Last month, I preached on this particular passage to a group of District clergy gathered together for our monthly meeting. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that there was more there than I had gotten to unpack, and as it worked its way around in my heart, it grew into this sermon with a foundation in that musing from a month ago.
The story of the paralytic let down through the roof is one of my favorite Jesus miracles. There’s something mind-blowing, maybe several mind-blowing things that happen in the midst of this story. I shared the story of the man with our preschool kids during our bimonthly chapel, and they were completely locked in on the mystery of the miraculous.
“Why couldn’t he move?”
“Why didn’t his legs work?”
“Jesus made him walk again?!”
It’s a powerful story, isn’t it?
Here, Jesus is preaching, and people have gathered from all over, everywhere, to come and hear what he had to say. “The Man” has shown up to evaluate him; the poor in pocket and spirit have come to be uplifted; the sick have come to be healed and made whole.
Jesus looks down at the man and tells him that his sins are forgiven. Snap! Like that. This is so upsetting to the Pharisees and teachers of the Law that they muttered to each other, calling Jesus a heretic for healing a man’s sins because God alone could do that! They have no framework to believe that Jesus could be God. It’s too unexpected. But Jesus knows what they’re thinking (is it his Spidey sense?) and confronts them for thinking that he shouldn’t have forgiven the sins of this man. They valued the process more than they valued someone being made right with God! So, Jesus goes ahead and heals the man, too. No big deal.
Because of the healing, many turn to faith and recognize that God is moving in and through Jesus.
Those points are the ones that every sermon I’ve ever heard have focused on. Jesus versus the Pharisees. Healing with forgiveness of sins. The power of the miracle to change lives. But today, I want us to focus on something else.
I want us to consider what friendship looks like.
Let’s read Luke 5:18-20 again, from the Message translation: “Some men arrived carrying a paraplegic on a stretcher. They were looking for a way to get into the house and set him before Jesus. When they couldn’t find a way in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof, removed some tiles, and let him down in the middle of everyone, right in front of Jesus. Impressed by their bold belief, he said, ‘Friend, I forgive your sins.'”
Now, popularly, we end up with four men. It’s even in the kids version I use! (Can you imagine if we edited out all of the things we’ve embellished to fill the stories out or make sense? ‘Sorry, kings four through six, you don’t fit into our We Three Kings musical montage.’) Maybe we think four corners or four ropes to lower him down because that would be an even number or bedspreads have corners or that’s how we’d do it, but we don’t know how many men were there any more than we know how many wise men visited Jesus as a three-year-old! Because they didn’t show up in Bethlehem…
We do know that these fabulous friends rolled up on the house where Jesus was preaching with intent. They were focused on bringing their incapacitated friend, who could not walk or use crutches to Jesus. They hadn’t come for themselves, they hadn’t taken the day off from work to just come and ‘check Jesus out.’ It doesn’t say why they brought him, but can’t we surmise? Can’t we see that these men, who would carry a man for miles would want what they thought was best for him, couldn’t they see that if this man had a chance, any chance at all, that it was through Jesus?
There were no hospitals, no MRIs, no primary care physician-to-referred specialist processes to go through. For a paralyzed man, his one and only hope was a miracle. (This begs the question: have you ever needed a miracle to solve something? Have you ever experienced a miracle? Somehow, it seems like we better get the story of this man if we see it the way that the kids at chapel did: this. is. amazing.)
These friends are hot and sweaty from having carried a grown man from wherever they came from. They are tired, and they have finally reached their destination, only to find… no room. Imagine their desperation upon arriving and finding no room. If there were as many people as is implied by the numbers and locations that these people came from to see Jesus, then they couldn’t even see Jesus through a door or window. They couldn’t even push their way in!
This is actually the second story of “no room” in the Gospels, isn’t it? “And there was no room in the inn…” Jesus was denied room… and here’s a man denied room to see Jesus. But this man has friends.
Imagine with me the conversation.
“There’s no way in. Too many people.”
“Can we wait them out?”
“What are we going to do, go home?”
“We can’t give up, we’ve come so far.”
“He needs this. We’ve got to get in there to see Jesus.”
“What other options do we have?”
