March 8, 2015
Our story for today may not be the most impressive healing event in Jesus’ ministry, but it may be the most dramatic! It’s dramatic not only from the standpoint of the physical act of these people cutting a hole in someone’s roof, but also from the standpoint of the confrontation Jesus made with those who began to oppose him. As we’re seeing, that happened more and more through these miracle events.
The earliest memory I have of this story is when I first heard it told in Sunday School! I must have been in something like Third Grade, and our teacher had one of those “flannel boards.” Do any of you remember flannel boards? It was the early days of “visual aids,” as they say in the “ed biz.” The board was covered with flannel, and the people and houses and things were stuck on them, and could be moved around as the story was told.
Well, the one thing I can say, from the mental images I still have of hearing this story that day, is that the flannel board portrayal didn’t come any where near doing justice to this dramatic story! But hey, it was the best we had – besides film strips! (Remember them?!) And I remembered the story!
Over the years, though, I’ve had the opportunity to study this story and to understand more of its impact. I’ve heard it described and explained on a number of different occasions. And the more I’ve thought about, it the more amazing this event becomes!
The first thing we have to picture here is the crowds. Again, we’ve said this before. We’re talking here about “Jesus the Rock Star.” There were so many people here that Jesus was being “mobbed.” And these guys, who were bringing their paralyzed friend to Jesus, couldn’t get anywhere near the place where he was speaking, let alone get near him! We can just imagine them trying to figure out what to do. This was obviously a dear friend of theirs. We have to remember that. And they had hope that he might just be healed by this Jesus that everyone was talking about!
So, in what we might think to be a desperate plan, or just a very clever one – I’m not sure which – they went to the roof! And if you’ve seen pictures of the towns in that part of the world, or if you’ve been there, you know that the buildings were often connected to one another. So perhaps they approached that particular roof from one of the neighboring roofs.
However they managed it – while carrying a stretcher! – they got there. Then, they put their friend down, and they “made an opening” in the roof. Some commentaries have described this as a matter of removing tiles and some of the structure holding them. Others describe it as a matter of actually “digging through” the roof. Either way, from the inside, there would have been roofing material starting to rain down on those inside, perhaps illuminated along with the dust, by a growing shaft of light. Try to picture that! Then, there appeared this figure of a man on a stretcher being lowered through the hole and the dust.
You have to wonder what those people in the room would have done? Think about that. This was major destruction of property! What did they do? Were they stunned into silence? Did anyone panic, thinking the roof was caving in on them? Did they all started talking at once? What if a hole started opening right here in our roof today? What if pieces of it started raining down on us? What would we think – even if there wasn’t anybody being lowered down through it?!
Well, if that weren’t dramatic enough, there was then this healing Jesus performed. And remember, this is Luke the physician telling the story. And we can only imagine what he thought about this! I’m sure he, of all people, would have known about the nature of such neurological disorders – accidental or otherwise, and how permanent they were. This was a big deal to him.
Mark tells this story, too, only with less detail. And Matthew tells of a healing of a paralytic, but he doesn’t mention the “roof thing.” And I think maybe that’s because there’s more to this healing than just a healing. And all three Gospel writers recognize that. Jesus looks down at this man on the stretcher, the ropes still attached to the corners of it, and he says to the man, “Your sins are forgiven!” That is a shocking statement, a statement that only adds to the drama of this event. (Perhaps that was so important to Matthew that he didn’t even bother to mention the whole “destruction of property” thing!)
That’s also the part of this story that was most upsetting to the Pharisees! I’m sure they were “hot and cold” on Jesus and his miraculous abilities. They thought, “This could be good, this could be bad!” But theologically… They were right! Only God can forgive sins. And at the very least it was a matter of “Only we can proclaim to someone that God has forgiven their sins.” I think it’s hard to tell which this was!
I want you to think about that. This is not just arrogance and indignance on their part. From the standpoint of all that they knew and believed, this was wrong! This was upsetting! And rightfully so! Now, don’t forget that we know Jesus forgives sins. That’s simply part of our belief system. We don’t think anything unusual about this. But again, they didn’t know what we now know. And before we judge them, remember, if we didn’t know what we know, we might easily think the same thing.
Well, there’s a lot we can say about this story. But I’d like us to think about how this impacts us. What does this tell us about our faith in Jesus? Well, the first thing I want us to see here is that Jesus ties together the healing of the body and the soul. In this, we need to know that God is not just the great physician. He is not just one we can go to for the healing of the body – and nothing else! Jesus shows us in this that the healing of the soul is more important than the healing of the body!
Think about that. There has always been this question of why God heals some people and not others. I’m sure you’ve asked that question yourself from time to time. And it’s a difficult question! I knew a woman once who said that she did not believe any of the healing stories of Jesus. They had to be “Myths!” she said. And she based that belief solely on the fact that Jesus did not heal her father when she asked. It’s tough to know what to say to someone like that!
Why God heals some and not others is a tough question to deal with! Even the answers are difficult. Because the first response to that is “Who’s in charge here?” Do we pray for such things with the understanding that “answered prayer” is a matter of getting the answer we want? And do we think that, if we use “the right formula,” or if we have “enough faith,” we will get what we want? Or do we truly say and mean what are some of the hardest words for us humans to utter. “Thy will be done!” Even Jesus in the garden prayed what I think is the definitive prayer in this matter. He said, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup (the cup of suffering) pass from me, nevertheless, thy will be done!”
If we truly pray that prayer, we are not alone! The Lord Jesus himself made that same prayer! And if we begin to understand that, we can begin to know something very important. That is, God has not promised us perfect physical health! Otherwise the hospitals would be filled with scoundrels! They would be filled with those who didn’t have the faith or enough faith to be healed! Think about that! If that was all that this was about, that would be the case! No. God doesn’t promise us perfect physical health. What he does promise us is perfect spiritual health! And he showed that here in this story! He started with, “Your sins are forgiven.” “You are made whole!”
So yes, we are to pray for healing! We need to do that! We’re called to do that! We share our concern and our desires with God. We pour out our hearts before him. We tell him of our anguish for people who are suffering. But! We pray with the understanding that God is in charge. And we need to learn to trust him. We need to learn what it says in one of the very first Proverbs. “Trust in the lord with all you heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)
Can we do that? Can we know that the God we trust is in control? That’s not easy, is it? But just because it’s not easy does not mean we shouldn’t make it our aim! When Job was going through his difficulties, everybody was giving the “standard answers,” including his wife who said, “Curse God and die!” (Nice wife, huh?) When he was going through that, God said to him, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?!” “I’m sovereign!” “I’m in charge!” “You can trust me!”
Friends, God is in charge! That’s both comforting and uncomfortable to us! He calls us to go outside of our “comfort zone.” We’ve said that before. But one of the biggest ways he calls us to do that is to trust him! That’s the biggest of the uncomfortable things he calls us to do. But it is the most important!
This is Lent. This is the time we think about this stuff. So, from this story do we take the shock of the destruction of property? Do we take the faith of these men and the hope and desire that Jesus would heal their friend? Do we consider the shocking statement Jesus made about forgiving this man’s sins? Or do we take the big picture, and know that God is indeed “in charge?” And do we learn to trust him?
Eternal God, it is so hard to place our lives in your hands. We so want to be in charge of our own destiny and our own well being. Help us to step out of that comfort zone and to learn to trust you more. Help us to know that you have the power to heal us spiritually, to forgive our sins, and to make us one with you. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.