Today’s podcast meditation comes from the three accounts of the friends lowering the paralytic through the roof to Jesus to receive his healing:
Matt 9:2-8/Mark 2:1-12/Luke 5:17-26
Imagine being that paralytic—he never goes anywhere, he just lies at home all day and friends take care of him. He’s clearly either got a big family or is very well loved, because otherwise he wouldn’t have so many people to drop what they’re doing, band together, and take him to Jesus. And they really go to a lot of trouble too—they try to get him through, but the crowds are spilling out of the house where Jesus is teaching and into the streets! And here they have this bulky stretcher, and nobody will let them through. So these enterprising four friends think, we’ve come this far, and our friend/brother WILL get his healing today. So they climb on the roof, and probably hoist up his mat on a pulley system. How hard must that have been? How long did it take them to get him up there?
And whose idea was cutting a hole in the roof anyway? Did they even think of how angry the home owner would be? Probably not; they were laser-focused on getting their friend to Jesus. Once they cut the hole, they all collectively had to lower him by ropes when they saw where Jesus was teaching. The audacity! But would Jesus be mad? If they thought this was a possibility, they didn’t care. They really loved this friend.
And what of the friend himself? He must have had some really good qualities to inspire such loyalty in those around him, so maybe he was one of those people who bears adversity with a smile, or finds a way to see the good and the things to be grateful for. We at least know that he had faith to be healed when he heard about Jesus. Was it his idea or theirs to go to all this trouble to get him to Jesus? Either way, he was definitely on board, because “Jesus saw their faith,” which includes his. I imagine he heard rumors about this young man—much younger than the teachers of the law, only early thirties—who was stirring up the leaders. They all hated him, but the people flocked to him wherever he went, because not only did he teach with authority unlike the Pharisees and Sadducees, but he backed up what he said with power! Typically he heals ALL the sick, the lame, the maimed, the blind, and the dumb who come to him! Can you imagine?
The paralytic heard all this, and it stirred a spark of hope in him. Can it be true? Well it has to be, doesn’t it? He’d heard the story from so many different people. Can ALL those people be wrong?
Clearly he can’t travel anywhere, but he just happens to live in Capernaum, the headquarters for most of Jesus’ ministry. So he had only to wait until Jesus came back. The problem is, because this is the headquarters for his ministry, EVERYBODY flocks to him. Even though his friends volunteer to take him to Jesus, they can’t even get close. It would be one thing if the paralytic could push through the crowd himself, but he can’t ask his friends to do all that for him. His heart sinks. His healing is right there, inside that house, and he can’t even get there…
But wait! His friends confer amongst themselves. They’re going to… what? Seriously? One of them turns to him and says, pointing at the roof and a length of rope he’s procured, “You okay with that?”
The paralytic blinks. “Y-yes!” he stammers. “Let’s do it!” Hope returns. He’s wondering what on earth they plan to do when they get to the roof, but he’s distracted by the discomfort and occasional pain of the uneven hoisting process. One leg gets trapped, one shoulder yanked, the mat swings and hits the side of the house, smashing his ear into his head. At one point the mat tips and nearly drops him all the way back to the ground! But they succeed in the end. And then he sees—
“You’re cutting a hole in the roof?” the paralytic laughs. His friend looks up at him mischievously and says, “Today’s your day, my friend. YOU are GETTING to see Jesus.”
They saw. And saw. Chunks of the ceiling surely rain down on the crowd beneath during the process, so they have to know exactly what’s happening long before they see the culprits. They have to pull away sections at a time, so before the hole is big enough to lower him, the paralytic can look down and see the crowd with white dust in their hair, the scowling home owner, and… Jesus. He’s smiling! He actually looks amused! The paralytic meets his eyes, and can’t look away, until his friends have to position him for the descent.
“Okay, ready?” One friend, the ringleader, cries to the others. “One, two, three!”
With coordinated efforts, they lower him down in a much more synchronized fashion than that by which they’d raised him to the roof in the first place. Within seconds, the paralytic is looking up into the face of Jesus. He’d know him anywhere, even though he’s never seen him before and didn’t previously know what he looked like. Objectively he looks like a normal man, but there is something about him. How can the paralytic know all this at first glance? But he does. It’s peace, confidence, authority, power… something he can’t quite put his finger on. But it’s compelling. Jesus looks up to the friends on the roof and smiles at them too—beaming his approval. At last, he looks at the paralytic, and speaks.
“Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.”
So many things about that statement ought to seem strange, but don’t. “Son,” first of all — this man speaks as if he’s one of the elders, but he can’t be much older than the paralytic’s own age. Second, his sins are forgiven? The paralytic hears the ripples of unrest among the crowd nearest him, who heard this. Jesus spoke the words with such quiet confidence, that the paralytic has no doubt he’s able to remit sins. But if that’s true, then doesn’t that make him…
“…blasphemy!” he overhears in whispers from some of the teachers of the law and the scribes nearest him.
Jesus turns to them, and his previously approving and cheerful expression turns to stone. “Why do you think evil in your hearts?” he demands of the scribes. The paralytic’s heart races at the confrontation. “For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say ‘Rise and walk’?” He lets this question hang in the air, as if waiting for an answer. Nobody does answer, though—he seems to speak in riddles. Jesus goes on, still in a booming tone to the crowd, “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins—“ he turns back to the paralytic, “Rise, pick up your bed and go home.”
It takes a moment for the paralytic to register this. But when he does, there’s no hesitation: this was what he was waiting for. He’d expected more of a demonstration than this: a touch of healing, perhaps. But he has no doubt that this man’s word carries all the authority he needs. He leaps up to his feet, and as he does so, his bones and joints straighten out and become strong! The gasps ripple throughout the crowd, and a few—not the scribes and teachers—start to clap and cheer. Then he realizes that the cheers are coming from his friends on the roof—they had expected this all along. One sticks his fingers in his mouth and whistles. But the paralytic hardly notices. Tears stream down his face, and he laughs and cries for joy. He wants to hug Jesus, but that seems wildly inappropriate—especially since Jesus’s attention is now focused on the scribes and teachers. He stares them down like a challenge. So instead, the paralytic—former paralytic!—does as he was bid: he picks up the mat upon which he’d lay for decades, tucks it under his now strong and well-formed arm, holds his head up high, and marches right through the thick crowds that had blocked his entrance. They part for him in astonishment, and even fear. Most of them had known him all his life. They knew what kind of miracle had just taken place.
What’s more, before he’d done it, Jesus had forgiven his sins. They all knew what this meant. He was proclaiming himself to be God.
As for the former paralytic, he doesn’t doubt it for a second.