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Posts Tagged ‘Biblical imagination’

His eyelids, suddenly heavy, fell shut. Inside his mind, he felt a thick curtain fall, muffling the sound around him. My sins…are forgiven. Forgiven? Wiped out? In stunning succession, images whirled past his mind’s eye: a willful boy, a prideful young man, a demanding friend, an angry husband, a harsh father. Then the accident, and bitterness cloaking the will, the pride, the harsh anger, holding it all in to fester and turn to despair. My sins, yes.

All at once he noticed the quiet in the room, not a peaceful stillness, but a tense waiting, underscored with a buzz of murmuring voices, a kind of hissing disapproval. What were they waiting for, he wondered? Was he supposed to speak, to testify?

He opened his eyes, eager now to look at that Face again, and to heard the Voice. But the Face was gone. Instead, far above, the four friends still hung over the roof hole, staring and silent, seeming…sad. Disappointed.

Oh! They think their effort was for nothing! But He knew what I needed. Forgiveness. Yes. I can go home in peace now. All is well.

Then from somewhere over his head he heard it again, that One who had spoken forgiveness to him. “Why are you thinking these things?”

He started, straining his eye balls to find the Face. Was He talking to me? Does He know my thoughts? Why were they wrong?

“Which is easier?” the Voice continued. “To say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, pick up your mat and walk home’?” No one answered Him. Huh. That’s a good question. Both are impossible, I’d say. But…He did forgive me, I’m sure of it. I feel it. So then…

The Voice was still speaking, “But so you know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins…”

The Face swam into his sight again, smiling. Gentle hands moved purposefully near his waist. The same calm, commanding Voice spoke again. “Go on. Get up on your feet, take your mat and go home now.” The Man glanced up at the four gaping friends with a last smile and nod, then he apparently moved away.

The paralyzed man lay still, but the stillness was different now, he could sense it. He took a deep breath, filling his lungs, once…twice…three times. Lord, I believe, he thought.

And he sat up.

At once there was a new murmur of amazement. But no one moved. The anticipation hung as heavy in the air as smoke in a windowless room.

He continued to breathe, slow and deep. He noticed that the straps hung loose. The Man had untied them for him. Then, with careful deliberation, he bent his knees. Smiling, he braced himself with his arms, and clambered to his feet, a little stiff, but standing nonetheless.

Now he was grinning, and above him he could hear laughter and clapping, then the scurry of feet as his friends scrambled down the ladder from the roof.

Bending down, he grasped the edge of the pallet which had seemed a prison. He lifted it with one hand and straightened again, caught between giddy laughter and sudden tears.

He took one step, then two, and the crowd’s amazed murmur swelled to cheering and shouting. “Hallelu-Yah! Praise to the Almighty One! He has done great things!”

He continued to move, with more confidence now, and found himself face to face with the Stranger, who just smiled. His own eyes watery, he opened his mouth to say, Thank you. But no sound came. Even so, it seemed the Man could read the gratitude in his eyes. Nodding once more, He turned towards the door. Four scruffy men had muscled through the crowd and stood there now, silently joyful.

The man who had been paralyzed, still dragging the useless mat, walked toward them. And then all five friends moved slowly through the reverent crowd who parted to watch them go, walking toward the sunset with strong and steady tread.

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He drowsed again in the heat, the jumbled voices of a crowd acting like so many bees, droning him to sleep. Then he was jolted by a sudden upward movement. He opened his eyes to see his lifeless feet dangling below him as the cot was hauled upwards…were they carrying him up a ladder? Then the cot straightened a bit, the sky reappeared and he both saw and heard that ropes were being used to raise him off the ground. But why?

The cot made slow, jerking progress, punctuated by grunts and muttered, “Careful there! Try to keep him level.”

Then their faces came in view again, hauling on ropes, hand over hand, and they were coming closer. No, he was coming closer. With a last groaning effort, they grabbed his bed and dragged it onto the…roof? He lay still, and listened to his friends panting, gasping for breath. Where were they? Why this heroism? How could this help? He squeezed his eyes shut against the glare of sun beating down. It felt even hotter up here than on the ground.

“All right. Are you ready?” They murmured assent to each other, as if bracing themselves for some more herculean task. What in the world–? They pushed him, bed and all, along the level surface.

