For many years now, one of my favorite gospel stories has been the healing of the paralyzed man. The first time it stood out to me I was preparing to help lead Vacation Bible School in the Dominican Republic. One of the leaders decided that we would reenact the healing of the paralytic and narrate the story in Spanish. All was going well, until one of the students asked, “So how do we get onto the church’s roof?” You can imagine the disappointment when we informed them that we would not be lowering someone through the ceiling.
As the story goes in Luke 5, a paralyzed man has some very dedicated friends who carry him to see Jesus. The crowd was too large for them to carry him through the door, so instead they climbed onto the roof, and lowered him through the ceiling to place him in front of Jesus. Jesus then looks at the paralyzed man and states, “Friend, your sins are forgiven” (v. 18-20). The Pharisees and Scribes then get upset, accusing Jesus of insulting God, since only God can forgive sins. Jesus retorts, “Which is easier — to say ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But so that you will know the Son of Man has authority on the earth to forgive sins…I say to you, get up, take your cot, and go home.” The paralyzed man then stood up, lifted his cot, and went home praising God (v. 22-25).
The Pharisees and Scribes were skeptical of Jesus’ ability to forgive sins, so Jesus proved his power to forgive by telling the man to get up and walk. This story describes a very physical manifestation of Jesus’ power to forgive sin, and while you and I may not have been paralyzed physically when we received grace, we nonetheless need to get up and walk as well. We need to share the peace, mission, and call we have received in order to participate in manifesting God’s love in the world.
I have been a part of a few congregations that seemed to forget, almost weekly, that they have received forgiveness and that it’s time to get up and walk. The songs in their worship services focused on how we are covered in sin; the small groups discussed how we constantly fail in our faith; and outreach missions often emphasized that we weren’t doing enough. It’s almost as if they believed that in order for Jesus to be especially strong and big and holy, we had to be especially weak and small and sinful. Is that the life of the forgiven?
I am all for honest self-reflection, and none of us gets it right all the time. We mess up and have bad days, but the truth is that God walks with us through those days just as faithfully as God walks with us on our best days. The knowledge of our fallibility should not detract from our celebrating that we have a God who loves us deeply, who hears us and knows us and wants the absolute best for us and for the world.
So get up off your mat. Pick it up, and go show the world the wonder of God’s love.