What to Look For in a Friend

Sometimes life happens and it's messy.

Several years after moving into our new home, we decided to order satellite television.  Before that we talked to each other, played games and read books to our kids.  It was great.  But then we felt like socially isolated overachievers who were missing out and decided to bring TV back.  That led to a mess. 

We needed a satellite installed and wires run through the attic from the living room to the garage.   The company’s subcontractor sent a monolingual worker with very limited English to perform the installation.  Believe me, I adore my Latino brothers and sisters- but we had a language barrier problem because we don’t speak Spanish.  He seemed like a very nice guy and grinned a lot.  My husband took him into the attic and showed him where the wires needed to go.  Ken pointed to the nice, wide 2x12 boards we walk on up in the attic and said, “You must stay on the catwalk!  DO NOT step off the boards!”  He smiled and nodded his head, “Yes, Yes.”  But he did not understand.  This is the story of how we found out that he didn’t understand. 

I was puttering happily around the house putting things away and thinking about the shows I could soon watch on HGTV when I heard the sound of something breaking and cracking.  Things were falling through the air and landing on the floor of my living room with a thud.  I looked up to see a leg with a work boot on it coming through my ceiling and horrible cracks running in all directions in the white paint.  I could not believe my eyes as the ceiling gave way and a six foot hole emerged.  Fiberglass insulation, dust and huge three foot shards of broken sheetrock spilled all over my leather couch and the carpet around it.  The sofa was covered in debris and I stood staring in utter shock.  The cable guy caught himself from falling all the way through and continued walking across the attic.

What the heck, cable guy?

While I was thinking about what to do, it occurred to me that they were still walking around up there.  There were footsteps and voices.  Calm, conversational voices.  These voices had no indication that anything was wrong and I knew that my husband would not be that nonchalant if he had seen the damage.  I looked at the cavity in the ceiling again, baffled, and then heard another ominous sound as a footprint on the ceiling produced another long crack right before my eyes.  This one was about 8 feet away from the previous hole, nearer to the kitchen.  He did it again!!!  He was walking on the unprotected, bare sheetrock!  

For lack of a better idea I cupped my hands and yelled up through the hole in the ceiling, “HEY!  QUÉ PASA?????”  I don’t know much Spanish so that’s all I said.   Ken heard me, discovered the problem, and stopped the madness by getting the guy out of the attic.  He had walked on the sheetrock in at least four different places.  He felt really embarrassed by the damage and disappeared inside his cable truck to be alone for a while.  It’s possible that my husband, about twice his size, had that I kinda want to kick your ass look on his face but I can’t know for sure.

Instead of watching HGTV I spent the day cleaning up the mess and making phone calls.  The mishap launched me into a long and tedious process of negotiations with the cable company for months to come.  In the end they took responsibility for the damage they caused.  But, we had a boarded up hole in our living room that served as a captivating conversation piece for about six months until the legalities were resolved.  Then we had to hire a contractor to patch, sheetrock, texture, and paint our living room.  First world problems I guess.

The hole in our ceiling always reminds me of one of my favorite Bible stories about friendship.  A first century homeowner offered his house for Jesus to teach in and wound up with a big hole in his ceiling, too.   You can read about it in Matthew 9:1-8, Mark 2:1-12, and Luke 5:17-26.  Each of these writers tell the same story with slightly different details.  Some speculate that the homeowner was likely Simon Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples and closest companions.  He may have given input to Mark’s gospel, where the hole in the ceiling is mentioned.  Matthew doesn’t even include that detail.  I would have included it too—  holes in your ceiling are a mess to clean up and a very interesting way for a guest to enter your home.

Holes in your ceiling are messy.  Loving people is also messy.

A group of four men had decided to bring a paralyzed man lying on a mat to see Jesus, who was teaching in a house.  The home got so packed that no one could enter through the doors.  The friends couldn’t go in, but they weren’t content to give up and go home either.  Determined to get him to Jesus no matter what, they decided to carry their paralyzed friend up on the roof, on his mat, then saw and dig some kind of opening to LOWER him down through the ceiling.  These four friends wanted their friend to be healed really badly.

First of all, who has friends like that?  I want to be that friend.  I want us to love each other like that.  

I want friends like that.

