The Gospels in the New Testament contain a number of different instances where Jesus told people that their faith had made them well. To the woman with the flow of blood, Jesus said, “Daughter, be of good cheer, your faith has made you well. To the blind man named Bartimaeus, Jesus said, “Go your way, your faith has made you well.” And to the one leper out of ten who returned to give thanks to Jesus for his healing, Jesus said, “Arise and go your way, your faith has made you well.”
This morning, however, we hear a story about a paralyzed man who was made well by Jesus not because of his own faith…but rather because of the faith of his friends. Listen again to what the text says. “When he saw their faith,” Jesus said to the man, “your sins are forgiven you.” When he saw their faith…
If we are all honest with ourselves and one another today, we would have to admit that we are in church this morning not solely because of our own faith and our own prayers. We are here, at least in part, because of the faith and the prayers of someone else…
The story tells us that the man at the center of the story was a paralytic. He could not make use of his arms or his legs. He couldn’t stand or walk or run or jump. He couldn’t lean or lunge or limp. All he could do was lay down. Day after day, he lay in one spot looking up at the ceiling, counting the crevices and the cobwebs. All the while trying to imagine what it would be like to look persons in the eye instead of staring eye level at their feet. Trying to picture what it would be like to walk down the street with his family, play with his son and daughter, sit at the dinner table and share a meal with his friends.
Long before advances in technology for people with disabilities, the paralyzed man lived without much freedom. Yet if you think about it, there are people all around us who are paralyzed today. Maybe they’re not physically paralyzed. But they might be paralyzed by a traumatic incident in their past. Or an unresolved conflict. Or a sin they haven’t confessed. All kinds of people are paralyzed by how they look, by the prospect of having to reveal who they truly are, by the fears they harbor deep within. Their limbs might physically move the way they are supposed to, but they are still paralyzed in an emotional or psychological or spiritual way. And it’s not for lack of trying or lack of desire. Some people simply can’t get out of the boxes they construct for themselves and others construct for them.
At the same time, before we hasten to judge others, we can remember times when we went through whatever it is that we went through. Times when somebody else had to lift us up because we couldn’t figure out how to do it on our own, we couldn’t muster the strength or the energy, we couldn’t see our way clear to make it happen.
In this world filled with people who are paralyzed by their own anxiety, struggling to make ends meet, caught up in recurring cycles of injustice and poverty and addiction, and lost in self-centeredness, one of the primary tasks we have as Christians is to lift somebody else up. In the case of this morning’s story, we need to find ways to help other people get to Jesus.
The same goes for this country. In so many ways we are technically powerful and morally paralyzed. We are economically potent and ethically paralyzed. We are politically potent and spiritually paralyzed. Instead of turning our backs on the least of our brothers and sisters, now is the time to be lifting our sisters and brothers up!
Back to the Gospel story, the paralyzed man had no way to get to Jesus. Until four friends stepped in to the picture and stepped up to the task. Instead of turning a blind eye to their paralyzed brother, they reached out and picked him up and put him on their shoulders. All so they could take the paralytic to the one who could do something about it.
To be sure, carrying a man on a pallet is not a simple undertaking. The four friends had to look out for obstacles on the road as they walked along. Meanwhile, from time to time, it’s safe to assume the paralytic man changed positions because he was uncomfortable or he wanted to look and see where he was going from a new perspective. And every time the man on the pallet shifted his weight, the four friends had to stop and adjust their balance before they started walking again. It’s not easy to get people to Jesus…
Fortunately those four friends didn’t give up. They are to be commended for their patience and their tenacity. When all was said and done, however, the four friends were also a little tardy. They would have been on time to get to Jesus if they were going by themselves. Yet by taking the paralytic on their shoulders, they wound up running late.
I don’t know about you, but if I heard Jesus was coming to town I’d want to get there early enough to be in the front row. I’d want the best seats in the house to hear Jesus preach. I’d take off my jacket and my hat and a newspaper and I’d lay them out next to me so I could try to save a whole row. Then maybe if Jesus was planning to do any healing, I’d be among the first in line.
On the other hand, the moral of this story is a lot like the moral of this church and other churches. I know some of you might disagree with me, invested as we are in the pews where we sit every Sunday, but it doesn’t really matter where you sit in the sanctuary. It doesn’t matter who sees you here or where you are in relation to the pulpit or the communion table. What really matters is who sits in church and who sees Jesus in church because of you…
By the time the four friends arrived bearing the man on the pallet, the house was at full capacity, well beyond standing room only. A crowd so big it would have drawn a visit from the local fire marshal. Which had to have been disappointing for the four friends. With all good intentions, they missed out on a spot. Sometimes it feels like no good deed goes unpunished…
Still, faith makes a way. Faith tells us that all things are possible. Faith assured those four men there had to be a way to get the paralytic to Jesus. So they tried the front door with no luck. Then the back door and the stairs. Until it hit them. Look up. That’s a good idea, generally speaking. When things are going wrong and doors seem to be shutting and hope is in short supply, sometimes you have to look up.
When Jesus eventually looked up over his head, however, the whole scene in the story morphed from the ingenious to the comical. I wonder what Jesus was thinking when he heard the sound of the plaster cracking over his head. When he heard someone jostling the bricks and the mortar. Finally when he heard the grunting sounds of those four men as they labored to lower the paralytic slowly down to the floor in front of Jesus.
The moment he realized what was going on though, Jesus was moved by the commitment and the compassion of the four friends. Jesus watched them together overcame obstacles, setting aside their own egos and concerns, so they could deliver their friend face to face. In the end, Jesus witnessed the immense efforts of the four friends and their faith spurred Jesus to heal the paralytic.
Those four men literally and figuratively carried the day. And just like God used the faith of the four men to bring the paralytic to Jesus, so God wants us to look around our world. To see those who are paralyzed. To notice the ones who are broken and suffering. To reach out to brothers and sisters who are hungry and abused and imprisoned. To seek out the lost and the lonely.
God wants to use you and me to lift people up until they get to Jesus. Knowing full well that sometimes people can’t do it on their own. Knowing full well because we’ve been there ourselves. Sometimes a person needs others to step up and carry them until they find the healing and the hope and the new life Jesus promises. And they can walk on their own once more.
Friends what we’re talking about is so much a part of who we are and what we do as Christian people of faith. We lift one another up in order to get to Jesus. And in doing so, we lift God up in the process.
So I leave you with this thought. Who will make their way to Jesus on account of your faith? Amen.