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521 || Friends in Lowering Places

He really doesn’t know what he would do without his friends.

These guys have hardly left his side ever since his illness eight years ago left him paralyzed. Though his sickness is long gone, its lasting effects have changed his life dramatically. He still can’t talk much about it. It’s just too painful to think about the life he had before compared to the life he leads now.

But his friends have been real life-savers. They take him everywhere. Well, everywhere he’s allowed to go. Since everyone assumes his illness and paralysis is a result of sin, nobody really wants him around. He can’t participate in any worship ceremonies or traditions, and he’s only allowed in certain areas around town. But wherever he can go, his friends take him — sometimes on their shoulders if there’s only two of them. But sometimes they carry him on a mat. If all four of them are available, the mat is the easiest; everyone grabs a corner and away they go.

If it weren’t for his four friends, he wouldn’t see or do anything. He’d be a shut-in, spending his days finding whatever he could to keep his mind busy, to keep it from wandering, from worrying and from wasting.

His friends always keep him informed of what’s happening in the city, too. Since they’re all ambulatory and can go places he can’t, they learn all the breaking news way before he does. And he’s okay with that. Because it seems like it’s just another unclean leper here, another poor soul cast out by the priests there. News may be exciting and — well, new — but it’s seldom good. Sometimes getting information delayed a day or two isn’t all bad.

But lately, there has been some good news! Or, at least, not bad news — and that’s really the same thing anyway, right?

The guys say there’s some kind of miracle worker in town. He’s already healed dozens of people in Capernaum. He healed the mother-in-law of one of His followers and even a man with a demon. Actually, several people who had demons. One of his friends even said this Healer kept telling the demons not to speak — as if they knew who He was or something. The Man has been healing people of all kinds of diseases and teaching in the synagogue. They say everyone is listening to Him with rapt attention.  He speaks with an unusual authority.

“Sounds like he’s quite a guy,” he says to his friends. “He’s only eight years too late. Maybe if He had been here then, I wouldn’t be like this now.”

He’s only a little bitter. Okay, he’s a lot bitter. He was going to have such an awesome life until everything was just taken away from him. Sure, he’s glad the illness didn’t kill him, but sometimes, when he’s honest, he thinks death may have been better, easier, than the life he has now.

They know his skepticism, his bitterness, his anger. Attempts to cheer him haven’t always gone over well. But they’d all had this thought that maybe the Healer could heal their paralyzed friend.

The idea hit the four of them all at the same time when they were in town together the previous week. They’d heard someone say the Healer had restored a paralytic in Galilee, and they looked at each other with only one thing on their mind: Maybe He could heal their friend, too. 

“Do you think he’d go?” one had asked.

“He doesn’t have a choice if we carry him,” replied another. 

“Yeah, this is happening,” said a third. And in that moment, they resolved to get their friend to the Healer. 

And now, they were facing their friend together.

“Well, that’s just the thing,” one of his friends says hesitantly. 

“We were thinking,” another continues. “That maybe if we carried you to Him, He would see you and —“

“Nope,” he interrupts. “Absolutely not. I’ve tried all the doctors and the therapies and the oils, and I’m just going to be paralyzed forever. This is my life now. I can’t get my hopes up only to have them crushed again.”

“But friend,” one says. “It’s worth a try, isn’t it? They say He has healed all sorts of people: lepers, the diseased, the possessed. Even … paralytics.”

The word hovers in the air. Everyone knows the questions it carries: Would their friend go, and could He heal him?

The last guy tries to lighten the room. “You might not have a choice. You go where we take you!” 

He tries to protest, but to no avail. His friends win. Soon he’s on his back, and the mat he’s laying on is four feet off the ground. He’s being carried across town. One of his friends has a bundle of ropes slung around his shoulders — he’s not sure why, but no amount of questioning will get him anywhere at this point. He has resigned himself to his four friends — God bless ‘em — and he’s trying not to get his hopes up too high. Better to be surprised than disappointed, right?

They come to a house where it looks half the town has gathered. There are people everywhere — sitting in windows and looking through doors and trying to get a glimpse of the Teacher, the alleged Healer, inside. He’s talking, and they can’t quite make out what He’s saying, but everyone is listening, captivated. The voice grows louder as they approach, and they recognize the authority in His voice. But there’s something else they’ve never before heard in a teacher’s tone. There’s a sort of kindness, maybe even love, that rings through His words. 

No wonder everyone is listening.

As they approach the house and the crowd, they realize they have a problem: There are too many people. There’s no way the crowd is going to let all of them through. But they have come prepared.

They find the auxiliary staircase that leads up to the roof. Most houses have them these days, and this one’s conveniently located just around the side of the house. The roof will be flat up there, and they can dig a hole big enough to fit their friend through. They’ve already decided they will cover the cost of repairs; the possibility of the friend being healed is well worth the hassle and the potential annoyance of the homeowner, whom they’ll undoubtedly meet soon.

They reach the top, and three of the guys begin dismantling a part of the roof while the other untangles his rope bundle and fastens it to the mat. They hear the Healer stop talking, and everyone chuckles as crumbs from the roof rain on whoever’s below. The scene they’re creating is dramatic, though they aren’t really going for theatrics. All they want is to get their friend to the Healer.

He realizes what’s coming next: He’s going to be lowered down, and the friends are going to watch from up there. Before they begin lowering, he looks at each of them, grabs one of their arms and says, “Y’all owe me one if this doesn’t work.”

“One, two, three,” says one of the friends as they lift and begin lowering.

Some gasp as they realize he’s actually being lowered through the roof. He’s suspended in mid air, at the mercy of his four friends, the crowd, and whoever this Healer guy really is.

And then he sees the face of the Healer. That same kindness that was in His voice is in His eyes.

He smiles and says, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

Sins? he thinks. He hasn’t come for sins. He has come — or he has been brought, rather — to get his legs back. Not for forgiveness of sins.

Although, now that he thinks about it, he does have some of those, too. Tears rise from his depths, and in that moment he realizes what all the anger and bitterness has done in him over the last eight years. And in an instant, he feels that if this is all the Healer does for him today — forgive his sins — it would be enough. More than enough.

As he’s lost in this moment, the Healer says something about sins and thoughts and authority, and he thinks he hears something about getting up and walking. His ears perk up, and he looks up again into those kind eyes.

“I tell you,” says Jesus. “Get up, take your mat, and go home.”

So he does.

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