It’s Hard to Ask for Help

“He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”   Mark 2: 1-12

It is hard to ask for help!   And sometimes we just have to step up and offer to help someone.  It is often hard to know just what we should do.

Here is a problem for you to solve.

You’re driving along in your car on a wild and stormy night. You pass by a bus stop, and you see three people waiting for the bus:

  1. An older woman who looks as if she is about to die;
  2. Your best friend who once saved your life, and
  3. The perfect woman/man you have been dreaming about your whole life.

There can only be one passenger in your car, and you can’t return to the bus stop once you have left it.  Which one would you choose to offer a ride?
Think about this for a minute.  This is a moral/ethical dilemma that was once used on an employment questionnaire.

You could pick up the older woman, because she is going to die, and thus you should save her first; or

You could pick your best friend because he once saved your life, and this would be the perfect chance to pay him back.

However, you may never be able to find your perfect dream “lover” again.

The candidate who was hired (out of 200 applicants) had no trouble coming up with his answer. So, what did he say? He said:

“I would give the car keys to my old friend and let him take the older woman to the hospital. I would stay behind and wait for the bus with the woman of my dreams.”

We all have difficulty from time to time asking for help and figuring out how it is best for us to help each other.  Social activist Dorothy Day once said:

“We reach out to help others as a statement of our own need for help.  We are all beggars and sinners.  We are all in more jeopardy than we dare acknowledge.  When I offer bread to the hungry, I am feeding my own soul’s hunger … When I offer someone a place to stay; I am reminding myself how homeless we all are …”

We all have known people who have spent their whole lives reaching out and helping others, but when they need help they find it difficult to ask.

Meg and I have some very good friends, Kent and Carolyn, who recently within a matter of weeks, found out that they both have cancer.  As a minister and his wife, they both have spent their entire lives helping others, and now they are the ones who need help.  At first they found it difficult to be on the receiving end, but now they realize it’s OK, and they are experiencing God’s love as never before through the actions of so many people.

Whatever the reason that we might have for our unwillingness “to ask for help,” whether it is because we have dedicated our life to helping others, or our fierce sense of pride, or the human tendency to refuse help because it might be perceived as a sign of weakness, we need to understand how important it is for us to ask for help.

There is a time to help and a time to ask and accept help from others.

In our gospel lesson today, we read of the friends who take matters into their own hands to help their afflicted friend on the pallet.  Mark describes this incident, where friends go to extraordinary lengths to get help for a friend; they risk failure and embarrassment, and in our day they would have surely risked a possible lawsuit.

The passage opens saying that Jesus was “at home” in Capernaum, suggesting that he was either at his house or that of a close friend.  Word gets out that he’s back in town and people begin to congregate at his house; they want to hear what he has to say and just be in his presence, the closer the better.  Suddenly, the house is full of people, there were so many that “there was no longer room for them, not even outside the front door” (v. 2).

Standing on the fringes of the crowd were some men who had brought with them a “paralyzed man” (v. 3), carrying him on some sort of mat or stretcher.  We don’t know anything else about these men, other than that they were there to get their paralyzed friend in front of Jesus so that he might be healed.

Because the crowd was overflowing, the rescuers devised a creative plan. They decided that they would get their friend up on the roof, which had to be a task in and of itself; and they would then dig a hole through that flat roof, and then lower their friend down so that he would be right in front of Jesus. They did this regardless of the danger, the embarrassment, or the perception of the others all around them. Think about it, this could not have been easy for this man. We don’t know if he asked to be taken to Jesus, or if his friends just told him that this was what they were going to do.

Imagine what it must have been like for this helpless paralyzed man?

“You’re taking me up on the roof?  How are you going to do that?  No thanks, this is not a good idea.  Let’s wait for the crowds to disperse.”

“Well, now that we are up here, what are you planning to do?  You’re what?  You’re cutting a hole in the roof and the plan is to lower me down through the hole to where Jesus is?  Are you guy’s crazy?  Can’t we just wait for the crowd to disperse?”

There are no refusals; there is only a sense of purpose and only a true sense of the power of Jesus, that is, the certain knowledge that once in the presence of Jesus, this man would be lifted up, he would be released from his trapped condition, he would be made whole.

The paralyzed man accepted the help of his friends; if he had refused their help, it would have been impossible for his friends to use their spiritual and intellectual gifts.

When we are unwilling to ask for help, when we are unwilling to accept help, not only is the outcome bad for us, we also compound the tragedy by destroying a divine and sacred moment in which others have an opportunity to exercise their gifts of ministry.

What happened?  Jesus looked at the paralyzed man at his feet; he looked up at the hole in the roof; he saw the anxious faces of his friends staring down and he said:  “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

Now, Jesus might simply be forgiving the man and his friends for trashing his house, but more likely, Jesus recognizes the desperation in this rescue mission, the deeper needs of the man on the mat, and the real need for help represented by all the people gathered in the house.

For Jesus, that help was not merely a quick fix but rather a basic approach to the human crisis and the human condition.  For Jesus, the real enemy was the systemic disease of sin.  In a culture where there was a deep belief in the connection between body and spirit, Jesus sought to rescue and repair the whole person — the basic rescue technique being the application of forgiveness, a lifeline of grace tossed to those drowning in a sea of sin and self-centeredness.  It is real help freely offered.

Even in Jesus’ day, the refusal to ask for help was alive and well. The “scribes” who were observing all this made it clear that this was not the proper kind of help to offer.  Only God could forgive sins, they protested, God as mediated through their religious system.  In their view, any help or healing that people could receive had to be first regulated, ritualized, and righteously authorized.

It’s no secret that grace, forgiveness, and help is offensive to a lot of folks, particularly to those who believe that they are self-sufficient.  Somehow, we believe that we have the internal “technology” to solve just about any problem, physical, emotional or spiritual.  Ask for help?  No, I don’t need to ask for help, I got it covered, I can handle this myself.

Pride is what keeps us from asking for help, what keeps our friends and neighbors from asking for help, and it keeps people from reaching out to God.  That pride ultimately sinks us when we fail, when we hit rock bottom, and find ourselves desperate for help.  The truth is that help is always on the way.  All we have to do is ask.

The writer of First John puts it this way:

“If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

To put it another way, asking for and accepting help is the first step toward our own healing, and a real indication of spiritual strength.

The paralytic’s friends weren’t afraid to ask for help.  Jesus wasn’t afraid to give it despite the protests of his countrymen.  Pride went down and through the hole on that roof.  As a result, the man on the mat, experienced a real healing of body and spirit; he walked out of the house through the front door and began a whole new way of life.

What do you need help with, even if it’s an embarrassing sin or struggle?  How is pride keeping you from getting the help you need?  And, whom do you know who needs someone like you to dig deeper in getting them the help that they need?

It is hard for us to ask for help!   And sometimes we will just have to step up and offer to help others, even if they are not sure they want our help.  Because when we take that risk, wonderful and glorious things can happen.

Jesus said to the man, I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.”  

He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying,

“We have never seen anything like this!”