Led by Faith to Extremes
Sep 13, 2020
ELCA Day of Service
Text: Luke 5:17-26
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
Why this Gospel lesson on the ELCA Day of Service?
The week before last, I made a point of saying that the Epistle reading from Romans 12 was the one assigned in the lectionary for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost. It was not specifically chosen for the day we were voting on a Welcome Statement that, if adopted, would add our congregation to the Reconciling in Christ (RIC) roster, even though that may have seemed to be the case given its focus on loving God and loving others.
Today the opposite is true; both readings are not the ones assigned in the lectionary but were chosen for the Day of Service. I asked myself why, as I studied the Gospel lesson; that is a bit ironic since I am the one who selected the passages.
The Old Testament is fairly obvious; when it comes to honoring God and doing good, extravagant actions and gifts are not what God wants, at least not extravagant by the world’s standards. Instead, God’s “requirement” is that we do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God. In other words, we serve others when our actions and attitudes are righteous and fair, when being kind is a priority and when God is our ultimate guide and source of humility as we walk through life.
It is easy to see why that is an appropriate passage for the Day of Service. But, what about the story in Luke 5? Even a little digging makes it clear that its focus is not on serving, but on the theological question of who Jesus is.
However, that is not what I was thinking about when I chose it for today; instead, my attention was drawn to the disabled man’s friends and the pure theater of the story. Let’s highlight the best parts.
The word is out and crowds are coming to hear, see, experience Jesus. Among them are the religious leaders whose reason for being there was likely to determine whether they should accept Jesus or condemn him. They have not gathered to learn from him, but to judge him.
One commentator imagines that because, in that culture, the teacher sat and the student stood, the Pharisees were seated to announce their positions of authority (thus taking up more room than necessary in the crowd), and Jesus, the teacher of the day, also sat. It was a standoff, of sort, or perhaps we should say “sit off.” Could it be that the religious leaders were getting ready to question and challenge Jesus when there is a disturbance outside?
It’s “the friends”; they are carrying a man who cannot walk on a make-shift pallet. They are concerned for his future well-being; they believe Jesus can help him, and they are determined, so much so that they are unconcerned about causing a disturbance as they attempt to enter the already filled-to-the-brim shelter or home. Perhaps it was then that they spotted stairs leading to the flat roof, which was sleeping space on hot nights.
Now, listen to how Pastor Jeremy Myers describes the scene: “…they are having trouble getting up the very narrow stairs…people shout things like, ‘You’re dropping him! Lift the back more! Watch out!’ (The paralyzed man himself) shouts: ‘Guys, I don’t know if it’s worth it. Just take me home. Don’t drop me! I’d rather be alive and paralyzed than dead!’ Finally, they get up on the roof, and there is all this scraping and pounding as they pull up the tiles of the roof and push them aside.
“Jesus has stopped teaching and is watching the scene unfold with interest and a bit of amusement. Then the pounding and digging begins, and all of a sudden dirt and sand and twigs begin to drop out of the ceiling onto the Pharisees below. So far, they have been trying to remain dignified and calm. But now many of them jump up out and angrily brush the dirt off their robes. The men get their hole dug, and wonder of wonders, they lower the pallet through the hole in the roof. Several times it looks as if the (paralyzed) man is about to fall off the pallet, but he makes it safe to the floor of the room, right in front of Jesus.” (1)
I like to imagine that Jesus is smiling as the pallet comes to a rest, even as the room is in an uproar, and that after looking down to greet the one at his feet, he looks up, and who does he see? It is “the friends” looking down at the scene through the hole in the roof.
The text says, “When he saw their faith,” he addressed the man before him saying, “Friend, your sins are forgiven you.” Did you notice? It is the friends’ faith that Jesus noted; it mattered. They have gone to great lengths to bring the paralyzed man to Jesus, believing that Jesus could and would help him. And, Jesus does, first forgiving him and then healing him.
All this leads to what scholars would say is the crux of the passage, the debate about Jesus’ identity between the Pharisees and Jesus. Jesus makes his identity clear; he proves he has the power on earth to forgive sin by telling the paralyzed man to get up, take up his bed and go home. If Jesus had commanded the healing, and it did not happen, everyone would have known he was a fraud. But because the man walked away, glorifying God, the point was made. He is THE Son of God.
Now, obviously, that is vital, but my attention wanders back to “the friends” who served – and not half-way – a friend in need. Jesus’ healing was an act of grace, but so was their determination.
To serve others is an act of grace that we are highlighting today but focus on throughout the year. It requires us to imitate “the friends” in today’s Gospel in determination, commitment, ingenuity, risk-taking and willingness to sacrifice in order to meet needs. To serve also means we imitate Jesus’ love in offering compassion, hope, acceptance and empathy not only to those near and dear to us, but especially to those who we have never met and may feel are undeserving. After all, what is grace? It’s offering love that is undeserved.
A good question for us to ask ourselves today is this: Will our faith in Jesus and our commitment to following him lead us to extreme action, like that which is described in today’s Gospel lesson? Afterall … it was someone else’s roof that they tore apart to meet the need. If so, there are many doors to be opened and many walls (not just roofs) to be torn down so that we can do justice, love kindness and God’s work can be done with our hands. AMEN
(1) Luke 5:17-26, Salvation: From the Top Down” by Jeremy Myers, www.redeeminggod.com