by Rev. Joanne Graves
Sunday October 10, 2021
Today’s scripture lesson will be shared in a storytelling format which has its roots in Jewish midrash. I will be sharing the nuances of these passages from a first-person point of view. These perspectives are within the text, but sometimes are not so obvious. The process of storytelling enables the interpreter to bring out unexpected or overlooked details in the story. Sometimes, the story is not even what you thought it to be.
Another day is done. Well, I survived with the help of my friends: James, Peter, Obed, Isaiah, and Mary. They have carried me. Made my dinner. Doctored the sores on my back and bottom. Changed my clothes. Washed me everywhere. Helped me eat. Made up a fresh bed. Laundered my clothes. Changed my diapers.
They’ve done it all. Again.
I try to help, but it’s difficult. Being paralyzed makes me useless. I mean useless. If a person needs to do it, if you know what I mean, I cannot. Not alone. I need help now. I am helpless. It is true. No sense in trying to argue with me about it. I cannot even clean up my own xxxx for heaven’s sake!
I’m sorry God, please forgive me. I have taken your name in vain. Or wanted to. It’s hard not to be discouraged. You’ve seen what’s become of me: a paralyzed man, forced to beg for alms. Lying on my back all day in the square, begging for…for money, of course, but also, some conversation, some acknowledgment of my presence, of my worth, of my humanity! Down here on this matt on the ground, bound in rags that smell like xxxx, is a man! But no one sees me. No one really sees me. I make my few bits of coin through the generosity, or guilt, of those going by. “Coins to the poor to assuage the guilt of the well off.” “Give to the needy to entice God’s forgiveness for YOURSELF.” I suppose it doesn’t matter why they give me their coins or an occasional morsel to eat. They give it. And with it I can survive. I can contribute so it’s not all on my friends.
We, Isaiah, Obed, James, Peter and I, were working together to repair a roof. The fog was rising off the once dusty streets for it had rained overnight, so everything was covered with a fine coating of moisture. We gathered our tools into our belts, and grabbed the ladders. Two ladders. One for Obed and I; one for James and Isaiah. Obed and I raised the ladder to the edge of the roof, he held it steady while I ascended. As I went to put my foot on the roof, I lost my balance on the slippery thatch, and fell backward. I survived, but that was the last morning I ever moved on my own.
My friends have stood by me. You can’t imagine what it’s like to survive without friends like mine. I don’t even want to think about it. They care for me as I said, but much more, they see me too. They share not only a home, a meal, but study Torah with me. They debate the meanings of those holy words with me. They include me.
They have been talking about a new rabbi that’s come to our region. His name is Jesus, he’s from Nazareth, and he teaches unlike other rabbis: he speaks that in the Kingdom of God the last will be first and the first will be last, that Isaiah’s prophecy has come true in our hearing: the blind shall see and the lame shall walk. My friends and I wonder…
While I was in the square one day, my friends rushed up to me, yelling: “Jesus is coming to town! The rabbi is coming to town. The teacher, the healer. And, you’re going to see him, and he’s going to heal you.” “I am” I said?
I finally agreed to go. I got caught up in their joy, their excitement, their vision of what was possible, and what may be possible, for me! My friends told me: “Why not you? Jesus has healed so many people!” And I began to think, I began to hope, “Jesus, would welcome me, with healing?”
Samuel, a town religious leader, hosted Jesus at a dinner in his home. He invited a few friends and family members, but it seemed as though the whole town had showed up. Those in need of healing, those in need of a fresh vision of God, those who were just curious. There were dozens upon dozens of people crowding around his home! They overflowed the courtyard of the house, into the garden, onto the paths, there even was one person in a tree looking down.
When my friends and I arrived we could barely see the house. My spirits sank. We all had the same idea. We all had the same need. We needed to see Jesus, to be with Jesus. “I’ll never get to him, my friends. Let’s go home.” My spirits were sinking fast.
My friends looked to me, looked at the crowd, looked at each other, and barged forward. Mind you, they’re carrying me on my mat, we take up a lot of space, yet, they inch their way forward through the crowd. Everyone is jockeying for their place, their own chance to see Jesus. We made it to the edge of the house. Through the window I could see him, hear him. My heart raced. I hoped.
