Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Daily Reading: Luke 5v17-26 'If only..."

If you could only ask God for one thing and knew that he would give it to you, what would it be?

Maybe it would be fame, fortune, love, relationship, stuff. There are all sorts of things that we think ‘if only I had...’ then life would be ok.

If you want a definition of friendship then you see one here, (18)these men bring their paralysed friend on his mat to Jesus, who has been healing people, and when they realise they can’t get in the door they aren’t put off. They are so determined that their friend must see Jesus that they go up onto the roof of someone’s house, rip part of the roof up and lower their friend down at Jesus feet. So there is Jesus with this man at his feet looking up at him expectantly, a slightly dusty crowd around him, these four faces looking down, and no doubt one slightly miffed home owner staring up open mouth at his newly installed skylight.

What is everyone; the man, friends, and crowd expecting Jesus to do? To heal him. You can see their thinking it’s simple and logical: he is paralysed, Jesus can and has been healing the sick, put two and two together: Jesus will heal their friend. The next words they expect to hear are; ‘Be healed’. It’s why what comes next is such a shock, because what does Jesus say? “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”

You can imagine the friends disappointment and the crowds surprise, everyone is expecting Jesus to say get up you are healed and for the man to walk off happily ever after into the sunset. You can imagine the man’s confusion, his problem is obvious he’s paralysed, he doesn’t lay awake at night thinking ‘If only my sins were forgiven’ he lays awake thinking ‘if only I could walk’. He hasn’t been imagining hearing the words “...your sins are forgiven” he’s been dreaming all the way there of hearing ‘Get up and walk!’ What is Jesus playing at?

But what Jesus is actually saying to the man is; you have a bigger problem than not being able to walk and I love you so much that I’ll deal with that. I love you enough to take you deeper than what you think you need.

Just think about it for a minute; if Jesus heals the man’s paralysis that’s great and for a while he will be happy, but eventually what will happen? There will be another ‘if only...’ Great my legs work and I’m grateful but ‘if only I was in a relationship’, or ‘if only I had a job’. Being healed physically won’t heal this man’s deepest problem; it will only provide a temporary fix not a lasting answer.

Here is this paralysed man and his ‘if only’ is he wants is to walk, it’s his deepest wish because he thinks it will make him happy. But Jesus loves him so much that he says I’ll give you something better. He won’t just heal the man’s legs so weeks later he realises he still isn’t happy. He will heal his heart; that is what Jesus is doing when he says “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”

We share the same problem with this man; we are all searching for meaning in life, something which will bring us happiness. We might try to find it in a relationship and for a while we may think that we have found it but eventually we realise it isn’t working and so we move on to the next relationship and the next and so on. Or we might try to find it in a career, or in education, or the search for fame, or anyone one of a hundred other ‘if onlys...’ Often we keep on pursuing it in the next if only after we find one doesn’t bring that satisfaction we thought it would, like chasing the rainbow.

But Jesus says those solutions are only skin deep, they are temporary, they will never fulfil you, they may work for a little while but when that pleasure has worn off we will have to search for the next thing.

Our problem is that so often in our search for meaning we exclude God. The bible calls that sin, when we try to build our identity on something other than God, on our ‘if onlys’. But do you see how much Jesus loves this man and us, he doesn’t condemn him for wanting to walk, he doesn’t say you are asking the wrong question and stand waiting, tapping his foot until he asks the right one he lovingly deals with the real issue. Just as Jesus says to us; I want to move past your ‘if onlys’, I love you too much just to do that, I want to heal your heart.

You see if we think meaning will come from fame or career what if we don’t get it, if we think it will come from a relationship what if we never achieve it. And even if we do achieve it because we are relying on it for meaning we are likely to stifle it or crush it. And what about if we lose it; if we think it will come from our looks or how we feel about ourselves what when our looks fade, or more likely wrinkle.

Do you see how much Jesus loves this man; he loves him so much that he sees past his ‘If only I could walk...’ Jesus does the same for us as he says it isn’t an ‘if only’ problem it is a heart problem. You will never know contentment while you reject me as the one who will bring meaning to your life, you will never know contentment while you keep on trying to fill a God shaped whole with temporary stuff.

But maybe you are saying what heart problem. “Although we are capable of great acts of kindness, history teaches us that sometimes we need saving from ourselves – from our reckless greed.” We need saving from our reckless pursuit of our ‘if onlys’.

Do you notice what happens next with Jesus? The religious people realise and are shocked that he is claiming to be God. You see only God could forgive sin because all sin is against God. All sin is against God but Jesus here says he can forgive sin because he is God.

(22-26)Jesus asks a great question – which is easier to say your sins are forgiven or to say get up and walk, well I guess it is easy to say but harder to do. Any healer could say take up your mat and walk but only God can forgive sin. And Jesus proves he can do it by healing the man as a sign outwardly that he has the power to do what has happened inwardly.

But we all know forgiveness isn’t cheap. You can’t just sweep injustice and sin under the carpet. It has to be paid for. As Jesus utters these words he knows what it will cost him, at the end of Luke’s gospel we see Jesus declared innocent yet die condemned by men and cut off from God. And as he dies he utters these words “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” That cry for forgiveness is not just for the soldiers dividing up his clothes, or for those who mock him, it’s for the paralysed man who lived his life without reference to God, it’s for you and for me who live life without God in the picture.

Jesus is not a divine genie giving us our ‘if only’s’ he is more loving than that. Here is the Queen again from one of her Christmas speeches “God sent into the world a unique person – neither a philosopher nor a general, important though they are, but a Saviour, with the power to forgive. Forgiveness lies at the heart of the Christian faith. It can heal broken families, it can restore friendships and it can reconcile divided communities. It is in forgiveness that we feel the power of God’s love.”

Jesus comes to be our Saviour, he dies as our Saviour, he pays for our sin securing our forgiveness. And freeing us from our ‘if onlys...’ freeing us from looking to anything else for meaning in life because we can know the love of God.

If you could only ask God for one thing and knew that he would give it to you, what would it be?

No comments: