The Paralytic and His Friends
“The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints." -Tim Keller
This week a friend read a devotional in class using the story of the paralytic who was brought to Jesus through a hole in the roof by his friends. It’s a story that’s familiar to all of us and we typically derive the standard meaning that ‘friends bring friends to Jesus’ sometimes (which is totally true…and I’ll get to that...)
But after she read the story out loud, she asked us to reflect silently on what stood out, maybe something God was trying to teach us. This is always difficult with the passages you’ve heard a thousand times right? But it is also a good practice to get in the mindset that God’s word will always be teaching us things we haven’t realized yet.
What stood out this time was a question Jesus asked. After saying to the man that his sins were forgiven - the pharisees start to get upset because, in their view, Jesus has just blasphemed since only God can forgive sins...Jesus asks this simple question: “Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’?”
In my heart I could feel myself sheepishly answer: “...to say ‘your sins are forgiven’....”
I know this answer is incorrect, but I believe it more days than not. I look at my sins and run to the closest grace I can find, asking for forgiveness, reminding myself that Jesus just said to ‘come’ and then I’m off on my way. There are times when I feel as if I’m saying to myself ‘that didn’t feel so difficult....’
But if I break my spine and am paralyzed, I can’t really make myself walk. I can’t ask someone to make me walk and have them tell me “ok, walk.” This feels way more difficult because it feels more out of my control. Asking for my sins to be forgiven has an illusion of control - “If Jesus just told me to come to him and ask, then I’ll do it and we’re all good!”
How cheap and small is my view of grace?
I was humbled listening to this passage read a second time, wondering how this man’s friends must have felt when Jesus said “Your sins are forgiven”...Did they quickly turn to each other all thinking “That’s not why we brought him here…!”
How many times am I sitting with friends at the feet of Jesus begging for something - all of us having spent time scheming in our minds and hearts on how we can ask in just the right way for Jesus to hear us? How often do I think of myself as the friend holding the stretcher rather than the one lying on it in desperate need of healing? And how often do I think that healing is only “outward” or “physical” not seeing that my heart is dead on the inside?
His friends were an integral part of his healing, don’t miss that. While we may think that medicine has allowed us to heal our bodies in isolation, we absolutely cannot heal our spirits without those around us. The disconnections we endure silently are keeping us from being lowered through the roof. Our pride at insisting nothing is wrong is keeping us from being put on the stretcher and brought to Jesus.
We have to prepare each other in our communities to deal with the disgusting reality that our hearts are way worse than we pretend, and we are in way more need for the impossible task of having those sins forgiven by Jesus. This can only happen if we are willing to let our friends carry us on the mat, and if we are the kinds of friends that will dig a hole in a roof to get each other closer - even if we have no idea what healing we’re really asking for.
How can we look to be a part of each other’s healing at a heart level this week?