“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 5:18-20)
The image of these friends physically carrying, lifting, and lowering the paralytic has always been compelling to me. I imagine the crowd – the inability to make their way through the throng with a bed. I can almost hear the conversation between these determined men, “how will we get to Jesus? How will we be able to heal our friend?”
I have a distant memory of my parents lined up for hours to bring my sister to Oral Roberts so she might be healed. My late sister was born with trisomy 21, commonly known as Down Syndrome. Oral Roberts was a nationally recognized preacher who was known for healing. I must have been five, which made her three. All I recall was the crowd, the waiting, the endless line, and the disappointment when they turned my parents away after they had waited for hours. Their hope was crushed. My sister would not be healed. I have often considered the kind of emotional desperation that causes one to make their way through a horde of people and makes one stand in line for hours praying for your child to be touched and be cured. My sister defied all odds and lived into her late 50s – hers was a complicated life but her life taught us much about simple things – such as joy, dancing, and music. The one who was not healed on that day brought a kind of healing to those whose life she touched. The one whose parents carried her would be one whose spirit carried her parents and siblings.
This story ends differently from the one in the Bible – there was no miracle of healing. But it demonstrates the importance of recognizing how God faithfully places people in our lives whose hands we may not see at first but who gently help to heal and carry us through the proverbial roofs. It speaks to those moments in our lives when we are unable to carry ourselves; when the weight of what we are experiencing is such that we cannot walk through the pain or the challenge before us and others have helped carry us. Sometimes the carrying has been obvious and known to us- like my sister and parents. Other times, we can only see the hands in the rearview mirror after we have moved forward from the depth of that painful season. They are the hands that embraced us, encouraged us, fed us, and loved us – initially invisible hands that resulted in visible healing.
There is no question that we do not get to live this life without finding ourselves in one of those places – where life’s tragedies and disappointments have emotionally, psychologically, and even physically paralyzed us. This kind of paralysis causes us to lose hope; and hope is central to us as followers of Jesus, especially in this season of resurrection as we continue our journey through Eastertide, wrestling with the impact of that resurrection morning on our identity today.
And our identity as a people of hope is complex. There are times we will be like the man on the bed lowered through the roof – carried by determined friends. But there will also be times when we are called to be the men and women who carry others when they are unable to carry themselves. We will be called to be the determined friends making our way creatively through the “rooftops” – working together to lift the burdens that keep others immobile with hopelessness. We will be called upon to be the prayer warriors, the feeders, the “shelter builders,” the visitors. And in that call – as we allow ourselves to be hands that help heal others – we may be surprised by the healing that happens within ourselves, that comes when we walk with another. This sounds like “church” to me – that sacred place – that imperfect covenant community where we are called to gather to reclaim our identity as a people of resurrection hope; that place from which we go out bearing the hope of Christ in a world that too-often wounds.
Denver, San Diego, Sri Lanka are recent reminders of this wounded world – a world where children continue to be stripped of their lives with senseless gun violence in places we once thought of as safe; a world where people worshipping get massacred. It is to this wounded world that we have been called to be the healing hope initiated by the risen Christ. It is to this that we have been called to be hands of healing in a world that wounds.