From the Gospel of Mark:
Some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Mark 2:3-5 (NRSV) – March 13, 2014.)
It’s a familiar story. A paralyzed man on a pallet comes to Jesus carried by his friends. They can’t get by the crowd, so they cut a hole in the roof of the house where Jesus is staying. (The first verse of the chapter says “he was at home” in Capernaum. That’s an interesting thing to say of someone who “has nowhere to lay his head,” [Matt. 8:20] but I don’t want to be distracted by that this morning.) The man on his mat is lowered through the hole and Jesus heals him. A pretty straightforward story of a miracle healing.
Except for one thing. In every other story that I can think of it is the faith of the sick person that Jesus witnesses or credits with accomplishing (or at least setting up) their healing. In this story, it is “their faith,” the faith of the paralytic’s friends (perhaps his, as well, but the Greek taken in context is clearly plural).
We live in a world in which the besetting sin is individualism. Our (Episcopal Church) Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, has commented that she believes the notion of a “personal relationship with Jesus” is “the great Western heresy—that we can be saved as individuals, that any of us alone can be in right relationship with God.” In her opening statement to the General Convention of 2009, she went on to say, “It’s caricatured in some quarters by insisting that salvation depends on reciting a specific verbal formula about Jesus. That individualist focus is a form of idolatry, for it puts me and my words in the place that only God can occupy, at the center of existence, as the ground of being.” Jesus attention to the faith of the paralytic’s community, not simply his personal faith underscores the communal nature of the Christian creed.
The writer of the letter to the Hebrews touched on this in the Daily Office epistle lesson for Ash Wednesday when he noted that we are surrounded by “so great a cloud of witnesses” and suggested by way of admonition that this allows us to “run with perserverance the race that is set before us.” (Heb. 12:1) Any of us alone cannot be in right relationship with God; we are surrounded and supported by the community of faith. The writer of Hebrews also emphasized the community in the next verse when he said of Jesus that he is the “pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” (12:2)
This is why the Nicene Creed was originally written as a “We believe . . . .” statement. Made personal as an “I believe . . . .” creed in Latin and then in English, it is now properly translated in the current Episcopal Church prayer book. It is a statement of the faith of the community, not that of any one individual. (The Apostle’s Creed, on the other hand, is a personal statement of faith made by the individual especially in connection with his or her baptism.)
When we recite the Nicene Creed together in worship, we are all standing on the roof of the house lowering the paralytic to the floor beneath where Jesus can heal him or her. We are also the paralytic on the pallet. Our voices united are the ropes and the Creed, “the sufficient statement of the Christian faith” as Anglicans call it, is our mat. Jesus bids us to stand up and carry our mat for all to see: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:16)
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.