Healing Of The Paralytic
You’ve heard me say before that for a couple of reasons I have questions about the phrase, “What Would Jesus Do?” First, he had abilities to do things we do not. He could walk on water, heal the sick, give sight to the blind, raise the dead and, as in this passage, heal the paralyzed. Those are things we cannot do. As well, it is sometimes difficult to predict what Jesus would do. We look for a tight pattern and we are almost always surprised. Sometimes he responds to crowds and sometimes he gets away from them. Sometimes he heals directly and other times he uses a process like mud on the eyes or even a second touch. Sometimes he warns people not to say anything and other times he does not. He is what we would call inconsistent and unpredictable and trying to pin him down to one response for every situation and person is impossible.
We see that here. He heals many in Peter’s hometown of Capernaum – including his mother-in-law, and then early the next morning he escapes the crowds and the disciples have to come looking for him. He heals a leper and then sends him away to the priest with a strong warning to not tell anyone.
But one thing is constant – the people come to him in droves from everywhere. Wherever and no matter how he tries to get away he is besieged by large crowds looking for miracles. It is the early days of the ministry and Jesus has yet to experience the crowd as a mob. They have never seen anything like Jesus and he has yet to say no to anything. He has not disappointed them or turned them away with nothing to show for coming. It is not like he is only the latest in a long string of powerful personalities. It is not just the miracles. As they say, “What is this? A new teaching – and with authority! He does not teach like the scribes.” It’s not just miracles people want. They want authority and certainty. They want someone to follow and they will follow almost anyone who speaks with authority. Crowds form around a few motivations – anxiety, fear, and anger or hope. The crowds in the early days formed around hope. But, we know what happens when the crowd turns into a mob. They abandon him and then crucify him. For now, the scribes, lawyers, Pharisees, and Sadducees sit by but it won’t be long before they turn the crowds against him. These are the same crowd experts who followed Paul around the Mediterranean. They were experts in stirring up crowds and then controlling them.
These men were not simply rabble rousers or disrupters. They did not merely shout down Paul. They were exceptionally adept at stirring up and motivating crowds of people who were confused in their own minds and turning them into a mob.
Look at the phrase Luke uses in Acts several times: stirred up. It doesn’t mean whip up with no purpose. The literal meaning is actually to constrain and control. There was a method to the way they exploited madness and ignorance and frustration. They stirred up without losing control. They stirred up but knew how to control what they created. Think of it as the difference between a bullet and a bomb. The bullet is the product of a highly controlled explosion and it is directed at a target with great accuracy. That is what Luke is describing. Paul’s enemies were experts at creating an explosion and then controlling it for their purposes. That is what Jesus will face later in his ministry. This is just the first round.
Today, there is a science to drawing crowds. We have marketing, messaging, mass mailings, and sophisticated techniques for attracting people to an event. Millions are spent on advertising and special events designed to attract people who are looking for entertainment and distractions. As the phrase says, “Sell the sizzle and not the steak.”
Jesus needed none of those things. People just came without any of that. Yes, they were drawn by the miracles but they stayed for the teaching. They longed for authority and not just creativity and commentary. Then and now, people want to hear from God. It is not just motivational messages or scolding but to hear someone who they sense has been with God enough to speak for him. Unfortunately, they are taken in by fakes, false prophets, and hucksters.Many people think this is Peter’s house where Jesus is teaching. So, it is Peter’s roof that is torn up. Of course, it is not like today where you would need a construction crew to tear a whole in the roof. It would have been easy since a roof was mostly a thin layer of boards covered by earth. Easy to tear up and easy to fix. However, I would imagine it was still an inconvenience for Peter.
These are unusual friends. I would like to have them on my side. They are creative, pushy, resourceful, aggressive and maybe even obnoxious about pushing their way to the roof. Had I been Peter or Jesus I would have been upset with them for tearing up someone’s property and getting ahead of everyone else in line. I am sure you have been in a line waiting your turn patiently and some rude person goes to the front and pushes their way in. It’s more than bad manners. It’s almost like a personal assault and an insult.
But that is exactly what these men did. How does Jesus respond? Not like I would if I were in the crowd. But there are other places where Jesus seems to favor people like this. He has not only patience for them but uses them as an example for others.
The persistent widow who will not stop pestering the judge.
The wicked steward whose bad behavior is not condemned but accepted.
The beggar who shouts until he gets the attention of Jesus
The woman who grabs at the hem of his robe.
Sometimes we are not pushy enough with God. Yes, we plead and petition but we do not push. Moses complains about his assignment to deliver the people. David tells God that he needs to protect his own reputation. He almost preaches to God about what he needs to do. Jeremiah argues with God about why the wicked prosper. Job protests that there is no reason for what has happened to him. They all push back. It is not ingratitude or insolence but being so secure with God that they can speak openly.
