Our Gospel lesson for the Second Sunday of Great Lent of Mark 2:1-12 might be summarized in this way:
One day, 4 men carried their paralyzed friend to Jesus. They labored hard to get their friend into the Lord’s presence. As any of you who have ever carried another human being know – the man is literally dead weight. He is paralyzed and can’t help the others who are carrying him. When Jesus saw the faith of the 4 men, he pronounced that the paralyzed man’s sins had been forgiven.
Note in the Gospel lesson that neither the paralyzed man nor his friends protest when Jesus forgives the paralyzed man – none of them say, “No, Lord, he’s a good guy, he never did anything wrong that’s why we’re bringing him to you. He deserves to be healed because of all his good deeds.” Instead they all seem to accept that the man is a sinner and needs God’s forgiveness.
The 4 men bear the burden of their friend’s sinfulness. They are not bringing to Christ some upright and holy man who they think deserves God’s intervention, rather they are bringing to Christ a man whose sin apparently led to his paralysis. His sin had a visible affect and all could see it. His paralysis perhaps the result of the man’s own choices. I visited such a man once – he was in his mid-30s and paralyzed from the waist down. He told me he had been in that condition for 15 years – the end result of being a young fool who was drinking and driving. He regretted his condition and his past choices, and he blamed no one but himself for the fact that he was in a wheelchair and in a great deal of pain.
So we can even imagine that instead of bearing the burden of their friend’s sinfulness, that the men in the Gospel lesson could have been more like Job’s friends and telling hims: “you made your own bed, now sleep in it” or “you caused your own problems, so solve them yourself.” Or even worse, “you were such an idiot, now you got what you deserved.” Or maybe even reminding the paralyzed man, “We are doing all the work and you don’t even carry your own weight around here because you are the burden.”
But the 4 men aren’t complaining, they are fulfilling the Gospel commandment that we bear one another’s burdens. (Galatians 6:2) – “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.”
We should have the same attitude when we do the work of God – not complaining about the burden we have to bear nor to criticize those who don’t carry their own weight around the church. We have a task to accomplish – to bring others to Christ, not just holy, deserving and good people, but even those who have made a mess of their lives.
We bear other people’s burdens not only in bringing them to church, but also when we decide to pray for them and when our hearts are moved by their problems and we fell the weight of their suffering. We are called by Christ to help carry the burdens of others.
We are to lead by example. It is Great Lent and some have rightfully set out to read Scripture during Lent, or to read more Scripture daily: God bless you for that. Persevere! We all know how our good intentions don’t always get fulfilled. We start out with zeal, but then life intervenes and pretty soon we have forgotten what we promised to do.
Just remember that reading the bible is noble, but that is not the goal of the Christian life. The real goal is to live the scriptures in your daily life. St. Paul once said to his flock:
You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on your hearts, to be known and read by all men; and you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. (2 Corinthians 3:1-3)
The goal is to live in such a way that others can read the scriptures written on our hearts. We are to be the living word, a living temple of God. If Christians keep the Gospel commandments, others will be able to see the Word of God active and alive in us.
The stories from the desert fathers or the lives of the saints are most effective when they illustrate how to live one of the Gospel commands. I must admit that Orthodox lives of saints are often full of miracles and magic, which to me is all inimitable and not very inspiring. But it is when I read something that is an illustration of how a person lived one of the Gospel teachings in daily life that the saint illumines the Gospel and shows me what it is to obey Christ.
You are to be the living word of God – with the Word written on your hearts and visible for all to see in your life and life style. Of course you first have to know the Scriptures before they can be written on your hearts, but then you have to live that Word. Your friends, family, neighbors, co-workers may never read the Bible, but they do read you – what you say, how you live, what you do.
Be an example to others, let them see in you Jesus Christ – may they experience from you the power of living the Gospel. The only word from God they may ever experience is the one they see in you.
In the book, THE KEYS OF THE KINGDOM, Fr. Chisholm spends 30 years as a Catholic missionary in a town in China. The day before he is to leave China, Mr Chia, the wealthy, powerful and leading man of the town says to Fr. Chisholm: “When you first came to our town, I was not willing to be a Christian, but then I was unaware of the nature of your life . . . of its patience, quietness, and courage. The goodness of a religion is best judged by the goodness of its adherents. My friend . . . you have conquered me by your example.” Then Mr Chia asked Fr. Chisholm to baptize him.
Great Lent is sometimes called a school for us Orthodox. It is a time for us to practice our faith, to be an example of what it is to be a Christian.
And what is the word that we should be an example of? St. Paul says:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)
May God bless your Lenten efforts and give growth to the seeds which are planted in your hearts so that you might bring forth spiritual fruit.