But my friends were not satisfied with me only seeing Jesus though the window. My friends wanted more for me, they wanted me to speak to Jesus. “Good enough” was ok to me: half a view through a small window, words not easily heard, was more than good enough for me. I was among other people. Listening, together, about God. As far as my friends were concerned, however, “good enough” was not good enough for me. I was happy with looking at him from the outside, but my friends would not settle for anything less than for me to meet Jesus face to face.
So, do you know what they did? They climbed up to the roof of Samuel’s home, taking me with them. “What are you doing?” I insisted on knowing. Then, then, they started stripping away the roof: the thatch and the hardened mud, and the sticks. What were they doing? I couldn’t believe it. They were tearing apart the roof! “Hey, no! Don’t do that! You can’t do that!” I continually protested. But they wouldn’t listen; they wouldn’t stop. And I couldn’t reach out to stop them.
The next thing I knew Peter and Obed jumped through the hole they had made and, Isaiah and James holding one end, and lowered me through the hole and down to Obed and Peter. There is both chatter and silence as they do this. Some whispered “Who do they think they are destroying Samuel’s house, butting in line. Other people are waiting too; others dodge falling dried mud, others are rendered speechless. And, Jesus, he goes on teaching and healing—as though nothing out of the ordinary was going on! Once James and Isaiah join us on the floor, they lift me closer to Jesus. We say nothing.
Jesus looked at me. Jesus looked me—in the eyes. My heart filled, swelled, and melted. My agonies, my despair, my loneliness, my hopelessness, they…they were gone. Jesus looked at me and I was accepted, loved, redeemed; forgiven, dare I say? just by the way he looked at me, the way he saw me.
In that moment, I realized that my friends saw me that way too: they did see me as impoverished, ill, depressed, yes, they knew that was part of what made me “me.” They didn’t deny my realities, but rather accepted me, loved me, included me, just like Jesus’ gaze was doing. So when he said to me, to us, that their faith was what made it possible for me to receive forgiveness, I agreed. Their insistence that I was just like anyone else, that I should have access to this Rabbi, to the Son of God– it was their insistence that made it possible for me to receive and choose to have a relationship with him.
Their faith opened the door, well the roof, for my being forgiven. Their faith opened up a way out of no way, for me to choose, to accept the invitation to have a relationship with Jesus. Accepting or denying Jesus’ invitation was all up to me. Their faith opened the door, so that I could make that choice—or not. Their faith gave me a chance. Without them and their actions, I would not have had one. It really was that simple.
The Commentary PAUSE
This is Joanne speaking now.
To me, being accessible is this: removing barriers that limit or prevent an individual from having the opportunity to have a relationship with God, with Jesus, with Spirit. I think that when fences are taken away the possibilities for people to meet and receive the love of Jesus in their lives is magnified significantly. In the end it is, of course, up to the individual to believe or not. But we should not let stand one thing that gets in the way of that possibility.
Handicap access is easy to identify, I suppose. It’s because those needs are fairly obvious. First churches has come a long way in putting in a ramp and an elevator. And there are other things that are or could be done….But there are some things that keep people from the God who loves them, that are not so easy to address. Thus we called to the work of justice: ending racism and white privilege, being anti-racist; respecting and preserving the environment, reversing climate change; creating equity in housing, jobs, education; believing in and showing the worth of all sexual minorities and gender identities or expressions; creating a culture where it’s safe to worship; ending gender and race based violence; protecting the vulnerable of our world from children to elders, to animal and plant life; and you know I could go on. Any injustice that makes it more difficult for people to find, meet, accept and serve God.
In scripture it says we’re to go and preach the gospel to every people. Every time we make a way for people to know the love of God for them, every time, then we are fulfilling that Great Commission. If we become accessible in all ways, then if people desire to, they can experience a relationship with God. If we commit to accessibility in that broader sense of the word, many more people can have the chance to know what we know: how very much God loves us. Access from the obvious, like getting into the building, to dismantling homophobia, to celebrating hospitality for the stranger, whatever it takes, is our call as Christians. First Churches, access, access is how we make God’s love and justice real. Amen.
Image: “The Palsied Man Let Down Through the Roof” (circa 1894) by James Tissot. Public domain