People who met Jesus : 16 : The Paralytic
Mt 9:1,2 Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”
I cannot imagine what it must be like to be a paralytic. I can try, but I fail. I hear of famous people who have had accidents and ended up paralysed, and I hear how they cope, but I struggle to imagine what it must be like being utterly dependent on other people. That is what it was like for the man at the heart of our meditation today. He is utterly dependent on others. Like many people who came to Jesus, we don’t know who he was, what his background was, what his name was, or even why he was paralysed. It seems those weren’t issues that concerned the Gospel writers. Perhaps sometimes they omitted names because nobody took note of it when it was happening, perhaps it was happening so often they just couldn’t keep up with everyone who was healed, or perhaps they felt that the individuals concerned deserved some privacy and so just didn’t tell us their name.
The thing that identifies this man, as against anyone else being healed, was, first of all, that he had four friends who brought him to Jesus on a mat or stretcher. Mark & Luke tell us of the perseverance of these men: “Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on.” (Mk 2:4) We talk of these men as his ‘friends’ but they are just described as “some men” in all the accounts. We don’t know who they are and so we assume they are obviously his friends.
Now although we are focusing on the paralytic these men ought to have the spotlight shone on them, because it is “their faith” that Jesus responds to. The paralytic doesn’t seem to have the faith for healing, but his ‘friends’ do. It was because these men had heard of Jesus and saw (presumably) his power, that they had faith for their friend to be healed. Hence they are determined to get him to Jesus and are not going to be put off. That, I find, is a real challenge. How often, I wonder, do we get put off trying to bring our friends to Jesus? All they need is contact with him, but hindrances come and we give up!
But then we come to Jesus’ amazing response to the man: “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” Now again this is one of those times when we wish there was further explanation given. Why did this man need forgiveness? What had he done? Were these words an acknowledgement by Jesus (who knows us completely even before we say a word) that he understood that this man saw Jesus as a ‘holy man’ and, having very low self-esteem (through his state), felt he wasn’t good enough to come to Jesus? Or had he done something silly that had brought about the paralysis? We aren’t told the cause, only that Jesus gladly and easily grants him forgiveness.
Now the thing about these accounts is that they often include quite a number of ‘players’. Some of the background cast, of this particular play, get upset: “At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!” (Mt 9:3) We might be a bit slow to realise the significance of what Jesus says, but they weren’t. He’s claiming to be God because only God can forgive sins! That was the gist of their objection. Jesus’ response is delightful. He doesn’t enter into an argument about why he is God; he simply sidesteps it with a piece of indisputable action: “Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, `Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, `Get up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. . . .” Then he said to the paralytic, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” And the man got up and went home.” (v.4-7) Wow! You can’t argue with that. OK, is what he is saying, it’s obviously easy to say words, but what if I heal him? Will you be happy that I am who my words imply I am? And he does!
Matthew and Mark simply observe that the man left of his own accord. We don’t know where Luke got his information from but as a Physician, being a people-person, he tells us that the man “went home praising God.” (Lk 5:25) This was one happy and grateful man! Wouldn’t you be? One minute you’d been in an utterly hopeless situation and the next you are free to lead your life how you will. Forgiven and freed! One minute you have low self-esteem, feel bad about yourself, feeling guilty and a nobody, and the next you are forgiven, loved and free to be yourself.
Now there is one further thing I note here. It may just be that the ‘shorthand’ of the Gospel writers didn’t include it, but often in such accounts we find the healed person stays around with Jesus. In the previous meditation, Legion afterwards is noted to be “sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind.” (Lk 8:35), but this man just seems to disappear off home. Not for him is staying around. Again we don’t know why. Perhaps he wanted to get out of the public spotlight – it takes a while to get rid of low self-esteem! Perhaps he wanted to go home and tell his family what had happened. We just don’t know and Jesus doesn’t make any negative comment. At another time when ten lepers got healed and only one came back to give thanks, Jesus commented about the other nine, but there is none of that here.
It’s all right, Jesus understands. We all respond in different ways. There’s a lifetime ahead to be lived by this man now. That’s what counts, how he will make the most of his life from now on, not how he reacts to what has happened. I love the way some brand new Christians react to being born again. We want to hear certain words from them and see them respond in certain ways – and they don’t! They just get on with life and that is more real than any forced or implied or expected responses. No, when life flows, as it did in this situation, and the man is freed, don’t try and mould and channel that life into artificial religion. Let them LIVE in the joy of that and let the Holy Spirit lead them. I realise that these words make some people uneasy but if that is so, it is probably because of our insecurity and lack of confidence in God. Yes, we do need to teach and care for new believers but mostly we have got to let them live out the life that is now bubbling in them, and that may not always conform to our stereotypes.
Do you know anyone who you consider an ‘impossibility’? Is their life ‘paralyzed’ and not going anywhere? The most crucial thing we can do is somehow introduce them to Jesus – and that is more than just speaking words. It is about encountering the living Son of God who has the authority to be able to make possible the impossible, and who has the love that desires to do it. Hallelujah!