The paralyzed man: Loving intercessors
Verses: Matthew 9: 2-7, Mark 2:12, Luke 5: 16-20
Summary of the story: A sick man's friends interrupt Jesus's preaching, tearing down the roof, to bring their friend to him. The man is healed when Jesus when Jesus forgives him and takes up his bed and walks away.
What bothered me most of all was being exiled from my own body and from the world. My days were filled with the sound of disembodied voices and the sight of feet walking past my head, out the door and into the world. All around me were the sensations of life: I could smell cumin and garlic cooking on the stove and yet I was unable to walk outside to lift the pot cover. I missed conversations or --even worse-- heard them dimly heard. The men of the household were in town or were too tired to carry me everywhere. I lay there on the floor, ants and beetles crawling across my face and neck, powerless to flick them away.
Some men dream of silver and some of gold. Some of riches, women, power. Before I became paralyzed, I used to dream of such things. But laying in my family's house day after day, it seemed to me that the normal activities of a normal day were the sweetest activities a man could indulge in. The banal boring normal life is a wonderful thing.
A day is long. It is many minutes and many seconds passing slowly slowly by. Before the paralysis, when I was well, I used to hate to see the sun go down. There was always so much work left to do. The work was never finished by nightfall. But after the paralysis, time flowed slower than honey and not so sweet. I yearned for the night. Sleeping was hard, yes. But sleep brought escape, unconsciousness and dreams. And I had wonderful dreams. In dreams, I walked again. I lifted yokes from others' backs, helped women fetch water from the well (women's work, yes...but ...to lift, to do manual labor. What a blessing work is!).
The days of my paralysis were lonely too. My friends were good. They visited me. But they had their own lives. And their lives rarely brought them inside my house. I saw no friend unless they made an express point of visiting me. I heard no outside news unless someone made a point of specifically walking in to tell me. And as for the normal delights of life...eating and so forth...I ate what was given me. I could not even go to God's house to worship him. And always there was my poor family. They needed a man's arms and legs working around the house...and instead they ended up being my arms and legs. What a terrible time they had of it.
My family and friends were kind. Their kindness was hard for me to live with, almost unbearable. The kindness affected me badly: I was driven between two extremes: guilt and ingratitude. I either felt they were doing too much for me and not attending to their own lives or I accused them of never doing anything right. More often than not, it was the latter. For instance, I would accuse them of never coming when I needed to urinate. Or when I hungered or thirsted or when the loneliness and isolation of laying on the floor all day was driving me insane. Everything was on their schedule, i complained, and my hunger pangs and need for human conversation had to wait. Out of self-pity and pain, I argued constantly with them. This only made a bad situation worse. As a man, I should've been out there helping the family earn its living and there I lay on the floor ...useless, sorrowing, and demanding. My family was patient, but my complaining was a hard thing to endure and sometimes I imagined they were avoiding me. This was understandable: they had to look at me every day. It must have been heart-breaking. Who wants to be continually reminded of how bad life can be? I understood: sometimes one has to turn one's face away...even if one is family. Sometimes, they had to get away from me.
I resented that at first...after all I couldn't get away from me, why should they? But after a while -- a long while-- I grew to accept that my caretakers were only human. I suffered, yes. But there are some things in life no friend or family member can ever understand and although it hurt I had to accept that.
I wondered why God had been so hard on me. It seemed like such a terrible punishment for so small a sin? (Whatever the sin was...and I wasn't sure what the sin might be.) And surely, others had sinned as much as I had. And in the same way I had. Why had they escaped unscathed? Liars, adulterers, cheaters walked the streets of Judea. Healthy, happy, guilt-free, unpunished by God. But me? I had the bad luck to be noticed by God. I could not talk to Him; he seemed so unfair, so hard. Why had he pointed his arrows at me? Why was I his target? I regretted what I had done. I regretted every sin from the great ones down to the minor ones. I did not know what sin brought this down on me. There are so many laws on the books, so many things that a righteous God demands. And what man is there who is so good that he has no sin? And so I lay there thinking and thinking and dredging up every sin I could think of. "Is this the cause of my illness, Father?" And many of my neighbors were only too glad to oblige. "Surely," they said, "you must have done something very evil for the Lord to shut His ears to your prayers. I prayed and prayed for forgiveness. But nothing happened. I lay there wondering why He didn't hear me. After all, The Most High is Holy and above the earth and sky: His thoughts are not our thoughts. And although He is merciful, he is also a harsh and righteous Judge who doesn't listen to sinners and who cannot be bribed. What, I asked myself, was I to do? There was no mediator to stand between us..to lay his hand on both of us. And always, there was that pressing thought: why me? Why not my friends or someone else in my family? All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Why did God's all-seeing eye have to land on me?
