NOTE: “Leadership Reflections” shares views of the different members of the University Leadership Council on matters related to campus life and the operations of the University. As well, it features opinions on issues of national and/or international relevance.

What Were They Thinking?
By Dr. Earl Jude Paul Cleope
Dean of the College of Education & Supervising Dean of the School of Basic Education

(Message delivered during the celebration of Clinical Pastoral Education Sunday at the Silliman University Heights Village.)

Today we celebrate Clinical Pastoral Education Sunday in honor of the people who are taking care of our brothers and sisters who are in the midst of different forms of crisis…. Who need healing and support.

This is the message of the colorful story of the paralytic man whose friends lowered him through the roof as Jesus spoke in a crowded house (Luke 5:17-26). It’s a humorous story. Mark tells us that it happened in Capernaum.  Peter lived there and Mark, who got his information from Peter, is the most elaborate in describing the men digging through the roof.  If this was Peter’s house, you can imagine how he, not to mention his wife, felt to have his house jammed with people and then to see these four guys dig a hole through his roof to let their friend down in front of Jesus!

The scene must have been pretty hilarious. It is difficult to conceive of our Lord not being aware of the entire event. The house is crowded and Jesus is teaching. Perhaps the Lord could see the commotion going on outside, caused by the four who were determined to get the paralytic to Jesus. They may have tried one window and then another, all around the house. Undaunted by the difficulties, these men decided to try “from the top down.” They took the paralytic to the roof. There may have been stairs, of course, but that may have only been found inside the house. Can you imagine the paralytic man as his friends were trying to bring him up the roof? For all we know, he might have panicked and begged to be taken home where life was safer. Once on the roof, one can imagine the difficulty of the four men carrying a stretcher over hot tiles. Lowering their friend down through the roof … exactly right at the spot where Jesus was preaching.

The scene, as viewed from below, must have been just as amusing. The house was filled with people, we are told. Luke alone tells us how many these people were. They were the “Pharisees and teachers of the law.” What a funny sight it must have been to watch these prim and proper (and very proud) teachers as the roof was being removed. They must have signaled or shouted for these men on the roof to stop.

Once the man was finally lowered, so that he was in front of the Lord, things really began to happen. Notice that nowhere is it said that the four men or the paralytic made a specific request of our Lord. Either our Lord acted before the request was made or the men felt that Jesus would not need to be asked specifically, once He saw the man’s need. All three gospels report virtually the same response on the part of our Lord: “And seeing their faith, He said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven.’” (Luke 5:20).

This, I think, is a very funny response for us but certainly not to all of those who were involved in this incident: the victim, the four stretcher-bearers,  the Pharisees and teachers of the law, and the owners of the house.

My reflection is anchored on “What were they thinking?” as these events unraveled. At one point in our lives, we can be the characters acting in this miraculous comedy.

We can be the victim … helpless, in dire need, having a severe problem – a health problem, an emotional problem, a family problem, a financial catastrophe … all sorts of problem! It is in this context that at first glance we want to be healed outright, forgetting that  the main essence is that  Jesus knew that the main need of every sinner is not to get our health or emotional or financial or whatever problems solved. Those problems should drive us to seek God. Clearly, sometimes we cannot do that alone and we need the help of friends. When we do that, it becomes clear that our main problem is our alienation from Him due to our sins.  Thus, forgiveness of sins is our main need. That’s why when the victim was placed in front of Jesus, He did not heal him but instead told him that his sins are forgiven. Of course, that also meant forgiving him and his friends for disrupting the lecture.

We can be one of the friends who were motivated more by their friend’s physical need than they were by his spiritual need.  But their actions in getting around this crowd, by letting the paralytic down through the roof is a great illustration of how we should do all we can to bring our needy friends to Jesus.

The qualities pictured in their actions show us how Christians should behave when their friends are in need. They showed us creativity – “where there’s a will, there’s a way,” or just simply “thinking outside the box”; a sense of urgency –  they knew that they their friend needed help, or else they could have just waited until the lecture;  sacrifice – If you want to reach people for Christ, you may have to sacrifice some material things and comfort, and in this sense, a nice roof; persistence – a team effort  – the word team has no letter “I” but jumble it a little bit and it has “me”  because it’s great when several people work together in bringing a common friend to the Lord; and compassion – they are those who recognize Jesus’ power and authority and who seek to share Him with others, often at great personal effort and sacrifice.

We can be the Pharisees and teachers of the law — skeptical, resistant, judgmental, self-centered. We don’t care. We know that we are right and we have the power all the time, and at times sermon-critics who may listen to the teaching of the Bible, but with minds already made up, just waiting for some pretext for our unbelief and rejection.

We can be the homeowners — accommodating, warm, hospitable yet passive and oftentimes always questioning: “Who are these people?” “Who will pay for the roof?” “Who is going to shoulder the food?” “How am I going to clean the house?” And all the “What?” In short, the half-hearted nominal Christians whose take on Christianity is a sort of an association for convenience but really has no deeper understanding of the faith….Or maybe the  gracious homeowners who welcome everybody and make their homes open to all in need.

The question now is what character are we? Not … who fixed the roof afterwards?

In essence, the text today reminds us that in our daily lives we are guided by what the characters portray in the comedy scene which conveys life in a humorous way. Often there are various and contrasting reactions and thoughts to an event. The victim and his friends  felt  great joy but, in spite of the miracle, the Lawyers and Teachers  left that day even more critical. Because of their pride and critical spirit, the Pharisees went away empty.  On the other hand, because they were needy and came in faith, the four men and their friend went away rejoicing with the friend’s sins forgiven and his body healed.

If we come to church as a proud skeptic, watching for something we don’t agree with to seize upon, we’ll find it.  We’ll go away convinced that we’re right and that the preacher has nothing to offer us.  But if we will come to the fellowship as a needy in soul as this paralytic was in soul and body, believing that Jesus truly can forgive our sins and reconcile us to the holy God, we will go home forgiven, rejoicing and glorifying God.

May the Good Lord forgive us of our sins, and  may we go home fulfilled, always rejoicing. To God be the Glory! Amen.