by Pastor Cherie Dearth
Today’s scripture passage is about a quest. Dictionary.com defines a quest as “a search or pursuit made in order to find or obtain something.” It also has a connotation of a noble pursuit. There was the quest for the Holy Grail – the cup that Jesus used at the Last Supper, for example. But as we examine this passage, we will discover that there is more than one quest going on here. This is fairly early on in Jesus’s Ministry. He has healed some people, and he has called the first disciples. Today, he has his first encounter with Pharisees.
Luke 5:17-26 NIV
17 One day Jesus was teaching, and Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there. They had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal the sick. 18 Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. 19 When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.
20 When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”
21 The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
22 Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? 23Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? 24But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”So he said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” 25 Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God. 26 Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, “We have seen remarkable things today.”
You can see that we have this quest of these people going through extraordinary measures to bring their friend before Jesus. There is another group present on a quest, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. In their case it was a quest for information about Jesus. He had been causing quite a stir with his healings in his bold teaching. Crowds of people were starting to follow him, learn from him, healed by him. It wasn’t necessarily concerning yet, but they certainly wanted to find out more about him. They came from all over, filling the house and overflowing into the street.
However, we cannot forget that there is another person on the quest here, Jesus. Of course, his quest goes far beyond the limits of this narrative. It is chronicled in the Gospels. His quest is to tell the people that God has not forgotten about them. He loves them. He is there to provide the way out of their life of sin. God’s goal is the restoration of the people, of humanity. Jesus is there to help the people restore their relationship with God. God wants them to succeed. He wants them to be well. They need not be saddled with all of these burdensome extra rules. The law is quite enough. Jesus is there to teach them how to live within the law. Then he is there, of course, to take their punishment, death, and complete their restoration with his resurrection and ascension.
In the meantime, Jesus has these obstacles to overcome. First there’s a culture that has developed since the end of the Babylonian exile, where they keep adding rules on top of the law. These rules got to be more important than God’s law, as seen in Matthew 15.
“Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They donʼt wash their hands before they eat!” Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: “ ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’ ” (Matthew 15:1-9 NIV)
Second are the authorities. These would include the Pharisees, the teachers of the law or the scribes, the civil authorities which included the Sadducees, Herod Antipas, and the Roman government.
The Pharisees came to listen to this new teaching. Then, when it didn’t match with their tradition, they tried to snare Jesus. When that didn’t happen, they plotted and conspired to kill him.
It might be surprising to think that the disciples were an obstacle. These men grew up in this culture and we’re taught by these authorities. Even though they wanted to get it right, and there were glimpses when they would seem to get it, they would fall back into their old habits, their previous understandings.
And then there were the people, the crowd, who we’re also influenced by culture, tradition, and the authorities. But they didn’t have the same dedication or desire to learn that the disciples had.
On this day, the crowds were there as Jesus was teaching. Pharisees and teachers of the law had come from all over. As I said, this is Jesus first encounter with them in his public Ministry, not counting if they were present at Jesus baptism with John the Baptist. They have heard about him. Now, they want to see him for themselves.
There are so many people there that it is standing room only, and people are spilling out of the house. Perhaps the audience inside the house is made up almost entirely of Pharisees and scribes. These people usually considered themselves Elite and closer to God than most anyone. They figuratively have shut everyone else out.
In the midst of the Pharisees’ quest and Jesus’ quest came these men carrying their friend. Luke doesn’t tell us how many there were but Mark’s gospel mentions four (Mark 2:3). That makes sense, one for each corner of the mat.
They see all these people blocking their path to Jesus. They had made this coordinated effort to bring their paralyzed friend to before Jesus. They are not going to give up now. Then in a stroke a very imaginative thinking, they make a hole in the roof and lower their friend before Jesus, in front of everybody. Can you imagine that? First, they have to climb up on the roof themselves. And nobody inside noticed? The roofers have been here at the church all week, and they’re doing a marvelous job, but believe me, I hear them working up there. And they’re a whole floor up.
So these men raise the roof. They have to make a hole large enough to actually fit their friend through the hole horizontally. Then, they have to get a paralyzed man on a mat up on the roof in the first place before they can lower him down before Jesus. And now you know why they refer to this operation as a quest. They had all these obstacles to overcome, but they did not let any of these stop them. Of course, getting their friend before Jesus was not their primary goal. Their primary goal was for their friend to be healed.
One thing that is interesting. When Jesus heals someone, we often hear him say, your faith has made you well. It doesn’t say that here. It says, “When Jesus saw their faith, he said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven.’” (Luke 5:20) [Emphasis mine.]