I wonder, did the paralyzed guy even want to go that day?  Was he cheerful and good natured, or was he embarrassed and grumpy to have his shriveled legs on display?  Whose idea was it to go see Jesus? How long had he been paralyzed?  Did he complain?  Was he depressed?  Had he given up hope? Had he stopped wishing for healing, even becoming resigned to his fate?

I think its possible that hoping to be healed was too risky to entertain and that is why this miracle was based, in part, on the faith of his friends.  “Let me tell you something my friend.  Hope is a dangerous thing.  Hope can drive a man insane,” said Stephen King’s character Red in Shawshank Redemption.   Hope could set you up for a crushing disappointment and the death of a dream.   Without hope, paralyzed guy could at least live in the stability and comfort of normalcy and everything he was used to.

Maybe these friends were the ones who for years had been taking him to the bathroom, bringing him food and helping him bathe.  Maybe these caregivers were tired.  Maybe in addition to great love for their friend, a healing would lighten their load as well.

Who knows why they were so motivated to gamble on taking their friend to see Jesus.  Jesus’ healings were causing a stir around the country.  It was worth a shot.  Something to talk about.

A true friend is with us in our darkest hour, no matter how we treat them in return.

I’ve always thought that it would make a better story, if I were the director of a movie, to cast the paralyzed guy as less than enthusiastic about going to the Jesus meeting.  What if he was downright ungrateful or skeptical?  That would make his friends' gesture even more heroic.  The people who take unwilling addicts to rehab, take screaming children to the doctor, and lovingly speak truth that hurts are the heroes and friends we need.  A true friend has our best interests at heart and will risk making us angry to get us the help we need.  A true friend is with us in our darkest hour, no matter how we treat them in return.

There was a creative Seinfeld episode where a boy had to stay in a bubble because of his weak immune system.  People felt sorry for Bubble Boy because of his condition. Ironically Bubble Boy was really rude to his mom and visitors who tried to be nice to him by screaming insults and calling them names.  Jerry’s friend George Costanza decides to go visit Bubble Boy.  George seems shocked at first by his abrasive nature and tries to politely deflect the rude attacks.  That eventually wears off and Bubble Boy aggressively reaches out to choke George over a disagreement about the board game Trivial Pursuit.  Bubble Boy correctly answers a history question about the Moors, but George insists on sticking with the game's response that contains a typo and declares that the answer is "Moops."  Bubble Boy pops the bubble during the altercation and is rushed to the hospital.  George has to flee an angry neighborhood mob, who is blaming him for what happened to poor Bubble Boy.

It doesn’t really matter what paralyzed guy’s disposition was or why his friends took him to see Jesus- I just think that sometimes the Bible stories were a lot more real and less clean and tidy than we imagine.  If paralyzed guy was unpleasant sometimes, it wouldn’t surprise me and I wouldn’t blame him.  It also wouldn’t change Jesus’ reaction toward him in the least.  The great thing about Jesus is that he always knew peoples’ hangups and rough spots.  Nothing surprised him and he loved people anyway.  No  frothing demon possessed guy, no  brazen prostitute, or lying cheating tax collector scared him away.  He offered friendship to lepers, outcasts, children, and poor people.  Maybe the paralyzed guy was always good natured, appreciative, and gentle, but it’s more fun for me to imagine that he occasionally required extra grace and patience... like the rest of us.

Jesus loved people despite their unlovable behavior.

When the five arrived and it was too crowded to get into the house, I wonder how they reacted.  One of them might have suggested they take him back home.  It was worth a shot and they could try again.  Another one may have pointed out that they could wait it out.  The crowd wouldn’t stay forever and if they were patient, they could just kill time until Jesus finished teaching and catch him after the service.  The third friend may have known someone and had a personal connection with the disciples.  I wonder if he tried to pull strings, sending word to Jesus that they were outside to see if Jesus would come out to them instead.  

The fourth friend was a rebel.  I LOVE this person.  Ken and I have spicy, competitive, creative kids who think out of the box and speak up about things they’re passionate about.  Strong willed people have a special place in my heart because they are the ones who take the risk to rock the boat and color outside the lines.   Good rebels care more about people than about rules and take the lead to get things done.   Leaders have to be true to themselves to stand against injustice and bring about desired change, no matter what.  Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Winston Churchill, Harriet Tubman, César Chavez, Gandi, Susan B. Anthony, and the Break the Ceiling guy.  They are my people.  Strong willed rebels can also be difficult to mother, father, teach, or marry, but what would we do without them?

Good rebels care more about people than about rules.