So I lay there everyday wishing I could undo the past, undo whatever it was that I had done, make my life better than it was. I begged and bargained with Him. And after a while one realizes that there is no hope left. When my friends came in their spare time, they would say, "God knows what you're going through. Be patient under the mighty hands of God. The Almighty God is holy and He knows what is best."
One day as I lay there, watching the feet pass by, enduring the day and wishing for death, I heard feet entering through the door. There was excited chatter, bustling about... I could not lift my head to see what was going on but soon, I recognized my friend's voice as he approached me.
"We're taking you to see the healer," he said. "A man named Jesus is preaching in the streets. To the rich and to the poor. To good men and prostitutes alike. Some people say it might be the Christ. He is healing all who come to Him."
I looked at him as if he was crazy. "A healer?" I said. "The Christ? What is the Christ doing healing people? And why would He heal me? If it is even Him... We've been waiting for him for so long. Why should He come now?"
"He'll heal you," they said.
"When did God start healing people? Healing went out with the prophets. Don't you know the days of miracles are past?"
"Never man spoke like this man. You haven't seen what we've seen. And the stories we've heard about him--"
"How do you know he'll heal me?"
"He'll heal you. People say he is a kind man. He must be. Everyone's there: The house is surrounded."
I wanted to laugh. "Surrounded uh? And how are you going to get me there?"
"We'll carry you."
I shook my head. The idea seemed ludicrous and just plain embarrassing. "You're going to carry me through the streets?"
I can't say I believed them. After all I hadn't seen this man's miracle. And our righteous God hadn't been healing anyone for a good four hundred years.
"All this healing business is hear-say?"
"No," the said excitedly, "We've seen it with our own eyes. And while we watched, our spirit burned inside and it seemed as if God was telling us to come and get you."
"He didn't tell me," I said.
But the more they talked about the healings they had seen and the kindness of the Preacher Jesus, the more faith I gained. I told myself that even if he only asked God to forgive me of my sin, and of all the terrible things I'd brought on my family, I would be happy. I agreed to go with my friends. My family stood looking on. And these wonderful friends of mine lifted me and carried me through the door and out onto the streets.
They carried me about two miles. I had imagined the rabbi would be in the street preaching. But when we arrived in the center of town, he was nowhere to be seen. We found our that he was in someone's house...surrounded by crowds of people. He was not healing anyone then...but he was teaching.
I told my friends to turn back. "Why interrupt the rabbi?" I said. "Who are we to be so vain as to interrupt that man?"
They did not listen. "Do you want to be healed?" they asked. "This is a good man. He has a smile that seems to say he has seen all your sins and He still loves you anyway. Believe us when we say this: we only have to get to him and He will heal you."
We looked at the tiny house. Crowds were streaming out of it and around it. "And how do you suppose we'll get in?" I asked. Then I looked up and saw that the roof was empty. There was no one on the roof. I don't know where I got the idea from. Perhaps it was God. Because I'm not the kind of person who goes around thinking of ways to embarrass myself. I am also not a destructive person. I respect other people's property. But somehow... "Tear the roof off!" I said. They smiled at me, surprised. "Tear the roof off," I said again. They did. And they lowered me through the roof right in front of everyone. Possibly the most embarrassing thing I've had to endure in my life. But tears were in my eyes. All I could think was that God had given me some very loving friends....who would have to spend the next few days repairing someone's house. If God healed me, good. But if not, the love my friends had shown me was enough.
When the preacher, Jesus, saw the faith of my friends, he stopped preaching. He walked over to me. "Son," he said to me. "Your sins are forgiven you." The words came into my soul like a sweet ointment. It seemed as if that was all I wanted to hear.
And then I heard a kind of horrified hush in the room. And although no one said anything...there was something in the air...a kind of gasping and wondering about who this man thought he was. And then, as if He could read their minds, he turned to them and rebuked them. He said, "Which is easier to do? To say ‘Your sins are forgiven you'. Or to say ‘Rise take up your bed and walk.'?" Then he turned to me and told me to take up my bed and walk. And just like that I got up and took up my bed. The joy was undescribable. The glory that came to God from my friends and family was unending. People kept repeating over and over: "We've never seen anything like this. Never, ever. Let the God of righteousness and mercy be praised."
Suggested topics for study: guilt and its connection to illness.
1. Have you ever had to be totally dependent on the kindness of others? How did this feel?
2. What does this say about intercessors "bringing people to Jesus"?
3. What did Jesus say was the sick man's need?
4. How do you feel about the spiritual fact that an illness can be rooted in sin?
5. What is the difference between true guilt and false guilt?
6. Are you ever afraid of God's holiness?
7. Do you ever feel unworthy of healing?
8. Do you feel sickness represents God's judgment on you or is the reflection of a corrupt world?
9. Do you feel God doesn't have time for your concerns, that they are not "big" enough?
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