At the end of a stay in the hospital, an attendant comes to our room with a wheel chair to carry us to the front door. Before we leave, we are given a packet of “orders” which contain a follow-up plan. We are told to take it easy for a month, avoid heavy work, go to therapy three times a week, and so on. Eventually we will be fully healed.
When people visited the “Jesus hospital” things were different, as we see in today’s gospel story (Matthew 9:1-8). No wheel chairs, no extended therapy plan, no cautionary words.
Jesus was returning home after a mission trip. No sooner had he arrived than a crowd begin to gather. “There people brought to him a paralytic lying on a stretcher. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Courage, child, your sins are forgiven.’”
The paralytic was totally dependent on his friends. He had to be carried, and it seems he had little faith himself, because Matthew says, “Jesus saw their faith.” Not only that but the guy was living in sin (we wonder what kind of sin a paralytic might commit…my guess is that his tongue wasn’t paralyzed) because Jesus’ first act was to forgive him his sins and set him free. Talk about a man who was totally helpless all the way down to the depth of his spirit!
Jesus wasn’t finished. To demonstrate that his sins were really forgiven he told the man:
“Rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.” And the man “rose and went home.”
This dependent, sinful man got the works! From his inner spirit to his paralyzed body he was set free. And it wasn’t a partial healing, or a “try this for a month and see if you feel better” kind of healing. It was the real deal! Jesus didn’t tell the man’s friends to pick up the stretcher and walk the man home; he told the man himself to stand on his own two feet, pick up the stretcher and walk home by himself. Yes the, “Jesus hospital” is a different kind.
Sin paralyzes all of us in some way; it may even overflow into our physical health. When we present ourselves to Jesus in faith, he looks inside us first. What needs to be forgiven in our spirits? What inner deliverance do we need? Then he works from the inside out and heals the rest of us. We are set free! But wait. That’s not all. He then gives us our follow-up orders: “pick up your stretcher and go home.”
We like to have Jesus forgive us our sins. We like him to heal our bodies. Sometimes, however, we do not like the “pick up your stretcher” part. There is a certain comfort in being dependent on others, and it’s scary to turn over a new leaf and start carrying our own stretchers.
Kristin Armstrong (writer for Living With Christ daily reader) elaborates on what picking up our stretchers might mean:
“This may mean forgiving someone else, opening up to love again, pursuing a passion, taking steps in the direction of our dreams. We can think big. We can be free. We can pick up the stretchers of our brokenness and walk on.”
She then prays: “Lord Jesus, help me rise up to follow you.”
What is the paralysis holding me back? What is the stretcher that I am reluctant to carry myself? Am I willing to let someone take me to the “Jesus hospital” today? And after he touches me, will I follow his orders?
“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all within me, bless his holy name” (Ps 103:1).