The story of the healing of the paralytic offers a rich opportunity to engage in narrative theology. In this piece, I explore the theme of faith. I have written it in two parts for ease of use by readers.
The western tradition, to which I belong, values intellectual thought and concepts. Faith is often defined as the content of what one believes. Accordingly, there are basic doctrinal statements about God, Jesus, and the Spirit that are define the orthodox Christian faith. Select passages of scripture are used that support this way of approaching faith. A classic text comes from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans: “… if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you shall be saved” (Rom. 10.9).
The story of the healing of the paralytic requires us to consider faith from another perspective for two reasons. First, the faith that Jesus recognizes is attributed to the four friends of the paralytic. Second, the doctrinal content is vague and ambiguous. These men simply believe that Jesus has the power to heal. We do not meet them in the narrative as disciples that sit at the feet of Jesus.
I am intrigued by how human tragedy and urgent action interrupt a theological conversation. The description of the scribes (the official interpreters of Torah) seated inside the house implies that they have taken an official position. Their intent is to investigate and debate the prophet from Galilee whose teaching has popular authority. Jesus represents a threat to their honor and influence.
The sound of men digging through a thatched roof would have been disconcerting. The sight of a paralytic being precariously lowered on a stretcher must have been riveting. One can imagine how eyes moved between the men on the roof, the paralytic, and the anxious owner of the home.
The description of Jesus seeing the faith of the four men is important. One does not see intellectual beliefs or doctrines unless they are printed on a page. Jesus is a witness to the urgent and desperate actions of four men. They have faith that Jesus can help their paralyzed friend. They know that his announcement of the in breaking of God’s rule has been accompanied by healings and exorcisms. He has restored health, dignity, and freedom to broken and wounded people.