The truth be told, he wasn’t the only paralyzed person in the room…just the most obvious. And if we stop to think about it, his friends were also paralyzed in a way, unable to face what they knew sooner or later they would have to face. As weeks turned into months, and months into years they simply refused to accept the facts as the doctors had explained it to them: nerve cells simply do not regenerate like other cells. Yet his friends refused to face reality as they continued to haul him from one clinic to the next…one miracle worker to the next…always with the same intensity of feeling in their request, “Maybe you can fix him somehow.” And every time the doctor’s answer was realistic to the core: “You can’t repair broken spinal cords.”
They were paralyzed by love for their friend…so much so, in fact, that when Jesus comes on the scene their only thought is one of absolute determination to give it yet another try. Who cares that they’ve exhausted all the other possibilities…this one is going to be different! ‘They say he’s doing some remarkable things!’ one of them reported. So they load up their paralyzed friend and haul him over to Peter’s house where Jesus was preaching the word that day. If we were talking about people in their right minds, they would have given up as soon as they saw the crowd backed up for blocks.
But these were friends paralyzed by love, undaunted by reality, so rather than face facts and turn back they did something rather unorthodox. They hightailed it around the back alley and up the fire escape; and in an inspired moment of intercessory vandalism they started digging right through the mud roof of Peter’s house.
For some reason, Jesus didn’t seem to object to the interruption. Perhaps because Jesus himself was never one to be daunted by the facts nor constrained by reality. Whatever the reason, it was Jesus who then did the most unorthodox thing of all. (*reading verse 5: ‘…when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”) The truth be told, he wasn’t the only paralyzed person in the room…just the most obvious.
I was a freshman in college when the phone call came telling me that my favorite aunt had had a stroke. By the time I got to her home, the entire family had arrived and from the looks on everyone’s faces the reality of how much damage a stroke can inflict was almost unbearable. To see a healthy, vibrant, independent woman in her 60’s unable to speak or even stand was like watching a perfectly beautiful crystal vase suddenly shatter into a million irreplaceable pieces. Never again to be the same. And yet, from that moment on…my family became so paralyzed with love for my aunt that everything else ceased to exist.
We refused to give up on the hope that one day…Aunt Grace would speak again. That one day…she would stand and walk under her own power, instead of having to be carried by my father and my brother every where she went. It was a love that transcended ourselves and caused us to focus on the one person who needed us the most.
Working the clock in shifts of two, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, we began to experience what John Ortberg describes as ‘the Fellowship of the Mat’: a group which possesses and implements an irrational commitment to the well-being of it’s members. The key word here is irrational. According to Ortberg, in great communities of faith, people carry each other’s mats and crash through roofs all the time without ever asking the question, “What’s in it for me?” Simply put, they do it…out of love for one another.
Never again have I felt such a close bond with my family as I did during those succeeding months. And although my aunt never fully recovered from her stroke, what we gained as a family was irreplaceable. Refusing to be paralyzed by the reality of the circumstances, we were drawn together by God who dared to raise the roof on our faith by drawing us closer to one another.
The truth be told, Jesus’ words did not set very well with some of the religious folks that were there that day. It would be one thing for Jesus to forgive the sins of someone who had sinned against him personally, but it was an entirely different matter for Jesus to forgive someone’s sins if they had been committed against someone else. Only God can do that. And yet there stood Jesus, raising the roof with his blasphemous claim: “Your sins are forgiven.”
I am always amazed when Jesus rips through what we seem to hail as religious dogma. He said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk?” Actually, the easier thing for Jesus to have done was to simply forgive the man of his sins. Yet knowing that seeing is believing in many people’s eyes, seeing a paralyzed man actually walk would go a long way toward proving Jesus’ point.
The point is, our realities are way too small. Our realities tell us that “nerve cells simply do not regenerate,” and that “people who have strokes can never expect to live a useful life again,” and “you can’t forgive someone’s sins unless they have sinned specifically against you.” These realities appear true, but nevertheless too small. You see, the young man lying on his mat and my Aunt Grace who had suffered from a stroke were not just paralytics to be dismissed by realistic doctors. Each was someone’s beloved friend or a family member…even a member of the Fellowship of the Mat who refused to be paralyzed by the realities of this world.
Give me the blasphemies of Jesus any day over our pathetic little realities or carved in stone orthodoxies. Because by the time the dust has really settled, one has to wonder just who the paralyzed in this story really are. After all, according to Jesus, the paralytic wasn’t the only one paralyzed in the room that day, just the most obvious. Thanks be to God, Jesus has come to set us free in the waters of Baptism and make no mistake…to raise the roof on our faith as well.