How do you want Jesus to act in your life?
In today’s gospel from Luke, the Pharisees (religious folks of the time) get upset with Jesus for telling the paralytic, “your sins are forgiven” (Lk 5: 20). Who does Jesus think he is? How does he have the right to forgive sins and bring healing to this man?
Recall the scene: people are swarming Jesus, pushing into a home where Jesus is being hosted; a group of friends is desperate to have their friend healed; they are carrying their friend, who is paralyzed, on a mat; unwilling to let the crowds deter them, they climb up to the roof of the house where Jesus is; they hoist their friend, strapped to the mat, onto the roof.
When is the last time you have been this desperate for Jesus’ healing? This desperate to be near Jesus? When is the last time you have been so convicted that Jesus has the power and desire to heal you?
The paralytic’s entrance is dramatic! His friends open the roof; tile and dirt might be dropping into the house, dropping onto the people within. The sunlight enters the room in a new way; rays of light catching dust in the air. A helpless man is lowered through the ceiling in front of hundreds of people; lowered right in front of Jesus.
How do you want Jesus to act? How do you want Jesus to heal this man? Perhaps you want him to stand up, lift his arms in grand gesture, raise his voice, speak in tongues, and theatrically heal the person who has been set before him.
He doesn’t. He doesn’t meet these expectations of ours, or of the Pharisees.
Jesus observes, his presence creates space for welcoming the man. He takes in the nerves, the anxiety, the desperate hope, the faithful yearnings of the friends. He feels the energy and expectation of the crowd. He feels the people closing in around him, waiting to see what he is capable of doing. After all, they are here because they have heard great and strange things about this man.
Jesus sees the faith of the paralytic’s friends, and gently, confidently, lovingly, gazes upon the paralytic, and says, “As for you, your sins are forgiven.”
The first thing to notice about how God acts: Jesus is gentle in his power. Jesus’ freedom, love, and healing can be gentle graces. Looking back on your life, how often can you see God working in simple love- the gift of a book that shifted your perspective, the presence of someone who listened to you without judgment, the invitation from a mentor to become a better version of yourself, the peace of a quiet moment, the hospitality of a friend during a period of sadness.
Of course, the story is not over, the Pharisees challenge Jesus, and Jesus responds by meeting them where they are. Saying, “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”- he said to the one who was paralyzed, “I say to you, rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home” (Lk 5: 24).
A second note to notice in how God acts: Jesus meets the crowd where they are. Even when we challenge and resist Jesus, he still wants us to come to know him. He still wants to make himself known to us. Jesus will meet us where we are, even in spaces that are filled with our insecurity, doubt, and fear.
Sometimes Jesus doesn’t act how I want him to act in my life. I think I know his plans, and it ends up that they were just mine.
What I do know, though, is that Jesus is acting. Jesus is acting in ways that I perceive, and in ways that I hope I will perceive when I look back on my life in a year or two or ten from now.
This is my prayer for you and for me- that Jesus helps us to discern how he is acting in our lives, because when we can see Jesus as he is, know Jesus as he is, I am certain that our lives will be full of joy and awe at the mystery of it all. We will say in a new way with the crowd, “We have seen incredible things today” (Lk 5:26).