“Hey, guys, you know the ‘Bear Hunt’ song?”
“Can’t go over it. Can’t go under it. Gotta go through it!”
And so, the friends carry their incapacitated friend up on the roof. And by the roof, we’ll assume that they went up onto another roof through someone else’s house, and carried their friend across several rooftops to get to the house where Jesus was. They tear the roof open to provide a way for the man to get to Jesus, breaking several laws– isn’t it breaking, entering, destruction of property, stealing… to get through the roof, and that’s when Jesus sees their faith and forgives their friend’s sins.
That’s my favorite part.
Jesus forgives a helpless man, who is “stuck,” who literally cannot move, because he has faithful friends.
Do you have faithful friends? Are you a faithful friend?
I wonder sometimes if I am. I wonder if I am the kind of faithful person and pastor who Jesus looks at and forgives someone because of my faith.
Let that sink in for a minute. Jesus heals this man because of his friends’ faith. We spend a lot of time talking about having a personal relationship with Jesus, about confessing our sins, about repenting. There is none of that here. This man is forgiven, made right, put back together, reunited with God because of his friends’ faith.
He might’ve been a class A jerk. An idol worshipper. A murderer.
But Jesus healed him because of the faith of his friends.
In his book, 11, Leonard Sweet lays out twelve “indispensable relationships you can’t live without.” Some of the highlights: Editor, Butt-Kicker, protege, Yoda, and Back Coverer. All of the characteristics serve some role in our lives, Sweet says. But I’d take it a step further and say that our faithful friends are ones who recognize what’s needed at what time.
Do we need to be encouraged or challenged?
Do we need to be comforted or condemned?
Do we need advice or an ear that is open with a mouth that is closed?
Do we need someone who needs our advice and experience so that we can learn as we teach?
Do we need faithful friends? Are we faithful friends?
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to speak with Kyle Idleman, megachurch pastor at Southeast Christian Church and author of Not A Fan. We talked about his new book, AHA, about the Prodigal Son, and how each of us has a series of ‘aha’ moments that we may or may not miss. But Idleman shared with me that he meets with a friend once a week and they ask each other, “what am I missing?” They don’t solve each others problems but they help each other ask the right questions. They work together to be faithful friends.
Over time, I have come to understand who my faithful friends are. The people who pray for me when they say they will. The people who will look me in the eye and really ask, “how is it with your soul?”
In our scripture today, the question was, “how do we get our friend to Jesus?”
I’m sure we could apply the story of these friends to our church: how we need to not let the structures in place in architecture or tradition or apathy or excuses to get in the way of people meeting Jesus, how we need to be willing to ‘go big or go home’ when it comes to our boldness in introducing Jesus to people.
But what about our circle of friends? Are we the kinds of friends who are willing to go the extra mile? Do we have the kinds of friends who see us “stuck” and are willing to do the same?
If you were stuck, who would you call outside of your family? Are any of those people sitting here in church today?
I want to say this definitively today: they should be.
I know how lonely the church can be for people who wander in knowing they’re missing something, feeling like they don’t belong. And sometimes, that’s me, the pastor.
I’ve counseled people who needed to talk about their broken marriage or their fractured relationship with a parent or child, who didn’t know where else to turn.
I’ve seen people struggle with their faith, thinking they’re the only ones dealing with work, family, church, God, and the thoughts in their head.
And I wonder, what would our church and community look like, if we were “faithful friends?” What difference would that make? How might our ministry change? How might our lives be bettered? How might we understand Jesus better?
Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). That’s Jesus. That’s what he preached and that’s what he did.
Jesus saw a kindred spirit in those friends, who carried their paralyzed buddy in. He understood putting yourself aside (the hard work of getting him there, the threat of arrest for breaking the law) to show love, to be a friend. That resonated with him. And it’s what he wants from us.
Are you ready to rip the roof off? Are you ready to boldly put your friends, family, and neighbors before Jesus so that they might be forgiven? Are you ready to be forgiven yourselves?
I pray today that God would look down at us and find us faithful friends. I pray that he would look at those around us, and heal their bodies and souls because of our faith.
That would be a serious “wow” moment, wouldn’t it?