Do you have a wild friend that gets you to do crazy things and have fun doing it?  This guy was like, “Ohhh HECK no we are NOT going home.  I didn’t come this far for nothing.  We are going to get this freaking mat on the freaking roof and cut a freaking hole through this ceiling if we have to.  To-day.  Who’s with me?!”  The crazy friend wasn’t taking no for an answer.  The friends agreed and so began operation “Through the Roof.”

Also, how does paralyzed guy feel about this weird plan?  How scary to have your mat tilted while they lower you through a hold in the roof!  This would be like a very bad carnival ride without seatbelts.  If your arms were paralyzed and you slid off, you wouldn’t even be able to catch yourself.  It would have been stressful for anyone with control issues or who hates being the center of attention.  Plus, they didn’t even know if it would work, if they would get to Jesus in time, or if He would be able to help him.  This was an enormous, embarrassing long shot to say the least.  

This plan was crazy.

Anyway, they did it.  They got paralyzed guy to Jesus.  And when they did, the Bible said Jesus saw their faith and took action.  Jesus did not heal his body at first.  Instead, he said, “Take heart, son.  Friend, your sins are forgiven.”   I wonder if Jesus and the paralyzed guy had ever met.  If not, I find it endearing that Jesus called him “son” and “friend.”  Jesus knows you even if you don’t know Him!

Is it possible that even though you don’t know Jesus, he thinks of you as His son, daughter, and friend?  I think that He loves you before you care or know it.  Creating you, knowing your every thought and dying for your sin is kind of personal. 

Now I wonder about the four friends again.  What a moment.  I don’t think they brought him all that way to be forgiven; they brought him to be healed!  Maybe it was quiet for a moment as the words of the Teacher sunk in.  He was forgiven!!  But, he was still paralyzed.  Would they take him home, still on his mat?  Would they still have to empty his potty bucket everyday and see him depressed?  At this point in the story there is no recorded reaction from the paralyzed guy.  

Then the Pharisees and religious leaders began thinking to themselves, “Who is this guy who speaks blasphemy?  Who can forgive sins but God alone?”  They didn’t realize who Jesus was.  So Jesus responds and says, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts?  Which is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”  That made the religious people upset.

Jesus often made religious people furious.

For a human, both healing and forgiveness from God were impossible because only God could forgive sins and lame people don’t walk.  Jesus didn’t want the issue of his deity to get lost in the healing.  Not that normal people just heal paralytics, but He was obviously making a point by starting with forgiveness.

It is important to notice that Jesus started with forgiveness.

If you have read the story, Jesus is going to heal him in a minute.  But let’s hit the pause button on this story again when we, like they, didn’t know that Jesus was going to do both.  Would that have been a failure or a success?  What did that mean for him to be forgiven?  Would the five guys have come away happy or disappointed with the outcome of their rooftop trek to see Jesus if he was forgiven but still paralyzed?

How about you?  Have you come away from your encounter with Jesus disappointed at the outcome?  The thing you wanted is still out of reach.  The outcome you prayed for is unanswered.  I know I have.  When relationships stay broken and loved ones die of cancer and car accidents, it seems like God doesn’t care about our pain and misery.  It seems like either he isn’t powerful enough to help or doesn’t want to.  We question whether God is good, for what kind of Father would allow his children to suffer if he could prevent it?

Sometimes we don't know what we need the most or His plan to help us.

Here’s what it meant for Jesus to say: “Your sins are forgiven.”  Jesus knew that imperfect people cannot enter a perfect heaven and stand in the company of a Holy God.  Heaven will be a place that is holy and clean:  no sin, no hurt, no pain.  Unfortunately that means no flawed, sinful, hurting people either.  That means that this paralyzed guy was looking at an ETERNITY separated from Love.  God is Love and sin was the thing keeping him from eternal life.  Jesus loved him and wanted him to know his Father and have eternal life.  God wants to be with us forever and live in heaven where there is no more pain or sadness or tears.  To bring us to heaven, God had to cleanse our sin.  Jesus took our punishment and offered forgiveness and reconciliation to the Father in order for us to gain eternal life.

Jesus prioritizes eternal life over earthly comfort but cares about both.

