Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Stand up and take your mat and walk'?
We begin to see opposition to Jesus in this story. Who is this fellow...- it reeks of contempt. His answer is full of power. You question my right, my authority... let me show my authority by my power to do something much harder than mere words. And he heals him so he can walk again.
I think there is a real attack or the authorities of religion at this point. Only God has authority to forgive sins they say. But his reply makes it clear that they too were forgiving and withholding forgiveness. They may not have been doing this "in so many words," but they defined who was ''in", and who was "out." As they would agree, we all sin. But some of us remain acceptable to society just the same, and some of us are shunned.
So far we have seen Jesus healing ministry in three places. It happens in the synagogue, and it happens at home. Later it will happen "on the road." I see here that he is not just the holy man of the desert. The holy life, and the life of discipleship happens as we worship and as we travel, but also as we simply are ''at home." With all the power and all the healing these is something ordinary about a life of discipleship.
The imagery of the story is full of riches. We find Jesus within ourselves as we dig through the upper floor of our ''house;'' our self. I am tempted to say "as we dig through our upper stor(e)y. The digging and healing is sometimes a community thing; our friend's love and concern brings us to Jesus.
And, of course, paralysis is an issue in so much sickness. In so many ways we feel paralysed, stuck, disempowered, powerless to act, blocked, unable to move. Jesus, says the story, enables us to get up and walk
He gives to us. The paralytic did nothing to deserve the healing. He was brought unable to do anything for himself. He could have refused to stand up and walk; sometimes we do, but the gift was given.
In this commentary so far, I have made no comment about the historical veracity of any of the gospel stories. How likely is it that they actually happened as they are written? This is an issue of great concern for some. I have read commentary where the major concern seems to be to defend the literal historical accuracy of the text.
Personally I think "Did it happen?" is the wrong question . The houses of the day commonly had a flat roof with an staircase, so the scenario of someone digging through the roof is not as strange as it sounds to our modern western ears. But to ask "if it happened" and make that the issue, is to limit the meaning and the power of the story to "did it happen."
When we ask "did it happen," in a manner that goes beyond curiosity; that is, when "did it happen" is really important to us, we betray our impoverished modern western perception that truth lies only in repeatable, observable, literal facts. The point of the story is reduced to whether on not it happened. The metaphorical truth and message is downgraded or, because we are so focussed on literal events, not even seen!
"Did it actually happen" is a problem for many western believers because they feel their religious beliefs are under attack. They naively think that historical proof of Jesus is actually a proof of the truth of his claims and the claims about him.
Yet remove Jesus from the equation, and even we westerners can see metaphorical truth. The hyena was crossing the plains when he caught the scent of a fresh kill or the wind. As he turned to the north to track it down, the wind swung to the south, and he smelt more meat. The hyena turned to it instead. Then the wind changed again, and be turned back to the north. This happened a number of times, and suddenly, the hyena split in two, and died. The city people said this was not a true story, said my friend Nairn Kerr, who dug it up somewhere. But the plains villagers said. "Of course it is true; greed kills." Even we Westerners can see the truth of this when we are not worried about the reality of Jesus.
If we deny or downgrade metaphorical truth by focussing the significance of the passage on its literal truth, we betray one thing. We betray our insecurity about the reality of Jesus.
We would not think that an apocryphal story about Gandhi does anything to the reality of Gandhi if it proves not to be literally true, because we know the reality of Gandhi. Indeed we may think the story reflects the essence of Gandhi's mission rather well! But because we do not know the reality of Jesus from other sources, but only from our experience, we try and insist on the gospel source having more literal authority than it can bear. This lessens its ability to bring us the metaphorical truth of Jesus, and thus we are less likely to ''meet" him and have the authority of our experience. Thus we must insist on the literal truth all the more, leading to a greater paralysis.
Only when we accept his hand and get up and walk on the authoritative two feet of our own experience will we be free from that awful paralysis of being carried most of the time by our friends' faith.
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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