“And again he entered Capernaum after some days, and it was heard that he was in the house. Immediately many gathered together, so that there was no longer room to receive them, not even near the door. And he preached the word to them. Then they came to him, bringing a paralytic who was carried by four men. And when they could not come near him because of the crowd, they uncovered the roof where he was. So when they had broken through, they let down the bed on which the paralytic was lying” (Mark 2:1-4 NKJV).
Some years ago while visiting churches in the mountains of Nepal I fell from the steps leading into the house in which I was spending several days. The floor level was two or three feet above the ground and the steps were makeshift at best – a few rocks stacked loosely on each other without mortar and without much level matching surface. My fall was not serious and I was uninjured, but as I sat on the ground catching my breath I saw one of the Church’s leaders taking apart the steps and beginning to level and relay them to be more secure. I thought at the time, “This is not his house (he was not actually even a resident of that village); what is he doing working on someone else’s house?”
Over the years that same reaction has occurred repeatedly when reading the story of the paralyzed man and his four loyal friends. What audacity, to take off the roof of another person’s house. This is not only my reaction, but one I have heard from others.
As I consider that response, three ideas surface which may, in part at least, modify my attitude.
First, American culture is much different from that of the East, both in ancient and modern times. Our emphasis on private ownership of property and the rights of the property owner is not shared in much of the world. A neighbor “fixing” another’s bad steps without first seeking approval is not a violation of rights – it is simply a helping hand that is much appreciated. Villages in the less developed world are much more of extended families than are our cities or even small towns.
Second, even in our culture, are not people worth more than stone and mortar, or sticks, dirt, palm fronds, and slate “tiles” (typical roofing materials in Asia)? A hole in the roof could easily be repaired (and no doubt was), but opportunities to present their lame friend to the miracle working Jesus might not come again. They put what was to them the most important thing first. Even so, Jesus pointed out something even more important – one’s spiritual condition (Mark 2:5).
We often struggle to keep our priorities straight. Even as we pay off a mortgage to secure the house of our dreams, let us remember to “Seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3:1).
Finally, I am reminded that even if I have paid off that mortgage and labored hard to acquire my house, it is really not mine at all. All I have is a gift from God; I am simply a steward, looking after my master’s property (1 Corinthians 4:1). We appreciate Jesus’ promise to prepare a place for us in his Father’s house (John 14:1-6), that is, in heaven after this life on earth is completed. But we are already, in more than one sense, living in the Father’s house. One house on earth that belongs to God is the Church which Jesus built (1 Timothy 3:15). But every physical house and every mountain, lake, stream, forest and ocean belong to God as well as all that is in them (Psalm 50:12).
Bible scholars often ask, whose house was it in which Jesus taught and performed this miracle? Was it Simon’s (Mark 1:29)? Did Jesus himself own it? Or was it perhaps the property of one of the women disciples who helped provide for his ministry (Luke 8:1-3)? Mark and the other Gospel writers show no interest in this question.
Jesus ministered within the environment of his Father’s world, as do we. All we have, and all we see, are his. The more we are aware of this fact, the better servants we will be.