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Who here this morning has pets? Have your pets done anything that completely surprised you? Something that you never, ever expected you’d see? Bev and I have two retired racing greyhounds that we adopted when we were living in Ottawa.
One day I was in the backyard BBQ’ing some chicken for supper. As usual the dogs were in the backyard with me, lazing in the early evening sun. Bev had been out earlier in the day reading on a blanket, and left the blanket out. Zorro, our older dog had claimed this blanket for his own, and was sprawled out sleeping right in the middle of it. Ruby, the younger and more puppyish of the two was struggling to find room to lay down without being too close to Zorro. Ruby is the dog who has all the toys, Zorro is occasionally interested, but usually just prefers to sleep. He takes his retirement very seriously. So, this evening as I waited for the food to cook, I watched as Ruby paced around the blanket. Appearing to give up, she goes and grabs one of her stuffed toys.
But instead of tossing it around, she walks over and places it on the corner of the blanket near Zorro’s feet and walks away. My curiosity is increasing, this is new behaviour. Zorro slowly lift his head and looks at what has joined him on the blanket. Seeing the toy, he lays his head back down for a moment. But then he lifts it back up and rolls onto his elbows to lean over and pick up the toy. Ruby sees her opportunity, she sneaks in behind him and lays down, claiming the space created by the distraction of this toy.
No way! Did I just see what I thought I saw?â€
I was amazed! How did this supposedly primitive brain concoct such an elaborate plan? I’ve never seen anything like this! In the span of a few moments my whole outlook on the mental capacity of dogs changed. Who knew that dogs were capable of such analytical and creative processes?
Our Gospel reading this morning also calls us to see a different point of view. Jesus is at home in Capernaum. This would appear to be Peter’s home where Jesus has setup a base from which to work. The scripture reading reads â€œit was reported that he was at home.â€ The casual language amuses me. â€œHey Bob! Did you hear Jesus is back from vacation?â€ But of course the people respond much more enthusiastically than that for the whole house is overflowing with people, filling the yard. And Jesus is inside, teaching.
Now the scene is set. Jesus is home, a very large crowd has gathered, and he is proclaiming the Word of God to those in attendance. We hear of another group of people who arrive. We’re not sure how many except that four of them are carrying a paralytic on a stretcher. They are here to see Jesus, but cannot get through the crowd. They show just how eager they are by being quite creative in what they do next. They make their way onto the roof.
Some days I think Jesus really knew how to throw a party. Here he is with a house full of guests, he’s the centre of attention, and people are doing anything they can think of to get in.
The friends of the paralytic are so desperate to see Jesus that start to dig through the roof. When I was growing up, usually when the party story gets to this point the next description is what happened when the cops showed up.
The friends have peeled back part of what was probably a thatch roof. There’s no doubt that people would be watching this happen as branches and leaves were probably falling inside. And amidst the guests, the friends lower the man onto the floor near Jesus.
As you might expect, Jesus recognizes the great faith this group has. And the effort they will go through to reach Jesus. I mean, they lifted a paralytic onto the roof of a house, proceeded to lift a section of that roof, and carefully lowered the stretcher down to the floor. They have put a lot of faith into what Jesus can do for their friend.
So what does Jesus offer? â€œSon, your sins are forgiven.â€ This statement brings immediate reaction from the some people in the house. They question Jesus’ authority for forgiving sins. Only God can do that! They are assuming that Jesus is not God.
Jesus hears their questions and addresses them. â€œWhat is easier to do, say ‘Your sins are forgiven’ of ‘take up your mat and walk’?â€ Jesus then takes it one step further. â€œSo that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth…â€ He turns to the paralytic, â€œTake up your mat and go to your home.â€ Immediately the man rises, picks up his mat and leaves.
Listen to what happens next. â€œthey (the whole crowd) were amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this!’â€
This reminds me of a story a friend told me. She is a paramedic, and was sharing stories from times she was called into churches.
First was the story of a United Church. She walked in, and the whole sanctuary was in complete silence. She and her partner were given lots of room to tend to the fallen worshiper. The service stopped, and all eyes were on her. She assisted the woman, and helped her out to the ambulance. Not too different than how we’ve reacted here when the need arose for medical attention.
The second story was of a visit to a pentecostal church. As she walked in, the whole place was in boisterous prayer. As she attended the man who had a heart attack, she had to fight off people as they tried to place hands on him in prayer. She shocked his heart back into a rhythm and he lived. The place exploded in praise. Hallelujahs, songs of praise, cheering, clapping… celebration. She was blown away. I think that’s how it must have been in the house with Jesus when the man stood and walked.
Notice that the focus is on the crowd reaction in this story. Last week we heard of the celebration of the man who was healed of leprosy. He went and told everyone about it! This week it’s the crowd. They recognized that Jesus is the Son of God! How would you have reacted back then? Wouldn’t you be overjoyed to discover that Jesus is not just a man, but also God?
Jesus is with us today alive in this community. That is what we celebrate every Sunday morning, and in the ministries that we are involved in. We have the power to share the same love that Jesus shared with the paralytic. And to help others seek a relationship with God.
But there is something in this Gospel reading that troubles us today. There is a connection that it must have been the man’s sin that caused his paralysis. That the penalty for whatever sin he had, was to be paralyzed. But could there be a deeper connection here?
How often do our emotions affect us physically? When were depressed after a rough day, we’re tired, worn out physically. What about the term â€œparalyzed by fearâ€? Our heart races and our muscles freeze when we’re scared. When we’re feeling the stress of guilt, where does it hit us? Right in the gut. Ulcers are inflamed by stress. Depression leads to fatigue. When we’re happy and thing are going well, how do we feel then?
Granted, the Gospel example is a pretty extreme case, but it contains truth. Jesus knows the connection between our emotional and physical bodies and draws our attention to it. We need not be paralyzed by our emotions like anger, fear, worry, guilt. Jesus knows how that affects us, and is willing to take on those burdens for us. Jesus asks us to rethink how we react in these times. To take a different point approach. Instead of dwelling in our emotions, bringing us down, pulling us away from God… Jesus asks us to reach out, to come to him just like the paralyzed man. To accept the grace and love that he offers to help us through our tough times. I said it last week, and I think it still applies this morning… Healing is not always physical, but its always personal.
Amazing things happen all around us. Unexpected surprises of revelation causing a whole new viewpoint on life. From birth… death… life snatched from death by medical professionals, from dogs showing analytical skills… maybe they really can play poker!
God’s design is beyond our greatest comprehension. But we still have the choice… we can be ruled by our emotions, blind to the bigger picture around us. Separated from the love and grace of God. Or, we can focus on the example of God among us… Jesus Christ. Focusing on the work that we are called to do together in the world around us. Seeing the blessings in our lives each day. If we focus on the negative, if we live in fear, anger, guilt… we affect not just ourselves, but those around us. When we choose to live in the light of God, to live as Jesus taught us to live. We too can be free to take up our mat and go home.
What keeps you on your mat? What separates you from the love and grace offered to all by Jesus Christ? What happens every day around you that have you never seen before?