The Paralytic’s Friends

On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with him to heal. And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, “Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God. And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen extraordinary things today.”

Luke 5:17-26, ESV

In my previous post, I shared about how God gave me insights into an old hymn which seemingly had nothing to do with the intended message of the song. Similarly, when I read this passage (which Ted recently examined in his Lent Encounters series), what stands out the most to me is not the obvious implication of Jesus’ spiritual authority.

Most of what I see–who I see–in this story is a man who can’t possibly get to Jesus without the help of his friends. He’s paralyzed, and wheelchairs don’t exist yet. He’s too disabled to access the very person that could heal him! Can you imagine the frustration, the despair, the hopelessness that would have come with this reality?

Sure, Jesus could have come directly to this guy and healed him, like he did with Peter’s mother-in-law, or like he did with another handicapped man in John 5. This would have fixed the accessibility issue. But what happens instead is altogether sweeter, and I think Jesus let it happen this way for a reason.

My chronic migraine disorder is more disabling than it may sound. Pain is one thing, and that’s definitely exhausting, but there’s a long list of other problems that come along with the migraines and/or their treatment. I won’t claim to have experienced anything close to paralysis, but it’s common for me to be unable to think, speak, or move because of a severe migraine.

Even when I’m not having a migraine, I’ve recently developed an anxiety disorder, which creates a frustrating amount of social paralysis. It’s as if my entire personality, along with my brain, gets sucked out of my body for hours or days at a time.

As such, I can go through long seasons of feeling like this paralyzed man may have felt: I want to get to Jesus, but the body God gave me is keeping me from doing so, and everyone else is getting to Jesus more easily despite me needing Him just as much. 

This is always how I feel when I miss church, for example. Our communal worship delivers so much of God’s grace to me, I feel like I can’t make it through another week without it, even though I often have no choice but to do just that when I get a bad migraine on a Sunday. 

The paralyzed man had at least two, maybe four, friends helping lower his bed through the roof. But I imagine the roof incident was the culmination, not the beginning, of what these folks had done out of love for their crippled friend. For how long had the paralytic’s friends provided basic necessities, encouragement, or a listening ear? It could have been years, or a lifetime. Those small, seemingly insignificant things kept their friend alive until the day he met Jesus and was healed. The friends were the hands and feet of Jesus, and a source of daily bread to a person in need. Their day-to-day acts of service, though not preserved in the words of this story, were certainly a fragrant offering to the Lord.

So are your gifts to me, and all the gifts we give to each other, whether physical or emotional. I’m sustained by grocery runs, meals, and encouraging texts and emails. These things are not small to me, and they are not small in the eyes of our Father, either.

But this story in Luke doesn’t mention most of the things the paralytic’s friends did to serve and love him prior to his being healed. All we know for sure is that when the time came, they carried their friend, brought his mat, busted a hole in a stranger’s roof, and got him to the feet of Jesus.

What if, upon hearing that Jesus was around and healing people, the paralytic’s friends didn’t respond? What if they found the prospect of dragging their buddy to this house either too inconvenient or too unimportant? Perhaps they were all busy that day, and tomorrow would be better. Or maybe they didn’t feel like it was their place, and someone else, someone closer or stronger or whatever, should help out instead.

If the paralytic’s friends hadn’t brought him to Jesus, would they have been true friends? 

I cannot overstate this: Meeting physical needs in our community is important. Serving each other day-to-day is crucial. These acts of love for each other are holy. 

But when our brothers and sisters struggle to get to Jesus on their own, we must bring them. Take them to the throne of grace in prayer. Share truth and encouragement from the Holy Spirit. Help them get to church (both physically and emotionally), and in every way you can think of, bring the Church to them. 

What sort of friends are we if we don’t?