Mary smiled as she watched the children settle down on the hilltop where she and Jesus had parted all those months before. In recent weeks the children had learned that she was the mother of the man whose fame was growing all over the region. Drawn by curiosity, encouraged by her warm welcome, they had begun to ask her questions, hungry for insights and stories about ‘the One’ their parents whispered about when the night-lamps were extinguished. Mary loved these moments, she saw the delight in innocent eyes as they listened awe-struck to her stories. The children looked up at her expectantly as she began her next story in the same voice she used when telling Jesus stories all those years ago.
Now boys and girls, today’s story is a very special story about how Jesus healed a man only a few weeks ago. As you know, Jesus heals many people, but this one was a bit different. This man couldn’t walk, couldn’t even talk and yet Jesus knew what he needed. Let’s see how it happened.
“So many people, so little time,” said Peter to himself. He was tired, they all were, and still more and more people came looking for Jesus. This one was blind, this one was deaf, and Jesus healed them. Then he went into a house for some food, and even there there was no rest. More and more people came into the house so that you could hardly move. Those who couldn’t fit stood outside listening carefully at the windows and doorways and quickly whispering to those further back what Jesus was saying. The owner of the house was Rueben, a good man, but now a worried man. With all these people crammed into his house he worried the walls might fall down, bring the roof clattering around them. His wife, Rebekah, was always giving out about the state of the house. It was old and in need of repair. “You wait and see,” she’d say, “Some day that roof is going to fall in.” But Rueben wasn’t very good at fixing things. He liked nothing better than sitting at the gateway into the village with the elders, listening to their stories and enjoying a good argument over something that was in the Scriptures. That was how he had first gotten to meet Jesus and his disciples when they had stopped on the way into the village and had begun talking to the men gathered there. It had not taken Rueben long to realise that this Jesus was very wise. It wasn’t just what he said, it was the way that he said it. Jesus seemed to know so much about God, he answered all their questions. It was getting near the hottest part of the day when the men and the elders went back to their homes to rest and eat. Rueben waited for one of the village elders to invite Jesus into their home, after all that was what you were meant to do when strangers came. But all the elders remained silent, some because they didn’t agree with some of Jesus’ answers, and others because they quickly realised there were so many listening to Jesus that they wouldn’t have enough to feed such a crowd. Rueben was embarrassed at their rudeness and spoke to Jesus, “Rabbi (teacher), my wife and I don’t have a lot, but what we have we would like to share with you and all your friends”. The smile Jesus gave him lifted his heart as he headed home to warn Rebekah that there was a huge number of guests on their way. He expected his wife to be cross but when he explained what the elders had done, she told him she was proud of him and that he was right to welcome the stranger. While Rueben ran out to welcome Jesus and the ever-growing crowd Rebekah ran around to ask some of her friends to come and help and to bring what food they had. There had never been a feast quite like it in their little village. Everyone got something and declared it was plenty, but now, as everyone sat or stood in whatever shade they could find, Rueben began to worry that his house would fall in. He squeezed his way out through the doorway and stood amazed at the numbers gathered outside. He didn’t notice a small earnest man trying to talk to him until he felt him tugging on his sleeve. “Excuse me sir, is he here? Is Jesus really here?” “Yes my friend, he’s in there, at the back, but I’m afraid there’s no more room for anyone else to go in.” The little man looked crestfallen (sad). “But sir, we must go in, we must see him. It’s not for us, no it’s for my friend Jacob here.” It was only then that Rueben noticed the sick man lying in a blanket that was being held at each corner by one of his friends. I’m really sorry, but it isn’t safe, if you go into the house I’m afraid the walls will fall out and the roof will fall in.” Jacob spoke up, “It’s okay my friends, you tried, don’t trouble this man any more, and don’t trouble Jesus, I’m not worth it.”
His four friends looked at each other and then at Jacob. “If you think we’ve carried you all this way, only to turn back now when we’re so close, you’ve got another thing coming to you,” said the small man, then he looked craftily at Rueben, “The roof will fall in eh? Well maybe it might!” And before Rueben realised what was happening, the four friends carried Jacob up the outer steps of the house and onto the roof. None of those who were crowded around the house to hear Jesus had dared to go onto the roof, given its bad repair, but Jacob’s four friends lifted him onto the creaking beams and to Rueben’s amazement began to take the roof apart. Poor Rebekah didn’t know what was happening, the first thing she knew was the dust falling onto her hair and clothing, then she saw dust on Jesus as well, and now larger pieces of the roof as, bit by bit, a huge hole appeared above them. Before she could say anything the four friends started lowering Jacob through the roof, those inside the house started helping them when the friends’ arms couldn’t reach all the way. Jesus looked up laughing loudly, “How can we help you my friends?” “Master, our friend has been ill for many years, we want you to heal him.” Jesus looked closely at Jacob, “Get up my friend. Walk! The faith of your friends is a blessing to you, your sins are forgiven you.”
To huge reaction from the crowded household, Jacob began squirming in the stretched out blanket, those holding him let the stretched blanket go, and out fell Jacob, a gasp of horror coming from every watching mouth, but then, just as his broken body must surely hit the hard ground, he turned mid-air and landed on healed and strengthened legs. An awe-filled hush fell upon the household as everyone took in the significance of what had just happened. Jacob ran to Jesus and hugged him and then jumped up into the arms of his wonderful friends, who were laughing too, with tears flowing down their faces. Rueben took it all in and was amazed, and believed with all his heart that God himself had just visited his house. As the crowd thinned and people ran to tell others what had happened, others crowded around Jesus looking angry. They were the very elders who had been so rude to Jesus earlier. He looked at them and even though they hadn’t voiced their anger, he knew immediately what they were thinking. “Your hearts are fixed in the wrong place my friends, you take offence that I dared to forgive Jacob his sins not realising that I didn’t just heal his broken body, I also healed his soul. Surely it’s easier to forgive than heal a broken body, and yet I will show you that my power is God’s power, Jacob, come back here, take up your mat and go home.”
Rueben and Rebekah had watched this exchange take place with open mouths. What was wrong with the elders, why couldn’t they be happy that Jacob could walk again, why couldn’t they see that God, who had healed his body, surely had power to forgive his sins as well? The elders left, grumbling loudly. As Rueben and Rebekah looked up at the hole in the roof Jesus put his arms around them, “Don’t worry my friends, we will help you rebuild your house. Did you know that I am a carpenter?”