My friend, Gabriella, told me this story about a squirrel in New York City. It is a good example of how we can change our lives. Let me tell you about it. She was driving in busy traffic during rush hour on a five lane highway in the city. The other side of the street was four lanes. As the light changed the cars did not automatically move forward but all lanes slowed to a stop. In front of her Gabriella saw a squirrel that was trying to cross the street but could not go anywhere because of the traffic on both sides of the street. Everyone could see this squirrel running around and around and around in a circle plus emitting a very loud screeching sound. This squirrel kept doing this action and making this very loud sound until the traffic in both directions stopped. Then she looked up, saw she had a chance to make it across the streets. She ran as fast as she could into a big tree. Drivers in cars were smiling at one another as they set out on their journey knowing they had seen a small miracle.
What does this squirrel have to do with our Gospel story today? I believe that this squirrel was willing to do anything she had to do to be saved. She ran in circles and made loud sounds to get where she needed to go. Today I am going to talk about what we each need to do to change our lives and to live more closely to the Gospel story.
There was a paralytic in the town that wanted to be healed of his affliction. What caused him to have such a desire to be healed? Was he a recent paralytic and remembered what it was to be able to walk and move? Had he been paralyzed for some time and for some reason decided to ask Jesus to heal today? I am looking for a reason for the man to want to be healed so badly that he reached out to friends to help him at this difficult task. It is sometimes easy for someone to become complacent and give up seeking a healing. It is sometimes easy to give up praying to God for help because the help is not quickly forthcoming. Something within this man was on fire to reach out to Jesus to heal him. Perhaps the man was only going to ask for physical healing and not spiritual healing. But as you remember in the Gospel story the paralytic was healed in both body and spirit.
I also want to talk about the four men who accompanied the paralyzed man. They must have been brave and compassionate men who cared very deeply about their friend. They took a great risk to lift him to the rooftop, open it up, and then lower their friend down. The greater risk they might have faced was looking foolish to the people gathered to hear Jesus. They just wanted to accompany him in his desire to be healed.
What happened? Jesus saw the man being lowered down into the house and did not offer to physically heal him at first. He said, "Child, your sins are forgiven." The scribes could not believe what he had said. Jesus, knowing what they were thinking asserted his authority and said. "What are you thinking in your hearts? Which is easier to say to say your sins are forgiven or to say pick up your mat and walk?" Jesus was saying that he came to do all things. Heal the sick and forgive sins. This teachable moment was to tell the scribes and townspeople listening that Jesus was an extraordinary man who could heal physically and also could forgive sins. This simple story is one of the first of many that would bring him closer to his own death.
What about the man lowered from the roof by his friends? He picked up his mat, walked out of the house and his sins were forgiven. His life was changed forever. We never hear about him again but I can imagine that he praised God mightily and thanked his friends over and over for their help. He could have gone on to help others who were discouraged and needed help. At least I can hope he did this. We will never know.
Have any of you wanted to be healed by God for something but have given up asking? Have you told any of your friends that you are in need of healing? Many of us are private people and do not want to share our neediness or our transgressions. Sometimes there are, shall we say, some "perks" to not wanting to be healed. To be healed or forgiven means we have to go beyond our comfort zone. There are things about us that we want healed physically, emotional, or spiritually. We have kept them in a private place or box within ourselves and have not mentioned them to anyone. Lent is coming this week and we our asked to look at the private places in our hearts that are in need of healing. We may also need to ask our friends to accompany us on our journey to give us the support we need. But we need to ask ourselves again and again is how much we want to be healed? Is it a low flame or is it a burning fire within us that wants to be healed and whole?
As I have been preparing this talk I have been remembering time that I was on a three week study tour of Israel. When in Jerusalem, a young Palestinian teenager, about twelve or thirteen, who was walking with our tour and trying to earn some money in tips. He was very helpful and I liked him. About ten minutes later I saw some Israeli soldiers had arrested him and were hitting him in the face during the interrogation. I felt urged by God to go to the soldiers and represent the boy. But I was afraid something would have happened to me. These soldiers had big guns and were behaving very aggressively. I have always regretted my behavior and would like to say I am sorry to the young boy. This is not possible but I have realized that fear is something I have to overcome in my life even now. I need to work on this during this coming Lenten season.
We might ask ourselves what do I feel strongly enough about that I need repentance? Do I have some behaviors that are addictive, or selfish, or grandiose? Do I have feelings of worthlessness or of low self-esteem that I need to address? Do I have some physical illness or pain that I have given up asking God for help? Do I really want to be healed?
Lent is a time for conversion. Lent is a time to ask others for help. Lent is a time to start up the fire within us for change and conversion. The squirrel knew exactly what her needs were. She did a circle dance In the middle of the street and screeched at the top of her lungs until God and the drivers heard her. She had to cause a commotion so the world would stop and listen. We do not have to go out in traffic and screech. We have to be motivated for change and then have a burning desire within us to want to change. God will talk to us and show us the next steps.