Jesus knew that He was the remedy.  In a short time he would go to a garden and prepare to be crucified for the sin of the whole world, including the paralyzed guy.  One by one, everything he had ever done wrong Jesus would take on himself.  Every lustful thought he ever had for women in his village as he laid on his mat, the people he hated for staring and making fun of him, every time he took the Father’s name in vain and cursed God, every time he looked at his friends who could walk and run and was jealous of them- wanting their life, their wife, their job… All these things would be heaped on Jesus at the cross.  He would sweat blood and die of a broken heart as his own Father turned his back on him, body racked with pain and humiliation, abandoned by friends.  The wrath of God was put on Him.  He experienced hell and separation from God the Father so that we don’t have to.

Jesus offers the gift that cost Him everything.

Jesus knew that saying, “Your sins are forgiven” was a hundred billion dollar gift that would cost Him blood, sweat and tears and change our whole destiny and eternity.  The paralyzed guy may not have been thinking about eternity; he was focused on the miserable present and the rest of his life.  He was helplessly stuck on a mat every day and every night, forced to rely on begging and charity to eat, and unable to even use the bathroom alone.    

Jesus understood his distress and had compassion on him but focused on the greater priority first.  Any good parent understands this.

A Garth Brooks song says:

Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers

Remember when you’re talking to the man upstairs

That just because he doesn’t answer doesn’t mean he don’t care

Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers

 

Aren’t you glad that God the Father knows what we need and gives us what we need not always what we want?  Could you trust Him a little more with that?  As your Creator, Redeemer, Savior… the only one in your life who has shed his blood to save you, could you trust Him?  Just because we don't recognize the need to be saved, doesn't make it untrue.

Jesus has our well being at heart.

When Jesus heard what the Pharisees and religious leaders were thinking to themselves, he said, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.”  So, because Jesus is God, he can heal and the paralyzed guy got up and walked out!  THIS amazed everyone and they praised God saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”  God made a way where there was no way and he used the guy’s friends to make it happen.  He came in through the ceiling carried by others and walked out of that packed house carrying his own mat and making his own path through the crowd praising God.  His life was changed forever. 

Now THAT broke the silence!  The paralyzed guy’s dreams had come true.  He didn’t praise God when he was forgiven, but when he could walk he started rejoicing.  What a moment that must have been!!!  I don’t want to minimize it because I can’t imagine how depressing it must have been for him to lay on that mat day after day, year after year with no hope.

I hate to say it, but what Jesus was trying to tell us is that the healing was the easier part for Him.   Jesus could speak the healing with one word from his mouth.  The forgiveness caused him to have nails driven through his hands and feet, a crown of thorns pressed onto his head and desertion of his best friends.  The healing would benefit him for decades.  The forgiveness would benefit him for millions of years.

God's goodness is too great for us to understand.

We have to realize that we don’t think like the Creator of the Universe.  We don’t and we can’t.  That’s a very good thing.  We don’t know what we need the most!  Like little kids, we know what we want.  But God, better than us, as our loving parent knows what we need.  Thank goodness He knows!  

I need to say something else that is difficult.  I believe that it’s highly possible that if the paralyzed guy would have gone home still paralyzed but forgiven he would have been disappointed with God like so many of us.  He didn’t know Jesus well enough to trust Him or see the big picture.  He couldn’t see the big picture because Jesus hadn’t even died on the cross yet or been resurrected.   Jesus did what was best for him but he may have preferred temporary relief.  That’s not bad; that’s human nature.  There is nothing more real than pain and shame and depression.

Because of the cross and resurrection, I trust Jesus more than anyone else.

That is where trust comes in.  Do you need to trust the Jesus who would rather save you from hell and bring you into the family of God and give you eternal life for millions of years than heal the body you’ll have for the next few decades?  Do you need to realize again that we are just passing through and this is not our home?  Have you decided God is not good because He let your loved one die?  Would you rather have your child healed tomorrow than saved for eternity?  Jesus is a Healer and a Savior and he wants to do both. 

Don’t get me wrong, God is still healing and restoring everyday.  But people are still dying everyday, too.  So, can we conclude that bad things happening mean a bad God who can’t be trusted?  Or is it possible that God is good and a terrible sickness does not a bad God make?  Is it possible that trusting Jesus and taking Him at His word is the best possible thing we could do?  

Jesus could be the best Friend you’ve ever had.

Jesus is not mean.  God is good.  Friend... God is good!  He is the best Friend you could ever have.  Somewhere along the way I just decided to believe that even when I don’t understand everything. 

I love you.  Jesus loves you more.