From the flagrant brutality of black men and women sanctioned by government run law enforcement agencies. The structures: the financial systems that take from our communities yet often fail to return a portion of that investment back into our neighborhoods. The structures: the educational system in which only 18% of black boys are proficient in 4th grade math by 4th grade and only 14% of black boys are reading proficient by 4th grade. The structures: the criminal justice system in California where 32% of the young men in juvenile probation camps are black males yet we only comprise 9% of the population. The structures: where we utilize jails and prisons as mental health facilities rather than constructing new hospitals where mental health services can be effectively provided by doctors and nurses and not prison guards.
We live in a world where our systems have been structured in such a way that they keep us in bondage and fail to protect the most weak and vulnerable among us.
1 in 4 children in California, 16 million nationwide, live in poverty. Over 35% of African-American children and 38% of Latino children live in poverty
The healthcare delivery system is structured so that half of the children of color that are without healthcare are uninsured. Yet, boys have the highest rate of diagnosis of autism and other developmental disabilities along the spectrum.
Structures that continue the cycle of economic inequality and poverty in a state that has an economy of almost $2.2 trillion dollars.
It’s a sobering perspective. How do we heal, how do we make better, how do we shore up and make sound, how do we breakthrough, how do we change, the structures that persist in their repressiveness? How do we shift generational inequity and neglect? How do we turn, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. pondered, chaos into community?
The Bible states that although folks may be blocking your entrance from the outside, you can’t get to the structure through the normal pathway . . . you’ve got to use your imagination and ingenuity to get up to the top, and began to dismantle the structure. And when you get inside healing will begin to occur. How do we cause healing? Healing happens when structures are defeated and come down.
- Faith is Not Simply Doctrine BUT Risk-Taking Action
The men who carried the paralyzed man to the roof are more than just an illustration that structures must be dismantled for healing to occur. The men applied their faith not just in word but in deed. In other words they took action. They weren’t just hearers of the word, they were doers of the word. They were undeterred and they were faithful. They had a persistent and an active faith. They had faith not just in the power of Jesus to physically heal the paralyzed ma; but they had the faith that if they did something they would be able to impact the paralytic state of the man. They did not sit and complain. They got up and did something. And they didn’t do it individually. While they recognized that they may have had individual faith, to save this man, to heal this individual, they had to combine forces in order to have the strength to lift this man up the roof and then lower him down. Sometimes it takes us coming together as people of faith in order to take action.
The manifestation of our faith through risk-taking action is how we move the powers and principalities, the institutions and structures that want to keep us on the outside. I doubt these men knew that they would one day be placed in a position where they would be called into action to improve the quality of life of a friend. God wants us to move beyond our own parochial thoughts, move beyond our own limitations, and exercise our faith in Him to do amazing things. The four men were a catalyst to bringing another man closer to God and served as an example to countless other individuals who needed to see the pervasive power of God in order to become believers.
The men acted on their faith and took a risk in doing so. That’s what God is calling us to do. Don’t just speak my name; do something in my name that will demonstrate your understanding of what faith really is. Show me that you know I’m an awesome God. I’m the God of Moses and Abraham. I’m the God of Job. Show me that you realize that I’m the same God who can wake you up in the morning and send you to your earthly grave in the evening. The same God who the winds and willows obey. Who can turn darkness into light and night into day. But don’t just tell me you believe it. Show me by your actions and the manifestation that you understand that faith requires risk-taking action.
- God Doesn’t Want the Bare Minimum from Us. He’s Calling Us to Aim Higher
The men climbed on the roof and removed a portion of the structure to lower their friend and begin the process of healing. They demonstrated their faithfulness in God by taking action even though it was risky. But they also didn’t take the easy way out — they did more than the bare minimum. They aimed higher. The conditions of the moment caused them to think outside of the box in order to confront this complex situation. Large crowds were blocking access to the entrance so they did what others might not have had the audacity to do — get up on that roof.
There is something significant about that story which resonates with me — God is calling us to do more than just the bare minimum. More than be complacent. More than accept the status quo. Anyone can just wait around and watch the world crumble, or watch loved ones perish, or witness conditions in a community disintegrate and yet not say a mumbling word. God however is telling us to get up off of our feet, to shed our doubt, to place our faith in him and get up on that roof; that institution so that we can tear it off and get in the inside to allow healing and change may occur. The men did what was difficult. They dared to do the unusual and it could have turned out differently.
As people of faith we must elevate our spiritual maturity to accept that where we go, God goes. If we simply trust him God will move us beyond anything that we can imagine if it’s for the betterment of his people. We each have our gifts. The Bible talks about them rather explicitly in Ephesians, Chapter 4: “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers.”
God didn’t give us these gifts just to see us give the bare minimum. Your gift does not matter if you use it only to serve your individual self, which is the bare minimum, and not the body of Christ. God is calling us to aim higher. Each of us has been endowed with a special gift. He’s challenging us to use our gifts for the betterment of the kingdom. Not to sit on the sidelines of history but to rise up and act. What if the four men had simply sat down and abandoned hope and given up? What if they had not recognized their purpose? What if they had not aimed higher?
God is calling us to be action-oriented Christian leaders who will take down the structures and institutions, the powers and principalities that have keep us in captivity for so long. God has simply called us to do more in service to him. There is more that he requires from us.
We cannot rest on our laurels. We cannot suffer from listlessness and complacency. We cannot worry that the road won’t be easy.
Aim higher to end the lack of educational equity and access for students of color.
Aim higher in the quest for racial, social, and economic justice
Aim higher to end mass incarceration and dismantle the cradle to prison pipeline.
Aim higher to protect our boys and girls of color, our sons and daughters.
We must step forward in action-oriented radical faith, undeterred and bold, and embrace the spiritual gifts that God has ordained for us. And we must steadfastly be reminded that healing happens when we dismantle structures, faith is not simply doctrine but risk-taking action, and that God does not want the bare minimum from us — he’s calling us to aim higher.
Alex M. Johnson is the Executive Director of the Children’s Defense Fund-California, the state office of the national Children’s Defense Fund founded in 1973 by Marian Wright Edelman. For more information, please visit www.cdfca.org.