And all at once his stomach seemed to drop, and then his head caught up. He cried out in panic–had they pushed him too far? Was he going to fall off this roof now and finish the job? But no. He’d hardly had time to think this was the end, when he felt his progress slow. They were lowering him now, more smoothly than they’d lifted him.

Somewhere below he was aware of a commotion–yelling. Someone was upset about something. “What do you think you’re doing?? My roof!!” Some other voices were talking all at once, and a few seemed to be laughing. Were they laughing at him?

He realized that the sun’s harsh kiss was gone. The light against his closed lids felt cooler, dimmer. He blinked open his eyes, still squinting out of habit. Four little boys looked back at him…

No! He almost burst out laughing himself. It was his four friends, looking through a window at him. They were leaning out and…oh. It was the roof. They’d cut a hole, and he was looking straight up at them.

Suddenly his view was cut off by a single face, quite close to him, which stared into his intently. Was this the owner? Would he be blamed now for the damages? How fitting–damaged goods himself, and now he’d be scolded for destroying something else. How much more do I have to bear? Will they throw me in jail to rot? Was this their plan to get rid of me once and for all? O God, why couldn’t I just have died long ago? Why was I ever born? Life is nothing but pain and trouble.

Slowly his eyes refocused–a weathered face, warm eyes, steady, understanding…knowing. Too much. They looked through him. And then–the eyes smiled. The silent man turned his head and looked up, up at the four anxious faces who still waited breathlessly above him. He seemed to nod, as if he agreed with some unspoken plea. Then the knowing eyes turned back to his own.

Though he lay helpless and still, his heart began to pound as if he’d scaled the wall himself and lowered his own broken body by a rope with his own once-strong hands. He didn’t know what would happen next–what could happen? And yet he was afraid.

Unhurried, quiet, the stranger spoke. His voice, though low, was pitched to carry to the crowd around him, and it resonated with authority. “Your sins are forgiven,” he said.

 

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(see Luke 5:17-26)

The view was unvarying: cloudless white-hot sky above him, against which he closed his eyes most of the time. If he turned his head a tiny bit to right or left, he could see the back of a head and the top of a shoulder. If he strained his eyes up and back to either side he’d see grim faces, upside down. Four men, two on either side, trudged doggedly forward, while he lay still, strapped in place.

They were grim because it was hot, heavy work, and they’d been walking since sunrise. They were dogged because they were determined to get him to his destination. And he lay still, not because he was strapped down, but because he could not will his limbs to move. Nor could he say or do anything to stop these four. Their minds were made up. This was their last hope.

He had given up hope long since. For years, the five of them had worked merrily together at their trade. They’d laughed together, sweating in the heat. They’d poured the wine at each others’ weddings, blessed each others’ children, built each others’ homes, adding on rooms as their families grew. And then it happened. The freak accident that left one of them helpless, paralyzed, useless. The others pitched in to support his family, they consulted physicians, took him to healing springs, massaged his limbs, cheered him or chided him at need.

Meanwhile the paralyzed man grew more and more bitter, watching his friends going on with their lives–loving wife, holding child, wielding chisel. They worked without him. In time he didn’t think he liked them any more. He believed he hated them.

But now here he was, feeling like a sacrifice being carried to the altar against its will. They’d strapped him to the cot so he wouldn’t fall off if they stumbled. They’d explained that this was absolutely the last time they’d try to help him…but they’d said that before, too.

“This Man…He works miracles. He does. We’ve seen Him. If anyone can heal you, it will be Him. We just have to get you to Him. He’s in Galilee right now, so let’s go, OK?”

OK? What choice does a paralyzed man have? What can he do by his own will? He stared silently into space as they got him ready.

His wife kissed him good-bye. “I’m praying, ” she whispered.

And what will happen when nothing happens? he thought. Maybe they’d just leave him by the side of the road some-where, to choke to death on the dust.

He must have dozed for a time. When he awoke, they’d stopped. A mutter of urgent words washed over him. The men hissed at each other.

“We can’t do that! Are you crazy?”

“Well, what do you suggest?”

“We’ve come too far to stop now.”

“There’s no other way in–the crowd is already five deep outside the door. The courtyard is packed.”

“Is there a ladder? What about a rope?”

Ladder? Rope? What were they talking about? He opened his mouth to protest, then closed it again. Why waste his breath? They would do whatever they chose. They’d long ago stopped asking his permission or even his opinion. He felt more than ever like a piece of meat, and not kosher either–just an unclean, useless lump, barely alive.

 

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