God Doesn’t Reward Bloody Knuckles

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The second chapter of Mark contains a fascinating story about four people who brought their paralyzed friend to Jesus in hopes that he would be healed. Unfortunately, there was such a crowd in and around the house where Jesus was teaching that they couldn’t get near him. Undaunted, the four went up on the roof, tore open a hole, and lowered their friend down to Jesus.

It certainly was a brazen thing to do, if not exactly polite. I’m guessing the homeowners weren’t too pleased with their new skylight. Still, we understand the desperation of these friends and give them a certain amount of credit for gumption and ingenuity. Whatever we think of their methods, no one can deny that these four were determined and did not give up easily.

So there the man lay, right in front of Jesus himself and right in the middle of a dusty pile of roofing material. He was paralyzed and hoping for healing. He certainly had the Lord’s full attention.

At this point, the story takes a strange turn. Jesus takes pity on the man and then forgives him of his sins. It’s a surprising move, even for Jesus. The man came for healing, not for absolution. He thought his paralysis was his biggest problem. Jesus thought otherwise. But that’s the way it went with Jesus. You never could be sure of what he might or might not do. About the best you could do was spend as much time as possible hanging around with Jesus, hoping you would be there when he did whatever he was going to do. Most of the time, it ended up being a surprise, and frequently people discovered that their deepest need was something they could not have imagined.

In the end, Jesus also healed the man’s body, but mostly to make a point. Clearly, Jesus felt the man’s spiritual needs were more pressing than his physical needs. And Jesus was not a man who could be pressured into adopting a new agenda.

Because perseverance is a quality we greatly admire, it is tempting to grant that these men secured a miracle for their friend because they had the guts and determination to keep trying and not let a little thing like a roof keep them away from Christ.

But the perseverance of his friends did not earn the man a healing. You can’t earn that sort of thing, because Jesus is going to do what he is going to do in his own time and in his own way. But their perseverance did make it possible for the man to be in the presence of Jesus. And people who spend time with Jesus tend to find out what they most need.

The work of God happens in God’s way and in God’s time. Perseverance will not earn us a miracle, but it may give us a chance to be present in the moment when the plans of the Lord unfold in the mysterious timing of the Kingdom of Heaven.

An old African-American preacher once said, “Only after you have knocked at the door until your knuckles bleed and have still received no answer do you begin to understand what prayer is about.”

God doesn't reward bloody knuckles. But when the door of the Kingdom of Heaven is finally opened, those who are still on the doorstep, waiting and knocking, may find themselves witnesses to miracles of all sorts.

The prophet Isaiah said it this way: “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles. They shall run and not be tired. They shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31, TLB).

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