My mind, my thoughts, my heart has been drawn again to the many that I know or have known who battle the painful paralysis that depression inflicts. I attended a memorial service for a young man whose life was ended by suicide. I have watched another young man as he struggles with the dark cloud that stirs anger and drives a wedge between himself and those he loves. I have talked with my son who seeks to find a new means of relief from the body of death that he has carried for years. I have felt tears come to my eyes as my husband and I talk about the surety that his brother's cancer will take his life. I ask my husband, "Who are you talking to about this?" I ask who is pastoring him. And I remember the times when I too felt the blinding pain of depression.
As I have found myself dancing a slow dance with anxiousness, wanting to experience a healing miracle for all, I remember what God has taught me through the life of his Son.
In this lesson that follows, that I wrote for a group of middle schoolers, I see myself and my husband as the friends. We are desperate for these we love to be healed. We work hard to find solutions and we pray even harder for miracles. It is appropriate and acceptable that we do so. But, I remember that there is that which is even more important. Though it seems that Jesus is not focused on our greatest need, I am reminded that His ways are not mine and and so, I consciously practice yielding to His loving, compassionate forgiveness. I choose to believe it is what is more important.
from Luke 5:17-26
There was a paralyzed man who was being carried on a stretcher by his devoted friends through town. They were determined to get to see the man named Jesus. Jesus was in Capernaum, a city on the northeast shore of the Sea of Galilee. This was early in Jesus’ ministry, but already he was famous. The crowds would come from every town and village to hear him preach but more so to watch Him heal and to be healed. He was the most popular and unpopular public figure in the country. He was the rock star of the first century. He preached with authority. He stirred up the crowd with his new way of looking at the world. People would follow him for miles and for days. He was the healer of every kind of disease, the one who cast out demons, and the one who raised the dead. On this day the crowd that gathered was so large that the house where Jesus was teaching was jam-packed. There was standing room only, a true fire hazard.
There was tension in the room. The Pharisees and the Scribes had traveled from far and wide and were there in full force. These men were strong in their allegiance to the study of the Word. They were sure they knew what was right and were ready to catch Jesus in the errors of His teaching. For them, it was all about getting it right at all cost. Their defense of what them deemed right was often more important than people. But, Jesus had a way of taking the ancient teachings and turning them inside out and upside down. He was a threat to established religion. He never seemed to answer your questions the way you wanted. He had a way of turning them back on you. He was really hard to pin down. He was like no man they’d ever confronted and he was stirring the common folks. These men felt pressed to get things under control.
Into this setting came these men carrying their friend on the stretcher. They were on a mission. They were determined to get their friend to the feet of Jesus, believing that if they could that Jesus would heal him. Getting this friend on his feet was their goal. They were a force to be reckoned with. Their focused passion would not be satisfied by standing on the outside looking in. They didn’t give up when they arrived to find the crowd impenetrable. The house had a flat roof with an outside staircase. They quickly took that route. They were driven by the vision of their friend walking out of that house. They thought they knew what was best. They thought they knew what would make their friend whole. What came next was not what they expected.
They dug away at the roof’s structure. They lowered the whole stretcher, with the man on it, through the hole (now talk about stopping the flow of a lecture). With the man at Jesus’ feet, they waited expectantly for the Healer to reach out and touch their friend and empower him to stand and walk. How shocked…maybe even angered they were when they heard these words “Your sins are forgiven.”
Try to imagine this. The men had risked their status in the community to get for their friend what they thought was the best thing…a whole, healthy body. What an amazing act of devotion. But, what do they hear from the man they believed could and should heal. Imagine the disappointed thoughts and words perhaps spoken by the man on the stretcher: “Ah, Jesus, sir, maybe you don’t understand…With all due respect, I’m sure you are not blind…but, maybe you didn’t notice, maybe you are distracted…ah, I'm not able to walk, you see…I came to be healed. What’s this about my sins? I don’t understand. I’m a good person. I’m a family man. I’m faithful. I didn’t do anything wrong.” What he didn’t understand was that sin in its most basic definition is not about what we do but is about who we are. Sin is what must be addressed first and foremost.
Jesus never let’s us settle for what is less than His best. He always wants to take us to the most basic level…to the very origin of the problem. He won’t leave us satisfied to remain on the surface. Here, it is not the man’s body that was most important. It was not the goal of healing his body that was most important…though He would get to that. No, Jesus was going to show them all what was really important. They all needed to understand what was most important. Forgiveness of our sins is our most basic need.
Like all stories we find multiple layers under this primary theme. Jesus always spoke pointedly regarding his primary focus, but always took advantage of a given situation to impact the lives of everyone on stage.
In this story, we see a multifaceted drama of fellowship taking place:
- the fellowship of the men who desperately loved their friend. Jesus was not oblivious to the loving efforts of the friends….no; he recognized the value of loving one another. In fact, much of the His teaching was on this very topic.
- the paralyzed man, dependent on his friends and who desperately wanted to be whole. Jesus did care deeply about the man’s paralyzed body…in fact if we continue in the story we see that Jesus does heal the man, who picks up his mat and walks away.
- the fellowship of teachers of the law who desperately loved their religion. It is not that Jesus was unaware of his conflict with the teachers of the law or the need to teach them the truth, in fact throughout the gospels we hear him teaching in the synagogues
- Jesus, who desperately loved them all enough, set up HIS kingdom where the forgiveness of sins is the foundation on which all the wants and perceived needs of men find their realization…though maybe in a different way than man might think.
The reality is that Jesus knew that everyone in this crowd needed to hear: “Your sins are forgiven.” Without the forgiveness of sin there can be no fellowship in His Kingdom.This is what sets the fellowship of Christians apart from the fellowship of friends, the fellowship of the “religious” community, or the fellowship of the members of a society, a company, a team, a class, or a club. The friends of this man forgiven by Jesus were devoted. No doubt they loved him as family. The teachers of the law were devoted. They thought they knew what the best was. They were passionate and zealous. All of them hoped that Jesus would be the answer they perceived was needed and therefore they were seeking. What they didn’t know was that He was THE answer and offered more than they could understand. What none of them could understand was that their need went beyond the healing of the body or discovering the “right” teaching. More than anything else, they all needed their sins to be forgiven. And Jesus had the authority to do just that and in fact did just that, even before we knew to ask.
It is the work of Christ in His authority to forgive sins that this or any crowd of opposing and diverse people can be united in fellowship.
Jesus knew that the man needed forgiveness more than he needed his body healed and gave forgiveness freely before the man understood.
God so loved the world that He gave his son. God had a plan and put it in motion. His plan was to send Jesus. Jesus would pay the price and set us free from our paralysis due to sin even when we weren’t aware that we needed him.