17 One day Jesus was teaching, and Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there. They had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal those who were ill. 18 Some men came carrying a paralysed man on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. 19 When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.
20 When Jesus saw their faith, he said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven.’
21 The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, ‘Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?’
22 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 paralysed 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.’
What is there left to say about this miracle story which has been staple element of Sunday School curriculums for ever? Sometimes it helps to read it in a different translation, or to read it slowly, sentence by sentence, or to try and recreate the story from memory. “Reading” it in this latter way helps alert us to the elements of the story that we have forgotten or didn’t know were there. These are often aspects of the story that we avoid in our regular treatment of the account.
I’m struck this time by how far some of the Pharisees and teachers of law had travelled to see this Jesus fellow. They had come from the south of the country up to the rural north to find out what all the fuss was about. The teachers of the law are the theologians of the day and are concerned about the soundness or otherwise of Jesus theology and practice. And I note they are sitting. I imagine them making notes and murmuring among themselves as Jesus heals.
I wonder was it hot when the men were carrying their friend on the mat. Were they related or were they friends and neighbours? What was it like being so dependent on friends and being carried through a jostling crowd? As a part of the crowd, or near the house, why would you not make space for this man, given Jesus was healing people? Were you reluctant to lose your place close to the action? If yes, then how many in that crowd were pressing close to Jesus just for the spectacle? And what would be required of a person to surrender their great view in order to see someone else experience a miracle?
I want to believe that these men were motivated so strongly by love for their friend, and not just to see a ‘trick’ by Jesus, that they were willing to damage private property. I wonder what the owner of the house felt like after Jesus had left, and the crowds had wandered off, and those anonymous offenders had melted away? Did he pay for the repairs with delight having hosted a miracle by Jesus in his home? Did his place become a stop on the ‘tourist’ trail in the town? Or did the excitement of the events quickly fade in the face of the hassle and expense of having his roof repaired?
How much of the theological argument between Jesus and the religious leaders was heard by members of the crowd? How much did they care about it? What memory did they walk away with? The argument between powerful personalities, or the sight of a formerly paralysed man walking under his own strength?
Funny isn’t it, how often we churchy people, in our desire to be “sound” miss the joy of what God is doing right in front of our eyes? It seems to be in Northern Ireland religious circles that having sound theology is sometimes more important than the fact that the power of the Lord is working through them.
God forbid that we should be so concerned to be correct about things that we end up denying or preventing or resenting the mess that must be caused to see Jesus work.
Take some time with this story and imagine yourself into the experience of one of the characters. Even stretch beyond the events recorded in the story and think of what life must have been like after all these things happened. What would ‘normal’ look like after a miracle?
God of miracles,
Forgiver of sins
Strengthener of legs
Winner of arguments,
Give me the compassion of Jesus
The perseverance of the friends
The patience of the man paralysed
And the tolerance of the one
Whose house was wrecked
That I might see the healing power
Of God at work in the world.