William Sloan Coffin offers a reflection on the story in the second chapter of Mark about the man with paralysis, whose friends lowered him through the roof to get to Jesus. Coffin focuses on the courage required to accept the gift and the challenge of healing.
“With no difficulty, I can picture myself lying on the pallet, the center of the crowd’s attention. I can image myself enjoying the ability to use my distress to manipulate my friends. I can certainly imagine the comfort I would draw from the words, ‘My son, your sins are forgiven.’ But when, following the indicative of forgiveness, I heard the imperative of responsibility – ‘Rise, take up your pallet and walk’ – I think I my inclination would have been to murmur, ‘No thanks, I think I’ll just stay here on the stretcher.’ (p.12-13)”
“… if it’s hell to be guilty, it’s certainly scarier to be responsible – response-able – able to respond to God’s visionary, creative love. (p.13)”
Reading this, I realize that Lent holds two major problems for me – flip sides of the same coin. The first is my secret dismissal of my need for forgiveness. I’m all too comfortable on my pallet. I have ample excuses for my bad attitude and my failings – after all, what can I do? The second is the fear of response-ability – the terror that I’ll be asked to stand up, take up my load, and walk into my life without the excuses of inability and powerlessness.
Excuses are the coins with which I buy my conjured righteousness. One side relieves me of my guilt – the other relieves me of responsibility. What they cannot buy is freedom, joy, connection.
No wonder the season lasts 40 days. This is gonna take me a while. At least I have friends to carry my pallet and help me get to where I need to be. In initiating connection, they jump-start my resurrection. It is harder to be defensive in the face of such friendship.
[Quotation from Coffin, W.S. (1982). The courage to love. San Francisco: Harper & Row, p. 12-13.]