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.”
Many years ago, after an ice storm like the one that recently hit my part of the world, I fell down my front stairs one morning as I was heading to work. One moment I was gingerly making my way sideways down each step, and then the next moment I was at the foot of the stairs, looking up at the sky, the wind knocked right out of me. For about a minute, I couldn't move; I was numb. And as I lay there on the ice, looking up, wondering how badly I'd injured myself, I felt an additional fear: There's no one here to help me.
Sometimes our paralysis is intellectual or emotional. Writer's block; many of us are familiar with the terror of facing down a blank computer screen. Or maybe, faced with a tough decision or series of decisions, we are so overloaded with information or options or possible outcomes that we simply can't take a next step; we feel our minds crashing like an overstressed CPU. Sometimes our paralysis is caused by a cocktail of physical, mental and emotional factors. But whatever the reason, we find ourselves like the woman in the infamous TV commercial: I've fallen and I can't get up.
This is the situation of the young paralytic in our Gospel lesson. Except -- he has friends. Faithful friends. Persistent friends. Resourceful friends. When they hear that Jesus is in town, and they arrive at Jesus' location only to find a huge, jostling crowd already there, trying to get close to Jesus, they resolve to do whatever it takes to get their friend the help he needs -- even if it means climbing onto the roof, digging through the tiles and lowering their friend through the hole.
It's interesting that I found it hard to find artwork for this post that actually showed the paralytic's friends. Artists seem to prefer focusing on the drama of the paralyzed man suddenly picking up his mat and walking. But if you read the text, the friends aren't just bit players in this story. It's their love, their trust, that Jesus commends.
Not all that long ago I was the person flattened on the mat. Not by anything serious -- I know people going through crises that make my own life seem like a stroll down Easy Street by comparison. No; my problems were more on the scale of being nibbled to death by ducks; every day one more thing -- a health issue; a work setback; an anxiety about my mother; dealing with hostile others. I started greeting the morning in the cynical spirit of Dorothy Parker: What fresh hell is this? I felt myself shutting down. I couldn't move emotionally or spiritually, and even had a hard time making the trip out of bed every day.
And that's when my friends showed up. Not in concert, mind you; most of them don't know one another. And I'm sure many of them weren't all that conscious of the aid they were lending me. But all of them, in their own ways, helped pull me up on the roof and then got me to a place where I could see Jesus. And that was a gift I desperately needed.
I run into a lot of Christian freelancers online who have been so hurt or disillusioned by the Church that they've resolved to go it alone in the world. What I tell them is: It's just too hard. You need other people. Yes, they'll drive you insane sometimes, but you need them.
And it works both ways. I know that I am the least happy and whole when I am suffering a bout of curvatus in se -- self-absorption, solipsism, all me all the time. Sometimes I need to be confronted by someone flat on the mat to startle me out of myself, to help me remember who I am and why I'm here.
Jane Siberry has a song, "Life is the Red Wagon," whose chorus goes, "You pull me/I'll pull for you." This is how it is, to live on the earth. And this is where we meet Jesus, the powerful one who was also the weak and vulnerable one, who heals us when we're not able to pull and blesses us for the pulling.
Artwork by James Tissot