Scripture Readings for December 11, 2017
Once again our first reading from Isaiah, indeed all of Advent, gives us an image of what will happen when God comes: the weak will be strong, deserts will run with water, the blind will see. It is probably best summed up in saying, God comes to save us.
The Gospel from Luke gives us a concrete example of that happening. A paralyzed man is brought to Jesus and Jesus forgives his sins and heals his paralysis and the man walks home. By any standard, this is God saving his people.
Luke is trying to say one thing. Jesus is God present among us. That’s the message. As Christians, of course, we all believe that.
So what’s the message for us, we already believe Jesus is God’s presence in the world. I think our issue is that Jesus, the person who lived in Nazareth, isn’t here anymore. That makes it harder to operate as if God were here saving us today. That, however, is exactly what being Christian is all about, living out of the belief that God is here saving us today just as Jesus demonstrated 2,000 years ago. That is the point of what we can the Incarnation. You know, what we popularly call Christmas. The outrageous notion that God would become one of us, live a human life and suffer the same way people do. Why would God do that? Christian doctrine says God did that to make it clear that God lives here with us as part of everything, including death, and not far away in some distant heaven.
If that’s true then life should be dramatically different. As Isaiah says, people who are afraid will lose their fear, the lame will walk, flowers will bloom in the desert. An interesting example is in today’s Gospel. Things are dramatically different here. A man, who in the story doesn’t say a word, has his sins forgiven, his paralysis cured and he gets to walk home.
The thing that has always struck me about this story is Jesus’ response to this man being dropped through the roof right in front of him. The first thing Luke describes is, “Jesus saw their faith.” The narration explains the group of men couldn’t bring the paralyzed man into Jesus because of the crowd in the building. So they have to go up on the roof and lower him through the tiles. In this very elaborate physical work Jesus sees their faith. We often think of faith as a spiritual exercise, saying yes to beliefs. But here faith is connected solely to the physical task these men did. Additionally, it isn’t even the faith of the man on the stretcher because when Jesus addresses the man on the stretcher, “as for you” he is separating the paralytic from his observation about “their faith.” This is important because it says the paralytic’s sins were forgiven because of the work, the action of faith, performed by the men, who got him into the room.
This is a rather amazing intertwining of spiritual and physical issues, as well as the connections between us all. It is, for me, an example of how God actually lives in the reality of the world. It says that what happens, or not, each day in our world is an expression of Spirit not just day by day mechanics. Why should we think that a physical explanation of a given situation excludes the spiritual reality of God’s presence? For example, we know very well that doing something nice for another person can help that person feel better. You could say it lifts his/her spirits.
Our lives should be dramatically different if we act on the faith, the trust that God is part of our present reality. In Luke, a group of men brought a paralyzed man to Jesus and he was healed body and soul. What person, what relationships, what attitudes, what else that needs healing should we be bringing to the Savior through how we live?