The story of the paralytic is a beautiful story, one of my favourites, because it can be approached from so many angles and interpreted in so many ways the mind starts to boggle as soon as we dive a little bit deeper than the surface.
Bible stories are fascinating things. The more you read them, the more you get into them, the more there is to discover and to learn. You never completely get to the bottom of them and even after 2000 years of interpretation and extrapolation I am sure not everything that can be said about them has been said. Some of the stories have quite magical qualities, like the one we have read this morning.
I remember how in Sunday school we could not get enough of it and how every time the Sunday school teacher asked, this was one of the stories that we wanted her to tell again and again. It is one of those stories that seems to appeal to something deep down inside us, some eternal truth we probably cant even name.
Four friends, an immobilised man, a possible source of healing and several hurdles for the heroes of the story to over come. There are some baddies in the story, and some goodies too. And it is all pretty clear cut and ready for us to identify with.
I am sure we would all love to be the friends. The heroes whom no hurdle will prevent from helping their friend. Who try everything to restore their friend to health. Nothing so it seems is able to put them off their course, not the fact that their friend is not able to walk, not the crowds, not the roof. They are the heroes of the story, they play an exemplary role and wouldnt it be lovely if we could be friends like that.
The paralytic man I believe would conjure up some more ambivalent feelings in us. He is a passive figure. Carried by his friends in both a literal and figurative sense. Somehow we get the impression that he is not altogether as enthusiastic and determined as his four friends. And one can even wonder if he wanted the healing at all. He had no faith in it, so much is clear. It is the faith of the friends that impresses Jesus into healing him, not something he does.
And I bet we all, even if it was difficult to admit to, recognise the feeling: The man has "why bother?" written all over him. He accepts and welcomes his healing with joy, sure enough, but if the friends hadnt dared and done, nothing would have happened.
Then there is the crowd. Eager to hear, eager to see and completely turned in on itself. There is no room for others, there is certainly no room for a paralytic and his four friends. By closing ranks and straining their necks towards the place where they expect some miracle to happen they nearly prevent it. They are a hurdle. Not because they consciously want to be, but because they are too blinkered to realise that looking around and opening themselves up could bring them more and earlier what they are so eagerly looking for.
Another thing that may be painfully recognizable for us. Focussing on one thing we may forget to allow space and opportunity for another, far more interesting thing to happen. It happens in our private life and in the Church.
Or: Turning in on ourselves, especially as a group, as a Church, we often become barriers for what we so eagerly long for. Turning our big broad backs on what is really important and keeping out what could really bring something new and exciting in to us.
Of course there are also the baddies, grumbling on the sidelines. Keeping an eye on due process and jealous of anything really extraordinary that could happen. Suspicious of change, sniffing out possible fraud, insisting on correct procedures, keeping the world safe and organised. Cutting down immediately any tall poppy that might try to rear its head. They are on the sidelines, waiting, with a critical eye, for something untoward to happen. The keepers of law, order and tradition. Nothing will deter them. And I dont think we would particularly like to identify with them, but may have to admit that sometimes that is what we are: criticising grumblers on the sidelines.
And there is Jesus. Goodness personified. Where he speaks the friends receive their reward, healing is brought and the baddies put into their mean minded little places. He is, in this story, the Knight in shining armour, rescuing the man and slaughtering the dragon. There are tensions though and not all is as easy going and relaxed as it seems. In the background the mystery, the question of why this all knowing all powerful man will end up on a cross is there all the time. And the puzzling implications of him forgiving sin: implying he can change the man on the inside as well as on the outside. Isnt healing him from his illness miracle enough?
Here is the crowd. They dont have a clue what this is all about. They want to satisfy their curiosity and watch the spectacle. They are not open to change, even more, they prevent something new from happening by their inability to make room. Here are the scribes: They are going to make sure nothing all too new happens. But here are the friends, ignoring all these barriers and literally going through the roof because their friendship and their faith tells them they are onto something here, that Jesus can make a life changing contribution to their friends life.
Jesus takes one look at them and honours their faith and persistence with grace and healing: A miracle happens.
Hopefully that is something that will also reflect our experience: Carrying what may seem hopeless cases to Jesus, persistent and with faith, going through the roof if need be, will bring grace and healing. Giving friendship and support to others will bring healing to the inside and often also to the outside of their pain. And most often in that order.
The Church is at its best when she manages to do just that: Become a friend that will take up other peoples burdens, and even where they may not be able to see or believe for themselves, take them to Jesus expecting something to happen. Something will happen, something does happen when we do just that.