If I was the paralytic on the rooftop, watching my four friends from my mat as they remove roof tiles, I would probably tell them how stupid they are. I would see the look on their faces — a strange mix of determination and squashed embarrassment like frat boys during an initiation rite — and tell them they’re idiots. I’d tell them they’re just going to break the parts of me that aren’t already broken. They would tell me it’s too bad I can’t stop them, that their faith is not bound by mine, that my pain and my despair are not mine to keep, and before I can respond I would see the sky move, and the edges of tiles, the inner beams of the roof, the ropes sliding through my friends’ fists inch by inch. I would hear the clashing of voices beneath me, one of them supposedly belonging to the Son of God, the lawyers interrupting, shouting, marking territory, and the throng buzzing, packed so tight the door won’t close, and then —
Time slows down during the last few feet to the floor. The heads of the crowd inch into view, mouths open in shock or amusement or outrage. I stare up at my friends, hating them for this embarrassment, this disregard for the patterns and expectations I have set for myself. I want the Prophet to meet me on the street, in the quiet hours, when hope is gone and so are the onlookers: those who clamor for sound and movement and emotion, a testimony and a show. I want to walk so I can walk away from the noise of politics and religion. I want the dignity of being healed without the indignity of healing.
The mat bumps the floor of the house one corner at a time, and then the ropes drop, coiling around my feet and shoulders. No going back. Tears well up until I blink, spilling to my ears, and I can’t wipe them. Everyone gets to have their show, their supper-time story, and all that’s left is healing or no healing, walking out or being carried out, and I pray for the first time in days: God in Heaven, spare me the hurt of denial. Spare me the comedy of failure. Let me walk away from this place.
And then a face steps into my view from behind my head, and though the face is upside-down I know it must belong to the man who claims to be the Son of God because he’s the only man not wearing an expression of shock or amusement. The Nazarene hasn’t bathed in some time or laundered his tunic, and yet everyone now steps back out of deference. If this is truly him, it will not be the first time he has healed, and I feel something filling up inside me, pushing, warming, and I open my mouth to speak, but nothing comes out.
Jesus glances up at my foolish friends, then back down at me and says, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”
Whatever it is welling up inside me, that warmth in my dead limbs, that push in my chest that makes me mute with hope, stops. It shrinks and cools until all that’s left is the humiliation of laying on my back on the floor, eye-level with the unwashed feet of the teachers of the law.
My so-called friends did not tear a hole in someone else’s ceiling and lower me through it to the feet of the leaders of my community for a gesture of forgiveness. An ephah of fine flour doesn’t cost more for me than for anyone else. Forgiveness was never the purview of the prophets. They are bearers of heavenly buckets from which power is doled out in measures. This man is perhaps more, an aqueduct of healing and truth, but not the source, not the water. I cast my eyes up at the faces of the teachers of the law and I know what they’re thinking because I’m thinking it too: Who can forgive sins but God alone?
And yet this man is more than a prophet as he looks into the eyes of every teacher and Pharisee in the room, reading their hearts like a scroll. And he says to them all, “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.”
As the man, Jesus, looks down at me, before he even speaks, I know I have sinned against him. Something tightens inside me, as if my heart is being pulled in all directions, trying to fill all the empty spaces, and there are so many, so many more than I knew, and I don’t know why I didn’t leap from my mat when he pronounced my sins forgiven. Yes, Lord, forgive me. Listen to my friends and not to me. Let their faith cover me that I may spend the rest of my life on this mat praising you.
“I tell you,” says the Son of God, “get up, take your mat and go home.”
And already I am standing on my feet as if I have always stood. My arms reach down and my hands grab my mat as if I had never been paralyzed at all, but had simply spent my whole life with nothing to stand upon, nothing to reach out for and hold until now. I push through the crowd blinded by the tears in my eyes, muttering praises, wanting to tell the teachers of the law, You fault this man for his authority but never his healing because all your assumptions about power are wrong. There are no measures in this man because he carries no vessel. He has the authority of God because he is the Son of God, the power of God because he walks beside Him. He brings not just the glory of God, but the kingdom of God, and I will walk in that kingdom forever.
But all that comes out of my mouth is, “Praise be to God. Praise be to God. Praise be to God.”