January 30, 2022
SCRIPTURE READING: Luke 5:17-26
This is the 4th week in the series: “Encounters” where we are considering the encounters Jesus had in the Book of Luke. Last week, it was the call of Peter and the amazing catch of fish and Jesus’ invitation to come out into the “Deep Waters” where he would fish for people and not fish.
This week’s story – just a few verses later, but you can tell by the wording that the book of Luke isn’t meant to be chronological. Look at how it starts: ”One day, Jesus was teaching…” Luke is selecting the next story out of the life of Jesus that will fit most closely. Luke’s purpose of presenting Jesus as one who has come to free those who are bound and show God to us.
You can tell, even in only the 5th chapter of Luke, that Jesus was under scrutiny from the religious leaders in the Synagogue: “the Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there.” Usually they are not there to lend support but to find fault.
In this incident, Jesus was in a house and the crowd had packed the place. He had begun to teach and importantly, “The power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal the sick.” So, it was a perfect time for 4 men to each grab a corner of a mat on which their friend lay. The friend was paralyzed. We don’t know any more about his condition than this. They tried everything they knew to get into the house – no luck. Nobody was giving an inch to let them in. Sometimes it is like that! The people closest to Jesus fail to make room for those seekers who want to join the Beloved Community but can’t seem to find a way in! So sad!
It’s worth noticing here and this may be the only time that a group of people formed a team to get someone into Jesus’ presence for healing! Paralyzed people (and I’m sure you know a few) by the very nature of their illness, need the help of all of us. And, I’m not talking here about a paralysis that is a medical diagnosis. I’m talking about something far more widespread but no less debilitating. There is also a spiritual paralysis that keeps us from being and doing all we have been called to be and do.
You see, paralysis is a condition in which a person is immobilized, incapacitated or debilitated. Stuck. It is a soul disease that renders us helpless.
I want to tell you what I think are 3 of the big causes of spiritual paralysis among those who say they are following Jesus.
- “I can’t” The resources are not in me. I am not capable. Sometimes, of course this attitude is literal and real. For example, I can’t slam dunk a basketball. That’s a reality. But there are other times when we too quickly conclude we are helpless when, indeed, we are facing an opportunity which requires deep faith and trust not in our own strength, but in the strength of God.
- “I’m afraid” Sometimes the fear is obvious and accessible. Sometimes it is buried, disguised, covered so that the paralyzed person does not recognize it and may well deny it. We men are especially apt to deny that fear plays a part in our paralysis because the culture expects us to be strong and independent.
- “It’s your fault” How often we go right to blame. If I can’t name my fears, I will blame you for them. You are the reason I can’t. It is frankly so much easier to look around for someone to blame than it is to take an honest look inside to discover what has us in its grip. We say things like: “If you hadn’t done that, I could do this” when the truth is, we are just using another person’s failure to excuse our own.
How much of the work of the kingdom of Jesus is never done because the workers have a serious case of paralysis? How many churches are stagnant and suffering because too many of its population is paralyzed and in need of healing?
The issue at stake here (and in the church where people are gathered to experience the power of Jesus) is this: CAN PEOPLE FIND THE HEALING THEY NEED IN THIS PLACE? How do we play our part so that can happen?
Good for those 4 men who saw the predicament of their friend and grabbed a corner of the mat and headed for the house where Jesus was! And when one way was blocked, they were not deterred.
Suddenly the crowd inside the house begins to feel particles of construction materials and accumulated dirt and dust on their heads. There is a strange breeze on their shoulders! Everyone looks up to find one broken, paralyzed man on his way to health! (Of course, the Trustees were a little annoyed!)
Now while the collected congregation is too shocked to speak, the text says: “Jesus saw THEIR faith!” Whose faith? Not the faith of the paralyzed man, but the faith of his 4 buddies! And then (this will blow your mind) he looks into the eyes of the poor man on the cot who can’t move and says: “Friend, your SINS are forgiven!” Who was asking to have sins forgiven, anyway? What sins?
The sins of “I can’t!” – “I’m afraid!” – and “You’re to blame!” The sin of looking everywhere for the problem of paralysis OTHER THAN within! Until you are willing to look within first, you will not know healing! The answer is so seldom out there where I, as a paralyzed person, cannot change a thing, but it is IN HERE where the heart is. “Change my heart, O God.” Or there is that old song: “It’s not my mother or my father, but it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.”
Of course, everyone was aghast! NOT AT THE TRUTH of what Jesus spoke, but inside they were muttering to themselves that Jesus was tampering with their pet belief system: “How dare he claim to forgive sins? Only God does that?”
So, then, you know what he did: Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? 23 Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? 24 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” 25 Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God. 26 Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, “We have seen remarkable things today.”
Now, here is the proof of the pudding! Here is the evidence that God is in our midst! Here is the evidence that the Holy Spirit is at work among us:
HE STOOD UP IN FRONT OF THEM: when before he couldn’t. People are being transformed in our very midst! People are being brought into the presence of Jesus!
HE TOOK WHAT HE HAD BEEN LYING ON: Another translation says he “rolled up his mat” – the very mat which was keeping him incapacitated and immobilized. He took his “I can’t” and his “I’m afraid” and his “It’s your fault” like so much useless kindling, tucked it under his arm and then–
HE WENT HOME PRAISING GOD: There is nothing like lives being transformed to stir up true and lively praise. At the same time, I’ll bet his four buddies sighed a huge sigh of relief over a load lifted and a prisoner freed.
Now that’s what I call a good day’s work around the Beloved Community! Amen and Amen!