Loyal friends

– Memorial of St Ambrose, Bishop, Doctor –

… they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the middle of the crowd in front of Jesus. [Luke 5:19]

Today’s passage is Luke’s version of a healing event recorded in all four Gospels, and highlights the extraordinary resourcefulness of the four friends of the paralysed man.  These four obviously cared very much for the plight of their friend and had faith that Jesus could heal him.  They went to great lengths to fight through the crowd, and then resorted to the roof, hastily stripped off enough of the tiling, and lowered their friend, bed and all, right down in front of Jesus.   Contrast this with the cold and clinical observers, the Pharisees and teachers of the Law, who sat apart looking for slip-ups and blasphemies on the part of this upstart healer.  They were blind to the desperate needs of the people clamouring to see Jesus, to the heroism of the friends of the paralysed man and to the glorious revelation of God made manifest in Jesus with this miraculous healing.  In their blindness, such cynics have no need of anything that Christ can give and bringing a dear one to the feet of Christ, may seem to them to be an absurd waste of energy.  How different it must have looked for the man on his bed and his four friends who long for his healing.

Surprisingly, Jesus addresses the invisible state of the man with the words ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ Perhaps he had sensed that the man was paralysed because of his sinfulness, and that this needed to be addressed before any physical healing could occur.  Jesus understands that this man’s deepest need is for forgiveness.  This desperate need, witnessed daily by his friends, spurs them to action, knowing that it was forgiveness for which he yearned.  In most other miracle healings, Jesus heals the body first, but forgiveness is Christ’s chief gift to us as marks the beginning of discipleship.

It was equally easy for Jesus to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ and, ‘Stand up and walk.’ It was equally impossible for a mere man to forgive, and to give the paralytic’s muscles permission to move.  Here was evidence before everyone’s eyes, if they had eyes to see, that this Jesus was the long awaited Messiah of God.  When the man did as Jesus commanded, that is ‘stood up and went home,’ I often wonder how the friends reacted, perched on the roof and peering down into the house.  I picture them overjoyed and jubilant, perhaps even dancing, on that flimsy roof, scrambling down as quickly as they could and running after their friend, now forgiven and healed.

What kind of friend am I?  Someone who is resigned to the inevitable, sinking into cynicism? Or am I someone who always hopes for a miracle, trusting that Christ brings forgiveness and healing even in the most hopeless of cases?

 We remember St Ambrose today (born 339 AD), whose literary works have been acclaimed as masterpieces, and whose musical accomplishments are remembered in hymns.  He was Bishop of Milan, biblical critic and doctor of the church.  He is remembered, among other things as the teacher who converted and baptised St Augustine of Hippo.

By Carole Danby

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