When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
Bumper stickers rarely contain profound truth, but I saw one recently that helped me see this text in a new light. The bumper sticker was in the shape of a dog’s paw with the simple question “Who rescued who?” written in the center; the context being that the driver of the vehicle had adopted a dog from a shelter.
I struggled with the idea of using this metaphor because it compares the paralyzed man to a rescued dog.
But isn’t this exactly how conventional readings of this story treat the paralyzed man – as an individual in need of pity and that might be somehow subhuman? “Good thing for him he had such good and decent friends!” – we think to ourselves before thinking about all the ways we can use our strength and power and connections to bring those in need to a place of help.
Thinking about how can we use our friendships and connections to help those in need. Figuring out how bring those in need of healing to the healer. Following the Samaritan’s lead and loading the dying onto your camel and tending to his wounds – even at great personal cost – this is part of loving our neighbors.
But I want to explore this story in a new way by asking a simple question of this familiar text – isn’t the paralyzed man somehow responsible for bringing his friends to Jesus?
Does loving our friends and neighbors – and perhaps even our enemies!? – bring us closer to Jesus? In a better positions to see the wonder and grace of Jesus? More in touch with our humanity and our own need for healing.
We are not called to merely love our neighbors – we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves. This, I think, means seeing our shared humanity with all of those we encounter – and seeing this humanity in all of its complexity and nuance.
The five men – the paralyzed man and his friends – came to Jesus together. In the midst of shared needs and strengths, they came to Jesus seeking healing and receiving both healing and forgiveness.
The Communion liturgy invites us to “come to Jesus not because you are strong, but because you are weak” and it is in our weakness and humbleness of our humanity that we encounter the Lord who offers healing and new life.
It is by serving others that we come to experience Christ and the people we serve lead us in this process.