Take Your Mat and Go Home

Matthew 9:1-8 was the NT reading from my common prayer today and I spent some meaningful time in the story. It is one of my favorite in the Gospels, its parallel is in Mark 2, as well.

Jesus arrives “home” (which is Capernaum, according to Mark 2:1) where he is encounters a paralyzed man, carried by some friends. Jesus heals the paralyzed man in the name of “your sins are forgiven.” (v.2)

Some of the “scorekeepers” do not like Jesus’ assumption that he could forgive sins and so, after a short interchange between them, Jesus turns back to the paralyzed man and tells him to “take up his mat and go home.” (v.6)

The man was healed, he went home, and the crowd marveled at the event.

Theological issues and categories abound in this passage. Leaving those to the side for a bit, I focused upon this command of Jesus to “go home.”

It was common for individuals with aliments to have to leave their homes in Jesus’ culture. We see it in other parts of the Gospels, there was a profound obsession with the idea of sins and impairments being linked together in a mysterious whole. That perhaps sickness or infirmity were material consequences of sin. Communities have always been about finding ways to remove people they think are problems, right?

In many cases, Jews were asked to leave the community when sick and, only after the priest inspected and approved their “recovery” could they re-enter the community, to return home. The aliment’s absence was “cure” and the re-entry to community was “healing.” Perhaps this is why Jesus is so obsessed with the woman with the issue of bleeding in Mark 5 identifying herself and calling her “daughter.” Not only was her issue “cured” but her status with her community is “healed.”

The apparent link that Jesus makes between sins and healing in this passage set off such a radical display of God’s power. Jesus is not a priest and this healing was in the countryside, not in Jerusalem. No wonder the religious leaders were angry and the crowds amazed. Jesus was breaking out holiness in the frontier and that was good news.

The idea of “home” is vital for us as much as it was for the paralyzed man. Home is a place of identity, hope, and community. All of us need a home. Home is a theme for conversion in John’s Gospel. One of the elements of conversion that Scot McKnight mentions is the “socialization of salvation” finding our place among the people of God.

That is my prayer for all of us. That our trust in the faithfulness of Jesus resembles home, that Christianity doesn’t become neither a new bag full of anxieties, nor a way to prove that we are more excellent than others. Because, that sure doesn’t feel like home, to me.

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