One day, while he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting near by (they had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem); and the power of the Lord was with him to heal. Just then some men came, carrying a paralyzed man on a bed. They were trying 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 middle of the crowd in front of Jesus. When he saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven you.” – Luke 5:17-20 (NRSV)
I’ve been reflecting on this passage for worship Monday night (it actually continues for six more verses). There’s a lot going on here – and a lot of agendas.
First, we have Jesus who is teaching – apparently not in the synagogues but in someone’s home. Since all of his healings in Capernaum, word is definitely getting out because people are coming from all over Israel to see him. Luke also reminds us that Jesus has the power to heal. This is consistent with what Jesus said his agenda was: “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.” (Luke 4:43)
Second, we have the Pharisees and teachers of the law, as well as, I assume, the common people. I’m not sure what their agenda is. Are they coming just to hear this new rabbi everyone is raving about? Since some of Jesus’ disciples were also disciples of John the Baptist, are they coming to see if Jesus is a troublemaker?
Finally, we have a group of friends trying to help one of their own. We don’t know how far they carried their paralytic friend on his bed to get to Jesus. It could be that this was their hometown, and they were taking advantage of Jesus being nearby. Wherever they came from, they are definitely dedicated to their agenda of getting their friend to Jesus. Seeing that the house is overflowing and they can’t get near Jesus, they carry the man up to the roof, remove the tiles and lower him down.
In the NRSV, we are told “they were trying to lay him before Jesus,” but the original language is actually “seeking” (ζητεω). They were seeking Jesus for their friend – but they can’t find a way. They are seeking but not finding. We’re also told the religious leaders “were sitting near by” Jesus.
So it seems, someone seeking Jesus can’t find a way to Jesus because he is surrounded by church people.
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” – Matthew 7:7-8 (NIV)
These guys found a way to help their friend – and Jesus recognizes their tenacity as a sign of faith. But not everyone has friends with faithful tenacity that can get them to Jesus. This guy was a paralytic, so he couldn’t bring himself to Jesus. In the same way, some people are paralyzed by the isolationism, consumerism, and competition that abound in our culture. This paralysis may present itself as pride, fear, escapism, addiction, or financial excess (spending or earning).
I think Luke paints an interesting picture, and I wonder how this still plays out today. I believe all of us church people should stay close to Jesus. And I know Jesus said to Mary that she had the better way of sitting at Jesus’ feet rather than bustling around like Martha. But if this had been Martha’s house, I think she would have noticed this group of guys carrying around a paralytic. And I think she would have cleared a path to Jesus.
This passage challenges me in three ways:
- I need to stay close to Jesus…
- but I should make sure I’m not blocking other people from Jesus…
- and while it is good to bring my friends to Jesus, I should also be tenacious and faithful for the one who has no one to seek so they can find him as well.
And this should be my only agenda.