The Sickness That Destroys
In Mark 2.1-12 the paralysed man carried by his friends to
Jesus and let down through the roof gives us a picture of ourselves. It
is that we often paralysed in all kinds of ways until Jesus' word of
forgiveness and healing lift us up and restore us to full life.
Our own disabling may have a whole variety of causes.
It may be physical - the result of illness or accident. Or it may be
or the frailty of old age, or a handicap carried from birth. It might
not be our own infirmity, but that of a family member or close friend
which imposes a restriction upon us, however gladly we accept it.
But physical disability is only a tiny part of the many reasons why
we may suffer a loss of the fullness of life which is God�s will for us,
a loss which we see symbolised in the paralysis of the man in this
reading from Mark's Gospel.
There is also the mental and spiritual lethargy which used to be
called accidie or sloth and which so easily spirals into
depression. In medieval Europe they called it "the sickness that
destroyeth in the noonday" (a quotation from the psalms) because it is a
condition which seems so often to strike us down in what ought to be the
prime of life. Today we might call it "the mid-life crisis" - but it is
the same thing.
Another paralysing condition is loneliness. Not the welcome solitude
which we all need from time to time in order to reflect and plan and be
still with God, but the sense of isolation that leads to a bitterness of
spirit and an inability to accept friendship, even when it is held out
to us. Like poverty among riches, this is a loneliness that imposes
itself in a crowd or even among a friendly bustling congregation in
church. This cuts us off most absolutely and destroys our whole social
Or perhaps the paralysing problem is loss of faith. By this I do not
mean the eager questioning which is the mark of a positive and confident
religious life. Nor do I mean the honest doubt which from time to time
leads us all to question this or that aspect of faith and practice.
These are part of every Christian�s journey.
But there is another loss of faith, a loss of confidence and trust,
which leads to hopelessness and despair. It is not the kind of doubting
which asks questions. Rather, it dare not ask for fear of what it might
receive; it dare not seek for fear of what it might find; and it dare
not knock for fear of where the opened door may lead. In this condition
there is paralysis indeed.
All these examples so far have been fairly obviously negative things,
but we might equally be paralysed by seemingly positive aspects of our
lives, perhaps - and paradoxically - by our very busy-ness. Holding down
a job, looking after the kids, singing in the choir, looking after
visitors and so on. Just belonging to a flourishing and active church
can often be so time-consuming and exhausting that there is no energy
left for the simple business of living. That too is a kind of paralysis.
It is in all these conditions - and others like them - that Jesus
addresses us with his words to the sick man: "Cheer up. Your sins are
forgiven." Sin is not only, or even chiefly, the breaking of God�s law
in the sense of doing wicked things. It is in a wider and more profound
sense a falling short of the abundant life that God wills for us. The
reason we fall short is our human weakness - both individual and
corporate, both physical and spiritual - and Jesus� word of forgiveness
is the power of God by which we can overcome this weakness.
So we come to church to hear that word for ourselves. Whatever is
paralysing us, whatever crippling weakness or deliberate sin is holding
each of us back, we can lay it before Jesus and hear his answer, which
both comforts and commands: Your sins are forgiven. Arise, and walk.
But that takes courage. There is a kind of protection in being
disabled, and a terrifying responsibility in being made whole. Sometimes
we simply would rather stay paralysed.
Recently this truth was brought home to me in some powerful words of
Nelson Mandela, read out by one of the congregation of my church. I give
them here as a kind of gift - a spiritual gift - which we received and I
now share with you:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is
that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness,
that most frightens us. Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and
Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your
playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened
about shrinking so that other people won�t feel insecure around you. We
are born to make manifest the Glory of God within us.
It is not just in some of us, it is in everyone. And as we let our own
light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the
same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically