Many of us at the Cathedral would say that we have close friends whom we have met online. This might seem very odd to those who have not had this experience but is natural to those who have realised how close we can get to others over the internet. Friends in real life can do things for us that online friends can’t due to the lack of physical presence. One of the miracles performed by Jesus was the healing of the paralytic who got to Jesus because his friends were prepared to take him.
On Thursday the readings were Amos 7:10-end, Psalm 19:7-end and Matthew 9:1-8. The reflection from the 2pm SLT service is given below.
I wonder what sort of reception you get if you tell people in RL that you have friends in SL or elsewhere online. Anyone who doesn’t have experience of meeting people online seems to find the concept of such long distance friendship quite hard to digest. It seems strange really as there have been pen-friends for many years who are equally distant yet no one would query the idea that such friendships can be real. We are much better off than pen-friends. We don’t have to wait for days or weeks for letters to arrive. We can chat in real time using text or voice which brings us closer.
There are lots of scare stories about internet use and that can lead to questions about how we know the people we consider to be our friends really are who they say they are. I think it’s possible to tell through their consistency and care. It’s hard to keep up an act for a long time. My online friends have been supportive of me at difficult times. We’ve laughed together and cried together. Those I’ve actually met in RL have proved to be pretty much what I expected. Strange as it may seem to those unfamiliar with the internet, I would say that some of my closest friends are online ones.
Of course, there are limitations to what a friend can do if they are on the other side of the world from us. They can’t give us a hug when we need one, except a cyber hug; they can’t drive us to an appointment or babysit; they can’t bring us a meal when we are not feeling up to cooking. Things that require physical presence are not available to online friends.
The friends in the gospel today didn’t face that kind of limitation. They were RL friends to the paralysed man. This story is better known in Luke’s version I think and there we get a much fuller picture of how the friends helped the man. They obviously needed to carry him on his mat as he wasn’t able to walk. Once they had found where Jesus was teaching they encountered the inevitable crowds. It’s impossible to know if they had planned for this eventuality or not but they certain appear to be very determined people. Luke tells us that they made a hole in the roof in order to be able to lower their friend so that he landed near to Jesus, the source of their hope for his healing. I imagine that they had pictured in their minds what would happen to their friend if only they could get him to Jesus. I suspect that they would never have expected what actually happened.
In Matthew’s version of the story the details of getting the paralysed man to Jesus are less important than the conversation which ensued. The first thing to notice is that it was the faith of the friends, not the man, which seems to have prompted Jesus’ response. When difficulties have gone on for a long time it can be hard to hold on to hope in our lives. It’s then that friends can make up for what we lack. The hope of the paralytic’s friends led them to take him to Jesus, whether or not he himself expected to be healed. The hope of our friends can help us through dark times when we can’t see anything changing, when we are not able to pray. This is something which can be done as easily by online friends as by RL ones. In counselling we are taught that sometimes it’s the role of the counsellor to hold on to hope until the client is able to do so for themselves. It’s very important indeed.
When Jesus began to speak to the man I wonder if the friends’ hearts were pounding with excitement at the thought of a cure and a bit of fear in case it didn’t work out. They must have been very surprised when Jesus told the man that his sins were forgiven. That was surely not in their plan at all. The paralytic’s need was obvious to all who saw him – he needed to be able to walk again. But Jesus looked beyond the obvious and saw a deeper need. The man was weighed down with an awareness of sin. He may have been imprisoned physically but more importantly he was imprisoned spiritually and that was coming between him and God. Being told that his sins were forgiven was far more important than to be given strength in his legs. Jesus got the priorities right. Had he stopped at that point it would have been enough to revolutionise the man’s life.
Nothing is hidden from Jesus. He perceived the man’s need and he also perceived the scribes’ thoughts. They saw Jesus as just another man but hearing him forgive sins said to them that Jesus was putting himself on a par with God whose prerogative it is to forgive sins. Of course, Jesus could just have been talking big, showing off. There was no way that anyone observing his interaction with the paralytic could know if the man’s sins had been forgiven. The man himself might have known but those looking on couldn’t tell.
Jesus asked if it was easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or ‘Stand up and walk’. The answer is easy to work out. If he were to say the latter it would be possible to see if he really had the power and authority he was claiming. Of course, Jesus did just that. Turning from the conversation with the scribes, he addressed the man directly and told him to stand up and go home. The moment of truth. Could the man walk at Jesus’ command? Did Jesus have the power to heal him? As we heard, the paralytic did exactly as he was told; he stood up and headed home, no doubt followed by his friends who could barely contain their joy at the outcome.
Jesus said that healing the man would prove that he had the authority to forgive sins, to do the internal miracle in the man’s soul. This conclusion was obviously not lost on the crowd. They recognised that God was present with them in what had happened and ‘were filled with awe’. We’re not told what the scribes thought but I don’t suppose they were happy to be shown up in this way.
I often think that we get closer to our online friends than to many of the friends we meet in RL. We seem to share at a deeper level. No matter how deep the sharing though, we cannot be sure that we know of our friends’ deepest needs. We can trust that Jesus definitely knows the most important thing to give any friend we bring to him in prayer, just as the paralytic was given exactly what he needed. The results may surprise us but we can always trust that Jesus will go straight to the heart of the matter and provide the right kind of healing for our friends and for ourselves.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor