My mother has multiple sclerosis and has used a wheelchair since I was a young child. She used to tell me the story of the paralytic being lowered through the roof. I always thought that Jesus looked into the heart of the paralyzed man, saw his faith, and healed him as a reward for his trust in Jesus’ power. I was impressed by the miraculous healing. It made sense that “salvation” meant being healed from a disease. After all, I wanted my mother to be able to walk.
Later in life, this story took on new meaning. Eventually, I noticed that Jesus did not look into the heart of the paralyzed man. The story tells us that Jesus “saw their faith”—“they” being the group of determined friends who had lowered the man through the roof simply so they could all be in the presence of Jesus. In this story, faith is not some interior disposition of the heart; faith is an activity. A group of people wanted their friend to have access to Jesus, so they fought to get him there. None of them ever asked Jesus to heal the paralyzed man.
Those of us who have able bodies and full mobility find it hard to imagine that the paralyzed man and his friends simply wanted to sit in Jesus’ presence.
As a kid, I thought my mom was sick, and I wanted her to be healthy. As an adult, I see her as one of the healthiest people I know—precisely because she knows how to truly long for the presence of Jesus.