Grace to you and peace from God our Father and His Son our Lord Jesus Christ.
It’s no wonder movies have been made from Bible stories. There’s much drama in these films. Often the stories really invite us to be present in the action, like the Gospel reading today. We stand in the press of the crowd trying to get as close as possible to Jesus in that house in Capernaum. In a short time, Jesus developed a reputation as a healers and teacher. Local people, like Peter’s mother-in-law, had been made well, and also others, and the news circulated quickly to the surrounding countryside.
Imagine the desperate friends of a paralyzed man who could not find any way to reach Jesus? Perhaps they asked others to let them in, but that didn’t work. So, they climb up onto the roof of the house and dig through the roof to push tiles aside. It almost seems like vandalism. But these friends are desperate to get the paralyzed man right to Jesus, so that he can be made well.
Jesus notices the man in the midst of his teaching the people. He especially notes the courage, the daring, and the faith of his friends peering down through the hole in the roof, watching Jesus to see what he will do. They expect Jesus to speak a healing word and touch their friend. Well, Jesus surprises everyone by saying; “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
Apparently, there were many healers at that time, but none claimed to forgive sins. Jesus taught through word and action. He taught God will do a new thing here, getting at the core of what ails people, addressing people’s deepest needs, by God giving people a new heart. The physical healing was a sign of that intention; “So that you may know that the Son of Man (Jesus) has authority on earth to forgive sins,” ’Jesus said to the paralyzed man, ‘Get up, pick up your stretcher, and go home.’” Imagine that scene when the man does just that, for someone who has probably been paralyzed all his life? Can you imagine the look on people’s faces, including Jesus’ opponents? There are people with open mouths who make room for the one who heals, and there is much praising of God.
This story was once read to a woman in hospital who had recently found out cancer had spread quickly through her body. She told a chaplain; “I’m the one on the stretcher.” She felt paralyzed by the news she had received, as well as how low she felt physically. Maybe you can see yourself on the stretcher in the story. Or you could have felt this way in times past, when you were paralyzed, trapped or stuck in some way. Fears paralyzes people. It’s normal to have fears, especially, as we are caught in this strange time. We have seen today the growing reach of the coronavirus into our state and country and world and the fear it creates. Grief can paralyze. So can pain. It can hurt our relationships. The paralyzed man suffered from shame and a sense of powerlessness.
In those days there were no modern inventions, like scooters, for him to control his getting around. He had to wait on others to help him. He had to beg for money. That was the lot of the paralyzed. And then there was the judgment. The belief then was that someone must have seriously sinned for him or her to be disabled. If from birth, it was the parents who had sinned.
If someone became paralyzed, then she or he must have greatly offended God in some way. Suffering from the judgment of others can be paralyzing. People often say that when they feel paralyzed and find it hard to pray, hard to ask God for help. The woman with cancer felt that way and was greatly comforted by knowing that family members overseas were praying for her, were taking her to Jesus, and laying her at his feet, like the friends of the paralyzed man.
In the story, Jesus was moved by the daring, the courage, the persistence of the four friends, and any others who helped get the paralyzed man to Jesus for help. The reading mentions that Jesus saw their faith. It doesn’t mention the faith of the paralyzed man. This story is a great encouragement to be bold, to persist in bringing people to Jesus. Who are you bringing on the stretcher to Jesus? Who would you like to bring.
This story helps us understand the full and deep healing Jesus brings to people who need to know that they are forgiven and fully accepted by God. They are a daughter, a son of God. Jesus is saying, “You are not on the outer.” You are not rejected because of your physical condition, or any other reason. You may feel like you are defective in different ways.
Jesus declares that you are a whole person. The caring friends in the story were looking for physical healing first and foremost, for the one they were concerned about. He received that, and much more, as a sign of God’s kingdom breaking in through Jesus. This healing was, like all the others, pointing forward to Jesus’ death and resurrection, his leading the way through the darkness of death, his making everything new.
Sometimes close friends, family members, know their loved one’s needs or condition even more than the person himself or herself does and they have come to have a better idea where some healing may be found. They may be aware that the one they are bringing to Jesus someone who has a paralyzing addiction or chooses destructive behavior. The person themselves may be in denial of their problem and try to hide it.
Deeper healing goes beyond being a co-dependent, beyond helping to keep the person paralyzed. It means bringing the person to seek help. That takes courage, daring, and faith. Some roof tiles may need to be removed, in that quest. We may need to be the friend who takes action. Think about our pantry and clothing closet, as a way are a freind to those in need in our community. Or reflect on those in our congregation who have assisted those who have been infected by the coronavirus.
Jesus works healing through many earthly agents; counselors, nurses, doctors, various health professionals, through support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, and grief groups. A sign of God’s grace is that God works through Christians and non-Christians alike. God can work his miracle through you and me. May we bring those in need to the healing power of Jesus Christ. Amen
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.