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Reflection – Paralysis

“Then behold, they brought to him a paralytic lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you’ ” (Matt 9:2).

It was an awkward moment. The men had gone to a great deal of trouble to get this paralytic in front of Jesus and, because of the crowd, they had resorted to climbing onto the roof, removing a section of it, and then lowering the man down on his bed through the hole. The man’s problem was obvious: he was immobilized. The need for healing was obvious: there was no available medical resolution for his condition. But Jesus looks at the paralytic and says ‘Your sins are forgiven. It would have been hard to be overtly unhappy about such a statement; clearly Jesus meant well, but this was not the problem they wanted him to solve!

Now, we know the story has a happy ending: but consider for a moment, why did Jesus respond as he did? Obviously, Jesus knew what they wanted, so why give them something else? I propose that it is because Jesus was trying to teach them that they were concerned about the wrong kind of paralysis. There is physical paralysis, there is spiritual paralysis, and while one is seriously problematic and distressing, the other can be eternally fatal.

Spiritual movement

If we read Scripture with the idea of spiritual movement in mind, we start to see the concept in many places, very often paired with actual physical movement. Go’ is the first recorded word that God speaks to Abram, for example. There are many other people that God commands to ‘Go’ in some way: Noah, Lot, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Gideon, Jonah… In similar fashion, Jesus often calls on people to ‘Follow’: Peter, Andrew, Matthew, Philip, the rich young ruler.

At first glance we might think of this movement in only a spatial way: Abram was being asked to move geographically, and Peter was being asked to literally follow Jesus. But many verses don’t fit the spatial mold: “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me’” (Matt 16:24). The movement that Jesus refers to here is clearly not spatial. The last command given in the Bible is to ‘Come’, but it is clearly not speaking of a physical movement of some kind. So we see that when Scripture speaks in terms of physical movement, it is worth considering if there is an underlying spiritual dimension to that movement as well.

When Abram left Mesopotamia, he was leaving one kind of spiritual place to seek a better one (Hebrews 11). When Noah entered the ark, he was leaving one kind of spiritual place to get to a better one. When the Israelites left Egypt, they were leaving one kind of spiritual place, to get to a better one. What kind of spiritual place are you in right now? In a way, it’s what God asked Adam in the Garden of Eden: “Then the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, ‘Where are you?’”

(Gen 3:9). God knew where Adam was physically — and Adam knew where he was physically — but God was guiding Adam to the realization that the recent events had moved Adam to a different place spiritually. Do you know where you are? Are you moving in the right direction? Or are you paralyzed? Is sin holding you back from the journey that God has called you to?

Move to live

We have to move to live. It sounds simple, but it’s not.

“When one of those who were reclining at the table with him (Jesus) heard this, he said to him, ‘Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!’ But he said to him, A man was giving a big dinner, and he invited many; and at the dinner hour he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, “Come; for everything is ready now.”But they all alike began to make excuses. The first one said to him, “I have bought a piece of land and I need to go out and look at it; please consider me excused.” Another one said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please consider me excused.”Another one said, “I have married a wife, and for that reason I cannot come” ’ “(Luke 14:15-20).

It is one thing to say we want to be in the kingdom of God, it’s another to actually move toward the kingdom of God. Are we willing to move to better spiritual place? Or are we full of excuses? What saves us is not the ‘wanting’ but the ‘moving’. We have to move to live: “And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment just as you have heard from the beginning thatyou should walk in it”(2John 6). Movement is even embedded in the Scriptural definition of love. If the commandments are not moving us to a better spiritual place, then we do not have love; if we do not have love, we do not have life. We have to move to live: “Record the vision and inscribe it on tablets, that the one who reads it may run” (Hab 2:2).

Habakkuk tells us that the reason the vision (the word of God) was recorded was so that the reader would move. It is tempting to stick to a strictly literal interpretation of these verses (actual physical flight from danger), but the New Testament quotes this section of Habakkuk three times in the context of a more spiritual dimension: “The righteous shall live by faith”.

How does faith unlock life? Through movement. If you read, and believe, you will move. If you move, you will live.

“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God”(Heb 12:1-2).

So what are you waiting for? Get up, take up your pallet, and walk!

Marc Hunter (Saanich Peninsula, BC)

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