The Paralytic: A Light to the Nations

Sunday of The Paralytic   (John 5:1-15)  Sermon Notes  2008

Jerusalem!  God’s chosen and holy City!   Despite this designation,  Jerusalem had like any other city of the ancient world a collection of handicapped and disabled people.    This certainly had to be embarrassing for the people of God – how can one explain the existence of such piteous suffering in the city of the Great and Merciful God?   Sin was the obvious answer.  People violating the Torah – failing to keep the Sabbath laws:  Like the man carrying his bed claiming he was just healed of his life long paralysis and like that man who told him to carry his bed on the Sabbath.  Sinners!  What else could one call them?  They were the very reason for and cause of all those disabled people hanging out by the gate of the city.

“Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing for joy. …  And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away”   (Isaiah 35:5-10 RSV) .  

In their narrow focus on keeping the Torah and not violating the Sabbath because they feared God (God promised death and conflagration for violating the Sabbath law) the religious leaders lost sight of the promises of God and exalted the Law of God above all else.   The Torah was given to help the Jews realize the Kingdom of God, but in their zeal to keep Torah, they sometimes lost sight of the Kingdom.  The result was that when Christ came giving sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, mobility to the lame, they could not recognize the signs of the coming Kingdom of God as promised by Isaiah the Prophet.  It is not unlike the man who buried the talent because he feared his master who he knew was demanding.

“Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them” (Matthew 11:2-5 RSV)

If our focus in the spiritual life becomes too narrow, we forget that the entire universe was created by God and that God acts in and through the entire universe not just in His Scriptures and not just in the past.  We end up even ignoring other scriptures because they aren’t part of our narrow focus.  

The antagonists of Jesus  forgot they existed to be the salt of the earth and a light to the nations.  They became concerned only about their own salvation.  They forgot they were on earth as witnesses to God’s mighty presence and His saving activities.   So totally had they forgotten their role as witnesses, that they couldn’t even see what God was doing right before their own eyes – raising a paralyzed man who had been handicapped for 38 years.

With the paralytic they clearly identified the laws from the Torah which were being violated – this is easily done through a literal reading of the Torah.  What they could not see was the breaking into their world of God’s Messianic Kingdom – the healed paralytic carrying his bed on the Sabbath could be seen as a violator of the Torah, or a sign of God’s Kingdom breaking into the world.  One needed only the eyes to see.     

Jesus established Himself as Lord of the Sabbath, and so the laws of the Torah were to submit themselves to His judgment.  And obviously Christ saw the need to challenge the narrow minded and overly legal reading of the Torah.  He tried to lift the minds and eyes of the religious leaders to see what God was now doing in salvation rather than simply to fear what God might do in judgment.  Christ tries to draw the people out of their narrow focus and their narrow and limited reading of the scriptures (though it was an accurate reading as all those words and concerns are actually there).    He tries to connect the reading of the Scriptures with seeing the world around them.  

“I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them;  he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away'”   (Revelation 21:3-4  RSV).


Having Eyes to See

Here is a clever ad – though the product is not important to what I think the short video has to offer us.  Many of us get stuck in life – in ruts and routines – and cannot see a solution to our problems.  Sometimes we get so narrowly focused in our way of seeing the world that we are blind to the obvious.  One old adage says, “if the only tool you have is a hammer than every problem looks like a nail.”   And if we are thinking, “I’m on an escalator …” then sometimes we cannot see what else is true about where we are in life.