Jesus’ reputation was getting huge! He’d grown too large for the coffee shop scene and even the small venue circuit (Mark 1:45). He needed arenas for His teaching and healing times, but you don’t see many of those in first-century backwaters of the Roman Empire—especially not ones available to an itinerant Jewish teacher. Sometimes word got out that Jesus was in someone’s home. These unintentional public appearances always overflowed their spaces. People crowded into the main room, leaned in the windows, and blocked the doors—all just to get close to Jesus.
That’s the situation four friends found when they brought their paralyzed friend to Jesus.
The people of Capernaum had decided to claim Jesus as their own. Sure, he was from Nazareth, but they didn’t want him. And once he spoke in Capernaum’s synagogue, hung out on their beaches, healed many sicknesses and diseases, and picked a few locals to be his disciples, the people of Capernaum decided he could stay. Mark says, “The people heard that he had come home” (2:1).
Scholars think Jesus and his disciples may have stayed at Peter’s house whenever they were in Capernaum. Remember, Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law (Mark 1:30-31) shortly before today’s…incident, so I’m sure He was welcome there. This house would have had a flat roof with outdoor access via stairs. There was no air conditioning in those days, so they used the space for chores such as clothes-drying, but also as a place to catch a breeze in the evening. (We used to live in a place with flat roofs. I took the photo above from our roof.)
Four men heard Jesus was back, and they agreed among themselves that Jesus could heal their paralyzed friend. That’s all we know about the four men. We don’t even know their names.
We also know nothing about the paralyzed guy.
- What did he think of Jesus? Was he begging them to take him to Jesus? Was he reluctant? Embarrassed? Impatient?
- How did he become paralyzed? Was he born that way? Or was it the foolish act of an impulsive person? Was he injured in an accident or a fight? Did something happen in his brain?
- How long had he remained paralyzed? Were his injuries currently life-threatening?
- Where was his family?
Anyway, the friends needed to get the paralyzed man in front of Jesus. Seems like it was urgent. Maybe the guy was about to die, or his pain was so bad he couldn’t piece a sentence together. Otherwise, they could have simply waited until Jesus left Peter’s house later that day. They could have intercepted him along the road somewhere and pointed to their friend nearby. But no! This had to happen now.
Or maybe they were teenagers and simply didn’t think things through before they acted. Believe me, it happens!
One friend knew they couldn’t wait.
They arrived at this home only to find the crowd impenetrable. The door was completely blocked, and people were spilling into the yard…nay, into the street. They stopped. They looked around. They brainstormed for a minute. Maybe someone even suggested waiting until Jesus left the building or catching him tomorrow. But at least one friend knew they couldn’t wait. He suggested creating a hole in the roof.
A hole! In the roof! Of someone else’s house! Seriously?!?
As a homeowner, I am aghast. Granted, roofs are made differently now, but as soon as someone knocked a hole through my ceiling, I would be asking who planned to pay for the repairs and calling my insurance company. We have no information about this homeowner. If it was Peter, I bet he was incensed!
So the four friends shift the pallet to transport their paralyzed friend to the roof. They lay him to one side and start pulling or digging or banging. My NIV Study Bible notes on Mark 2:4 say, “The roof was often made of a thick layer of clay (packed with a stone roller), supported by mats of branches across wood beams.” But Luke says the friends had to remove tiles in this case (Luke 5:19). These could have been roof or ceiling tiles. Maybe they were ceramic.
Did no one down below notice what was happening? Was there no noise? No bits of falling clay or plaster to indicate something transpiring above? We don’t know. Maybe it all happened really fast.
One of the four friends was really good at spatial reasoning. They somehow located the hole so that, when lowered through it, their friend ended up right in front of Jesus. I’m impressed.
These four uninvited, untrained,
unsophisticated fellows decided Jesus
is worth destroying someone’s roof.
Jesus stopped teaching. I imagine he paused for a minute, looking at the paralyzed man then up at his friends with their heads sticking out over the hole above. I imagine he half-smiled and took a moment to enjoy the irony of the situation. You see, all sorts of religious officials from across the region were sitting around the walls of that room (Luke 5:17), and all of them were pushing back at everything Jesus said. They didn’t want faith. They didn’t want the answer Jesus represented. And then these four uninvited, untrained, unsophisticated (because what sophisticated person would dig through a roof?) fellows decided Jesus is worth destroying someone’s roof…that getting in front of him is the most important thing they can do, and that’s it worth whatever trouble they get into as a result.
In a millisecond, Jesus saw everything—including the faith it takes to carry your friend onto and through a roof.
When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” –Mark 2:5
Did Jesus see the faith of four men or five? I’ve always assumed it was the four and somehow, just this once, someone else’s faith was enough. But all three gospels say, “Jesus saw their faith” (Matthew 9:2, Mark 2:5, Luke 5:20) which could mean the five men involved. Even if the paralyzed man didn’t yet believe, there’s no way you have friends like his and don’t eventually see the truth in their faith!
The following exchange between Jesus and the religious leaders is very interesting, but our focus today in on the four friends. Eventually, Jesus healed the man’s physical body, saying,
“I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” –Mark 2:11
The man had to push his way through the crowd of people, carrying his mat, to get out of the house. And, as usual, everyone who saw it was amazed (Mark 2:12). (Every time Jesus heals a person who can’t walk, he tells the person to pick up his mat. Why is that? I may have to dig into this for a future blog post.)
I think the four friends met their newly-healed friend at the bottom of the outside stairs where they began a day-long celebration!
Jesus responds to simple faith.
I love this story because of the creativity—the ability to “think outside the box”—of the four friends. But I also love it because it demonstrates, once again, that Jesus responds to simple faith, that we don’t need complex religious systems or years of intense study before we can get in front of Jesus. We just need faith…and maybe a few good friends.
We don’t need complex religious systems or years of intense study before we can get in front of Jesus. We just need faith…and maybe a few good friends. Nameless: Four Friends on the Roof. Because my #faith is #NotAboutMe, via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)
What do you love about this story? What challenges you to deeper faith? Which person do you most identify with: the homeowner, the religious leader, one of the friends, or the paralyzed man? Share a little story of your own in the comments. We would love to hear from you!
Previously in the series: