Luke 5:17-26 “See Strange Things”
I would like to start at the end of our scripture today with the remark written by Luke that the people have seen strange things. The word for “strange” here is a strange word in deed as it is literally the word “paradox” in the Greek. We all know what a paradox is, right? Here are some for you to think about:
“As I said before, I never repeat myself.”
“I am not a schizophrenic, and neither am I!”
“I am going to start thinking positively, but I know that won’t work.”
“I always lie.” (You have to think a little about that one.)
What makes a paradox different than merely something that is “strange” is an inherent or latent truth. Luke chose the word “paradox” here, I believe, to show that despite of the strangeness of the situation indeed, there is a deeper blessed Truth that is made known to the people gathered there.
Let us begin to look at the situation itself. Jesus is teaching. Who is he teaching? The bible tells us that he was teaching none other than Pharisees and teachers of the law. Jesus was teaching the teachers of the day. We have to realize that at this point the regular religious authorities were still trying to decide who Jesus was. We know that all the way through his ministry that there were religious teachers who wanted to know more about Jesus. We have the story of Nicodemus, for instance, who came to Jesus at night. We all see Joseph of Arimathea in John 19:38-42 giving up his tomb for Jesus. Matthew, too, may have been a Pharisee because he could read and write. Paul had been a Pharisee before his conversion on the road to Damascus.
While all these folks were gathered around Jesus, we read that a man on a pallet is brought forward but cannot get through the crowd. The Bible does not state who this man is or even who are the men trying to bring him forward. Most might imagine that this is just some poor homeless man without the use of his arms and legs. Again, the Bible does not say this. One might assume that the men carrying the man in are his friends, but again the Bible does not say this.
I think that it is just as possible or likely that the man is a Pharisee himself, since this seemed to be a gathering of Pharisees. The ones carrying his pallet may have been simply his paid servants. They may have been told to simply find a way to reach Jesus at all costs.
We should never read too much into the Bible. This is an aside to what I am preaching about here today. The reason is that I have heard several sermons in my day about how incredibly loving and caring these pallet bearers must be to this man who cannot walk to go to such trouble to bring him to Jesus. “They must be his great, great friends,” the preachers have said. The reality of the culture of the day is that they may have simply been following instructions in order to be paid.
Yes, I have heard whole sermons about things that really are not in the Bible—or have been based on assumptions that should never have been made. The fact that Luke does not say that “some men” are family or friends could lead one to think that in fact they were not. Truthfully, we do not know.
If this were today, and a man who was paralyzed needed to come into the church, would we not move out of the way and even help the man? Would we not go so far as to even build a special ramp coming into the building? The reality is that people did not get out of the way for the sick and needy in those days. It was a very “dog eat dog” kind of a society.
In our country, we do like to line up for things and wait our turn. If you take the Kauai Bus here on-island, you will note how nicely the people wait for the ones on the bus to get off at their stop before the line of people waiting to get on can pay their fare or flash their bus pass. This is all very civilized.
To be sure, in other parts of the world that is not the way it is. I can speak for Germany myself. Public transportation there is more like “survival of the fittest.” You just have to push your way on.
So, the man on the pallet is not going to be let in to see Jesus. The crowd will not abide a paralytic. Up to the roof they go. We are assuming that there were stairs to get up there. Just the same these men carrying the paralytic had a feat to perform. As a former firefighter I can assure you that it is not easy carrying a man on a pallet. It is hard enough to lift someone into an ambulance much less onto the top of a house!
They start opening up the roof to lower the man down. The houses back then had flat roofs with minor parapet walls. You can still see these types of houses in Israel today. A lot of daily activities were done up on the roof. We might think of it more like a terrace.
Taking apart the roof is going to be hard work. As the bible said, they had to lift out the tiles. After that there would have been layers of clay and timbers. What always interested me most about this story is that while the roof is crumbling from above them, apparently the crowd in the house does not disperse. Nobody even cares that the house is coming down around them! If the roof started coming down in the church right now, I would be so out of here!
Finally the man reaches Jesus. At this point for sure the whole house is watching and concerned. He is laid before Jesus. Jesus saw their faith. In other words, Jesus understood that they would do all and anything to make sure that this man came to Jesus. They trusted that Jesus’ healing power would help this man.
Okay, we are all set for the miracle. We want to see it happen. Wait for it! Jesus then merely says: “Man, your sins are forgiven.” That is it? He is laying on a pallet and all he gets is verbal absolution of sin!
According to the Bible, however, that is not even the point. You see, the paralytic and his pallet bearers do not complain. After all that they have been through, you might think that they would be upset with Jesus. The bible does not say that. Luke does not make a point of that. Wouldn’t you be?
Do you all remember a few years back when a man by the name of Nick Vujicic came to the island to talk at the Mayor’s Prayer luncheon and then in the schools here? He is a man that has no arms or legs and speaks about how God still has blessed his life. When he was at Kilohana, he spoke from the central dais there. You know how tall our mayor is. I think he is 6 foor 4 inches. Yet, in that moment with Nick on the dais, Nick was the tallest man in the room. And, as he spoke, his life was the one to be most honored at the Mayor’s breakfast.
That is what is happening here in Jesus’ day with this man! Who else in that house has had their sins totally forgiven by Jesus? His heart must be soaring. His mind must be dancing. At that moment of forgiveness by Jesus, he is the tallest man in the room. Who else in that room has had his or her faith rewarded with such a gift of grace!?
This is the paradox! This is the strange thing that they have never seen before that has the very essential truth in it! This is what I want you to talk home with you today: “YOUR greatness in this world is that your sins have been forgiven by Jesus Christ.” That, and that alone, is what will give your life “legs.”
All the Pharisees that are gathered there begin to grumble. “Jesus cannot forgive this man’s sins.” “That would be blasphemy.” “Jesus is putting himself as God. Only God can forgive sins.” Their own sins keep them strapped to the pallet of disbelief. They would rather hate Jesus then accept forgiveness!
Jesus hears what is going on in their hearts. They do not even have to speak it aloud. Jesus knows all. Verse 23: “Which is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Rise, take up your pallet and walk’?” Jesus goes on to say that so we might know that the Son of Man has the power to take away sin this man will rise and walk. But, which is easier for God incarnate? To forgive sin or to heal a man’s legs? Jesus asks that question of the Pharisees. It is a very important question actually. We know that plan that God has in mind that Jesus will have to die on the Cross to relieve us of our sins. Right? Which is harder: To take someone else’s sins into your own body and die, or heal a man’s legs? For Jesus, we know that answer for sure. It is much easier to heal.
The man stands up, picks up his pallet, and as the story says, he went home. I always thought that this was the most interesting part of the story actually. The man simply goes home. He does not stay to hear more from Jesus. He does not get instructions from Jesus to go thank God in the temple, like the Leper we saw last week. He does not leave everything of his behind and take to following Jesus.
Our text for today does say that he went home “glorifying God.” Some have questioned the usefulness of church in our day and age. Why should we go into a house of worship, sit for an hour or so, and then just go home? To a point I have to agree with this. The issue is whether or not we go home in amazement and glorifying God!
I said before that I want you to go home knowing that “Your greatness in this world is that your sins have been forgiven by Jesus!” If you truly take that home with you today, then YOU will be glorifying God. So, do not just go home after Aloha Time! Go home glorifying God because you have been made great through the forgiveness of your sins that has led to the healing of your lives.