Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Through the Roof

Today I am thinking, once again, about disabilities. What brought this to mind is that I'm reading through the Gospel of Matthew, and I just today read through the story of the paralytic that was healed by Jesus. The version rendered in Matthew is rather vague, so I moved onto the version of the story as told in Luke.

The story goes that there was a man who was unable to walk. His friends decide that his best chance for life was to take him to Jesus. Interestingly enough, the Bible doesn't say that the friends were looking for Jesus to heal him. They probably were, especially as the scripture refers to Jesus and says that "the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick." But still, the text never, at least in English, specifies that.

They can't get their friend to Jesus because of all the crowds surrounding, so they climb up to the roof of the house, cut a hole in the roof, and then lower their friend down to Jesus. While I find this part especially neat, I must say that all the numerous, and also near-disastrous, home improvement projects I've been involved with causes me to be somewhat sympathetic to the home owner. Perhaps Jesus fixed the roof for him and the Bible just doesn't mention it (since he just fixed the roof like a carpenter rather than as an omnipotent God).

So, the men lower their friend to Jesus. Jesus sees the paralytic lying there and then does something that no reader of the story would expect. He forgives the guy's sins.

Now, I know what some of you reading this are thinking. You're thinking, "What kind of sins can a paralytic possibly commit? He's just lying there."

Well, from my experiences with my girls I can tell you: he has many options. Our oldest daughter was, essentially, a paralytic when she was in a body cast. She couldn't move from the chest down, and then had only 1 arm to work with up top. It was pretty restrictive. She couldn't even sit up. But, I can tell you now that she was still able to: lie, smart mouth, be prideful, steal (or at least temporarily steal something by hiding it), and dishonor her parents. And that is without any knowledge of what went on in her head! The real problem, then, is not how to sin, but what to do as a parent. I couldn't exactly put her in time out --- she was already in an involuntary 6 week time out while in the cast! But, suffice it to say that sin is definitely possible in any phase of life.

Years ago, when I first read this story (long before any real understanding of disabilities), I used to secretly question how Jesus could just look past what so obviously needed healing on this man. I didn't doubt that Jesus was compassionate, I just doubted His ability to understand what earthly life would be like when you didn't have supreme powers. Now, perhaps, I have a bit more understanding than I did then.

First of all, I think we (especially those who have no experience with disabilities) who don't have a physical disability come at the healings with some serious presuppositions, the largest of which is that, of course, these people would be bringing their friend for his physical healing. And, yet, as I mentioned before, this is never overtly stated in the text. We presume that the most important part of the story is the physical healing, because, we presume that any person with a disability would desire healing more than anything. From the start of the story, in fact, Jesus had a different view of what needed healed.

I also think of this in connection with the time that Jesus healed the man in the pool at Bethesda. Before healing the man, Jesus posed the question, "Do you want to get well?"

I've heard teaching about this passage where the speaker points out that Jesus asks this question possibly because he wanted to see if this man really wanted healed. I think there is probably some legitimacy to that interpretation -- the paralytic probably did have some attitude issues or something of the like. However, perhaps Jesus asked this question because He understood the greater truth that life isn't over just because you have a disability. That understanding came through in the question to the man at the pool, and it comes to light here. Jesus went straight to the real issue, the sin, because He knew what could be redeemed from a life with a disability. The disability didn't have to be removed in order for the man to live as a son of God. His life could still have purpose, and his eternal reward would stay the same.

So, He healed what really needed healed.

Now, some of you reading this probably didn't think about how a paralytic could sin, or that Jesus was missing the point of how the guy needed his legs healed. You were thinking the same thing as the pharisees, which essentially was: Who is this guy that he thinks he can forgive sins?

Now, I've often found this to be one of the neatest part of the story. Jesus answers the Pharisee's thoughts! In Luke 5:22, he says,

"Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, "Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? 23Which is easier: to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up and walk'? "

Then Jesus goes on to heal the man, just to show evidence of his authority to forgive sins.

It strikes me that the stories of the healings have much more depth than we realize. I've read that these healings were just some of the miracles he performed, so obviously there must be a reason that these particular ones were recorded. Perhaps it was the nuggets of truth surrounding the healings that Jesus was more concerned about.

Was the man's life radically changed by his healing? Of course. It would be silly to think otherwise. It was a tremendous gift to be healed. However, in the end, the guy faced the same aging process and the same grave that every other person in the history of the world faces. At best a healing of physical nature is a temporary fix.

However, Jesus fixed the real problem.

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