Sunday, July 10, 2011

A God of Transformations: The Dynamic Presence of God in The Gospel of Luke - Part 3

The Paralyzed Man's Story – Luke 5:17-26

          God fulfilled Zechariah's prophecy in an amazing way when He came among us as God-made-Man in Jesus Christ, the divine Son, the second Person of the Blessed Trinity. The dynamic presence of God moving in and through Jesus Christ during the years of His hidden life and public ministry touched and transformed countless minds, hearts, and lives. The paralyzed man in Luke 5:17-26 offers us a prime example of a person restored to physical and spiritual wholeness through his contact with Jesus.
          What was this man like before his intimate encounter with God the Son? Physically, he was most likely totally incapacitated, unable to walk and so weak that he had to be carried on a pallet by several friends (5:18). His disability would have significantly impacted his life, for it would have prevented him from participating fruitfully in the activities, and even the worship, of his family and community. His physical difficulties, however, seem to have been only one aspect of his brokenness. This man required healing on more than one level, for Jesus, upon seeing him, did not focus on his physical condition. Instead, He forgave his sins. The paralyzed man, like all of us, was a sinner in need of forgiveness. His sin was crippling him as much as his physical disability, for it was impeding, perhaps even preventing, an intimate relationship with God. Further, this man appears to have possessed a weak faith at best. How can we deduce this from the text? Verse 20 tells us that Jesus saw “their faith.” To whom does the pronoun “their” refer? In the previous verse, the pronoun “they” has as its antecedent the paralyzed man's friends, who went up on the roof and lowered the man before Jesus. Clearly the pronoun could not refer to the man himself in this verse, so it most likely does not vary in its antecedent in verse 20 especially since there is no intervening noun to suggest such a change. What we have, then, is Jesus seeing and responding to the strong faith of the man's friends rather than that of the man himself. Does this mean that the paralyzed man did not have faith? Not necessarily, but we can at least tentatively surmise that the man's faith was weak and limited. He had enough faith to allow his friends to carry him to Jesus, but he remained totally passive. He did not take an active role in his healing. He did nothing. He said nothing. He did not plead or participate; he was merely silent and still as though he could hardly believe that this Man his friends trusted so much could do anything for him. In any case, this taciturn and helpless man was certainly blessed with loyal and caring friends, friends who were willing to go to extremes to give their companion a new chance at life.
          So what happened to this paralyzed man? Jesus was teaching inside a house, surrounded by Pharisees and scribes who had come from all over Israel to hear Him speak (5: 17). The man's friends did not seem to mind the presence of such an esteemed audience. Unable to push their way through the crowd while carrying their friend's pallet, they climbed up to the roof, lifted their companion up with them, removed some of the roof tiles, and lowered the paralyzed man down before Jesus (5:19). Recognizing the literal heights these men went to in their quest to help their comrade, Jesus responded to their faith-filled actions, albeit not in the way they probably expected. “Man,” He said to the person lying silently before Him, “your sins are forgiven you” (5:20). Jesus knew what kind of healing the paralyzed man needed most; he required forgiveness, spiritual renewal, and a reestablishment of his relationship with God more than any physical cure. The Pharisees and scribes began to question His declaration of forgiveness. “Who is this that speaks blasphemies?” they thought. “Who can forgive sins but God only?” (5:21). Perceiving their skepticism, Jesus answered their objections with a physical sign that confirmed the paralyzed man's spiritual healing and His own power to forgive sins. (13) “I say to you,” He told the man, “rise, take up your bed and go home” (5:24). The man did just that; he stood up before all, picked up his bed, and went home, glorifying God and leaving behind him an amazed group of scribes and Pharisees (5:25-26).
          Without a doubt, the paralyzed, now healed, man was a different person after his encounter with God-made-Man, Jesus Christ. What, exactly, had been transformed in him? How had his life story been changed? Most evidently, this man was physically cured. He was no longer a feeble, paralyzed person, unable to walk and dependent upon others to carry him from place to place. This in itself was a tremendous life change. Jesus gave this man the opportunity to live a full human life, to work, to play, to worship, to be independent (at least as much as anyone ever is in this life), and to form equal relationships with other people. The paralyzed man's transformation was not limited to physical healing, however. When Jesus forgave his sins, He made him clean and whole in God's sight and removed the obstacles that prevented him from cultivating the greatest relationship of all, his friendship with God. With his mind and heart, which had been weakened and broken by sin, restored, he was now capable of intimacy with God. The man joyfully accepted these divine gifts of spiritual and physical healing. Prepared and strengthened by the forgiveness he had received, he immediately and without hesitation obeyed Jesus' command to rise (5:25). Gone was his weak faith; he now trusted Jesus completely and submitted to Him fully, believing His words without doubt. Gone, too, was his passivity; he was now an actor in the divine drama, moving quickly under his own power and speaking in praise where he had previously failed to speak in supplication. He broke out in worship, glorifying and thanking God as he recognized the divine source of the great blessings that had been poured down upon him. (14) The physically-paralyzed, spiritually-broken, passive individual was gone, and standing in his place was a physically-strong, spiritually-whole, active, faith-filled, joyful worshiper of God.
          What does the story of the paralyzed man tell us about God, particularly about God the Son, Jesus Christ? How does He reveal Himself to us in this passage? First, we must note that Jesus, by actively forgiving this man's sins, is showing that He is indeed God. His authority is divine, not human, and He has the power to heal both physically and spirituality. Further, He places an emphasis and a priority on spiritual health, even to the point of making it a preparation, or perhaps, more accurately, a prerequisite, for physical healing. Certainly, in Jesus' eyes, the state of our soul, and our relationship with Him (and with the Father and the Holy Spirit), is far more important than our physical condition (although the latter is not insignificant because, as human beings, we are comprised of both body and soul). Finally, the story of the paralyzed man reveals something significant about Jesus' anticipatory response to the longings of our hearts. Jesus knows what we are thinking and what we need even before we ask Him. He knew the questions of the scribes and Pharisees; he recognized the intentions and the silent plea of the faithful friends. He may even have discerned the unexpressed desires of the paralyzed man's own heart, yearnings the man himself may not have realized were present. Jesus, our loving God, knows us better than we know ourselves, and He is always ready to reach out to us, to listen to our hearts, and to satisfy our deepest needs.
          Finally, we must ask ourselves, “How might we apply the story of the paralyzed man to our own life stories?” Again, we will provide several reflection questions designed to help us encounter God in His Word and in our hearts.

1. What paralyzes us in our spiritual life? What kinds of spiritual healing do we need? For what sins do we need forgiveness? Do we doubt God's power to forgive us?
2. Do we realize that spiritual healing is more important than physical healing? How might this awareness change the focus of our petitions and intercessions?

3. Do we intercede for our friends and family members? Do we realize the wonderful effects intercession can have on their lives? Are we determined and confident in setting our loved ones before the Lord?

4. What happens when God does not give us the answers we have been expecting? Do we question Him, or do we trust that He knows our needs better than we do?

5. Are we obedient to God's commands? Do we praise Him for the gifts and favors He gives us?
13. Cf. Hahn and Mitch, 30.
14. Gill.

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