We are, I think, afraid to do that. We think God is too fragile or is unwilling to listen to what we really want to say. So, we cover up our real feelings of anger, disappointment, and complaint. Why would God put up with that from others but not from us? Why are we not more pushy with God? The scholars must have arrived early or the people out of respect let them have the best seats for they are sitting while others are standing in a crowd or outside the house. They are already predisposed to find fault with Jesus because the people have been comparing him to them. They cannot understand why the crowds are so easily taken in by this entertainer and poorly educated talker. I doubt they would even call him a preacher. He has no degree or experience. He is from nowhere and has no credentials or pedigree. But, they are curious about and fearful of him at the same time.
Of course, the question in their minds is not unusual and we would say the same today. “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” After thousands of years I think the question is the same. How do we respond to people who claim things that go against everything we believe to be true and that we have been taught since childhood. For them it was forgiveness of sins can only come from God and it was blasphemy to claim otherwise. For us, it is other things that we believe to be true and to believe otherwise would be blasphemy. The inerrancy of Scripture. The way to God is through Jesus alone. The marriage of one man and one woman. These are all things that even if we heard Jesus question them we would be scandalized. Where is the balance between blind and unquestioning tradition and outright heresy? That’s why I have empathy for the scholars.
But there is one thing about them that is common to us all. Once we have created a monopoly on something we are reluctant to let it go. We don’t like it when someone breaks up our hold on things – and that is what Jesus was doing. He was saying the monopoly on forgiveness is over.
Think about how public education has responded to private and charter schools or universities to online education. They resist and then sometimes they adapt.
How has fixed location banking responded to online banking and financial alternatives. First, they resist and then they adapt.
How have bookstores, travel agents, and soon grocery stores responded to Amazon? They resist and then they adapt.
Car dealers to cars.com and medieval monks to the printing press. Budweiser to craft brewers. Taxis in New York to Uber. Full service gas stations. New names for schools. They all resist until the change becomes inevitable. Then they adapt or go out of business.
If I were on the long range planning committee of an existing church, I would try to imagine what is likely to be happening in the world today that is going to effect the way business is done. What will happen to fixed locations and facilities? What will happen with communication and media? What will happen to preparing ministers and professionals? What changes might we anticipate that would affect the way we structure everything we do? Do we have monopoly thinking?
In some ways, the Western world is facing the same in the growth of Christianity. For many of us we so identify with our Christian history and institutions that we fail to realize where the church is growing and the changes it is experiencing. The Christian world we have known for so long – the world of Europe and America – is fast becoming the minority in the church. It will take time but the center of Christianity has already shifted. We can adapt or disappear.
”In 1970 there were 63 million Pentecostals; in 2014 there were 631 million Pentecostals making up one‐quarter of the Christian population worldwide. In 1900 there were 981,000 Pentecostals; in the mid‐2010s, astronomical growth resulted in an estimated 614 million Pentecostals, charismatics, and neo‐charismatics, according to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon‐Conwell Theological Seminary. This surge is expected to increase to 797 million by 2025, a growth rate of 2.42 percent annually, higher than the rate of growth of any other religious group. Pentecostalism constitutes 26 percent of world Christianity, second largest only to Roman Catholicism. Two‐thirds of Pentecostals are in the majority world. No longer is it largely the work of “white” missions. The half a billion Pentecostal/charismatics are now predominantly Africans, Latin Americans, and Asians.”
The world church is becoming black and brown and some of us are not going to be comfortable with that. We are going to huddle and wish for the good old days when the church looked like us.
But what happens when the change is so monumental that to adapt would be unthinkable? Monopoly thinking always creates an exclusive class of people who hold the control of licensing, regulation, permission and credentialing. They are the elite and when your innovation threatens the elite they resist. Jesus in forgiving sins was not only threatening the way things had been and the people who had been in charge but he was threatening the most important power that God held – the power of forgiveness. They could not adapt to that. Sometimes our fall back for the inability to adapt is to call it blasphemy. This far and no further. Jesus was pushing them further than they could go. “In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” Eric Hoffer
Then Jesus took it a step further. Not only did he heal and forgive sins but he put the power of faith into the hands of his friends. The paralytic may not have had any faith at all but his friends did. Sometimes we do not have faith and God sees the faith of our friends. Sometimes what we are facing is too much and that is when friends step in with faith that makes up for our lacking. That is when we need pushy friends.
Not only that, but believers have the power to forgive sin. God in Christ has delegated that power. “Whatever you bind and loose”. I can hear your confession and you can hear mine. You and I can speak for God in each other’s lives. We don’t need priests or professionals to tell us we are forgiven by God. We can speak God’s forgiveness into the lives of other people. God has given every one of us the power of one miracle – the miracle of forgiveness in His name. It’s the same power, if not more, than the power of healing. It’s the power to say, “My friend, God is not angry with you.”
This week, you have the power of forgiveness. I wonder if there is someone for whom you can say, “My friend, God is not angry with you.”
This week some of you need to be carried by the faith of your friends because you are paralyzed or hopeless or out of belief. Let them do it.
This week there might be people tearing holes in your roof, interrupting you, being inconvenient and demanding, in order to get your attention. Be patient and kind.
This week you are going to be distressed by some of the changes going on in the world. Not all of them are blasphemy and some of them are there to stretch you. Be open.