What does faith mean here? It doesn’t mean confessing that Jesus is the Son of God. No one was thinking that this early in his ministry. He was a curiosity. That’s why the Pharisees were there. Here faith means that they trusted that God could help their friend through Jesus and doing all that was necessary to get that help. That is an important part of our faith, too. For any of it to work on the most basic and foundational level, we must believe or trust that God is who he says he is, that God will do what he has said he will do. In other words, God keeps his promises. Faith is believing God. And doing all that is necessary to get the help of God. Hmmm… Have to think about that some more.
So, the faith of these men resulted in forgiveness for their friend. It also resulted in his healing. It can be a touchy subject, and often we try to gloss over it or ignore it. Let’s take a couple of minutes here to look at it though. The natural question, is illness punishment for sin? The natural answer is yes and no.
The culture of the time said that illness or affliction was always a punishment for sin of some kind. This is what the rabbis and Pharisees taught. However, this is the first healing mentioned in Luke where there was any connection with forgiveness. So, the yes and no answer here is already evident.
We don’t like to think about illness as a consequence of sin, but sometimes it is. It could be as simple as an upset stomach or a headache because we told a lie. It could be as complicated as contracted a venereal disease through a casual sex encounter. Could one consider that a punishment? Perhaps. What about the unsuspecting spouse who then also gets the venereal disease? Is he or she being punished? No, but they are suffering the consequence of someone else’s sin.
But of course, many illnesses have nothing to do with anyone’s sin that we can trace. Your upset stomach could just as easily be from eating something that you were allergic to. A headache or insomnia could be dude with side effect from a medication.
In the case of this week’s passage, Jesus indicates that the man’s element is associated with some soon or other. The fact that he is forgiven allows him to walk.
The quest of the four men who brought their paralyzed friend before Jesus and let no obstacle get in their way, their quest was successful. The Pharisees and teachers of the law surrounding Jesus did not have the faith of these four common people, and their quest was obstructed.
We are also on a quest. Many of us are familiar with the Great Commission in Matthew 28 to go into the world and make disciples. We will be looking closer at that passage in a few weeks. It is put another way in Acts 1:8. Where Jesus says, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the Earth.”
We are sent on a mission, on a quest, to share our experience with Jesus, to bring people who may not even realize what is going on, to bring people before the love of Jesus, just like the four men did for their friend.
Why do you think they did it? It was obviously well-thought-out and well-executed, but what would motivate them to go through so much trouble for someone else? Jesus often encountered people who asked for help. Sometimes they would ask for someone else like the Centurion who asked Jesus to heal his servant in Luke chapter 7. There was the synagogue leader, Jarius, who wanted Jesus to heal his daughter in Luke chapter 8, but I cannot recall another instance where someone went through this kind of effort to bring someone to be healed in this way. We may never know what motivated these gentlemen.
Why are we on this quest for and with Jesus? We have the Great Commission and this passage from Acts of being Jesus’s witnesses in the world. They are compelling. They are also basically God saying, “Because I said so.” Obeying the command is faithful, but it isn’t necessarily inspiring.
Why do we do what we do as a church? Do we do it to build a vibrant Church? To make us better disciples? To get more money for ministry? To be able to help more people? To continue to exist, to self-perpetuate? None of these things hit the mark. Any or all of these things could be a result of the answer to the question of why.
We need to rediscover our why. Simon Sinek says in his book for the business world, Start with Why, “When I say why, I didn’t mean to make money. That is a result. By why I mean what is your purpose, cause, or belief? Why does your organization exist? Why do you get out of bed every morning? And why should anyone care?”
Why does our church exist and why should anyone care? Have we forgotten our why? We have great facilities for doing what we want to do for God. We have to remember why we are doing it in the first place.
We are on a quest. We are raising the roof for God. Are any of you familiar with the old poem with hand motions, here is the church here’s the steeple look inside and see all the people. The thing is that we cannot just look inside we have to look all around us and see all the people, just as Jesus did.
Directly after the Centurion passage that I mentioned a few moments ago where the Centurion sent a message to Jesus to try to bring him to heal his servant, Jesus saw a widow burying her son, and had compassion on her. (Luke 7:11-17). Remember from last week with the feeding of the 5000. Jesus in the midst of his grief over the loss of his cousin sees all of those people waiting for him needing his help, and he had compassion on them. (Matthew 14:14)
We too need to see all the people. We also need to remember why we’re doing it. Next week, we are going to dig deeper into our why. Why are we, or why do we want to be, in this relationship with God. Why is it important to support it with our prayers, our presence, our gifts, and our service? So our quest over the next several weeks is to examine our why and remember why it is important in our adventure with God.