The story of Jesus and the paralytic who is lowered through the roof in front of Jesus recorded in Luke 5 is a familiar story. Because of the familiarity of the story, we read the story with clear expectations that Jesus will heal. This is a healing story. But it’s not just the reader who expects healing. The way Luke records the tale points in every conceivable way toward healing. The verse immediately preceding the story speaks of how Jesus has been traveling the countryside and many were traveling to see Jesus in order to be healed of their infirmities. Luke mentions that the room is filled with Pharisees and teachers of the law from every village in Galilee, Judea, and even Jerusalem. They are there to investigate this miracle worker, and now is the perfect opportunity for a healing. The friends who carry the paralytic to Jesus, and then lower him down through the ceiling tiles, are clearly going to such lengths in order for Jesus to heal; they are expecting a healing. Finally, Luke even mentions that the Spirit of the Lord was with Jesus to heal at this time. Everything in the narrative is pointing toward Jesus healing this paralytic who has been brought before him.
Because this is a familiar story, and the narrative is clearly expecting a healing, if we aren’t careful we’ll jump right ahead to the end of the story, witness the man picking up his mat and walking home, and declare, “See, another healing story.” While it’s true that Jesus does heal the man’s physical condition by the end of the story, the focus of the story is not on his healing. Everyone is expecting a physical healing, Jesus instead heals the man where it is most needed, spiritually.
Jesus sees the man, sees his friends, recognizes their faith, and knows what they are expecting; so he looks at the man and says, “your sins are forgiven.” Some of the onlookers had to think, “that’s it?” The time seemed ripe for healing, there was an expectation. Yet Jesus doesn’t give them what they expect, Jesus gives them something even better.
That’s typically how Jesus operates. We come to Jesus expecting one thing, and often end up with something totally different. We come to Jesus asking for healing, yet our sickness persists; later we learn that our faith is stronger and we learned to be at peace. We come to Jesus asking for a good life, yet our days are filled with struggles; later we realize that while life wasn’t always easy, we’ve had good lives. We come to Jesus hoping all of our problems will go away. Later we realize our problems have stayed, but we are much better people as we’ve been tested through the fire.
The same is true in the story. We expect healing, and Jesus heals; just not in the way we expect. The paralytic needed healing. But Jesus understood that his main struggle was not that he was paralyzed. His main struggle was that he was alienated from God. His main struggle was he had a sin problem that was completely unrelated to his physical problem. Jesus could heal his physical sickness and make him walk, which he later does, but walking alone wouldn’t renew relationship with God. The man needed forgiveness, thus Jesus spoke to him the good news. It was unexpected healing. And in so doing, Jesus changed the narrative. This episode wasn’t about physical healing, but spiritual healing.
While it seems strange to admit, in our culture it’s easy to forget that what is most important is spiritual healing. Over the last two decades we’ve embraced the social justice mission. We’ve reexamined the text, and rightfully discerned that salvation is not simply going to heaven when we die, but living new creation life now. We’ve reexamined our theology and discovered the good news should be good news for today; it should mean something that is very real and tangible. We’ve reexamined our call to feed the hungry, provide housing for the homeless, help ensure medical availability, work to protect the rights of the immigrant or migrant worker, and protect the environment. This reexamination has led to good happening around us, as we are striving to live into the Kingdom of God even now.
But if we aren’t careful, we may forget the most important thing: our ultimate struggle is not lack of food, lack of medical resources, or lack of education. Our ultimate struggle is sin. And at some point in the midst of our social justice we must share the gospel. At some point it has to be more than just giving a box of food, or paying utilities. While good is always done by sharing resources (God is honored and the gospel is spoken through actions), we at some point must find the time to share our hope in Jesus.
Yes, Jesus gave life to the outcast, the broken, the sick, and the weary. But Jesus also used those opportunities to share the good news of forgiveness.
May we continue to live out faith in real and tangible ways to bring healing to our communities, and while doing so, may we be embolden to speak of the healing we all most desperately need. Perhaps, we’ll witness another unexpected healing in our midst.