Best of Daily Reflections: Walking Around in the Skin of the Crowd
Everyone was gripped with great wonder and awe, and they praised God, exclaiming, "We have seen amazing things today!"
This is the final reflection in a series of five based on the story of the healing of the paralyzed man in Luke 5:17-26. In the previous four reflections, I have sought to "walk around in the skin" of various persons in the story (to borrow a phrase from To Kill a Mockingbird). So far I have done this for Jesus, the Pharisees, the mat carriers, and the paralyzed man. Today, I finish by thinking about this story from the perspective of the crowd.
As Jesus was teaching in a house in one of the villages of Galilee, a large crowd gathered in order to hear his message of the kingdom and experience the power of the kingdom through his mighty works. So many people were packed into the house that the men who wanted to bring a paralyzed man to Jesus were unable to do so. Standing room only! It's not hard to imagine the eager expectations of the crowd. As Jesus talked about the kingdom of God, they yearned for his words to be true. And perhaps he would heal some sick people or cast out demons, as he had been doing all over Galilee.
The crowd must have been shocked by the tearing open of the roof above them and the lowering down of the paralyzed man. Then, they would have been similarly stunned by Jesus' unexpected statement to the man: "Young man, your sins are forgiven" (5:20). As Jesus spoke critically to the religious leaders, the crowd might have felt nervous, wondering if a fight was brewing. But then they were shocked once again by Jesus' second statement to the paralyzed man: "Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!"
And that's just what the man did! He was healed. His legs were strong. He picked up his own mat and headed for home, full of praise for God. It's no surprise that the crowd was "gripped with great wonder" (5:26). The Greek original states that "Amazement [ekstasis, related to our word "ecstasy"] took hold of each person." They joined the healed man by glorifying God. They were filled with awe. The Greek uses the word phobos, which literally means "fear." The crowd was saying, "We have seen amazing things today!" "Amazing things" translates the Greek word paradoxa, related to our word "paradox." What the crowd saw was amazing, but also perplexing. How could a man have such power to heal a paralytic? And what does it mean that he claims the authority to forgive sins?
Looking at the events in Luke 5:17-26 from within the "skin" of the crowd reminds me of times when I have witnessed God's miraculous power. On the one hand, I have been full of praise to God for his mercy and might. I have lifted up my voice to glorify him. On the other hand, sometimes I have been perplexed. Why does God act as he does?
I remember, for example, a time when my dad was dying of cancer. He was in the hospital, perhaps for the last time, according to the doctors. As I visited his room, I found my mother sitting nearby. I asked her how she was doing. "Terrible," she said, "I have a splitting headache. I've had it for several hours." We talked for a while as my dad slept. When it was time for me to leave, I prayed for my dad's healing as I had done so many other times. But I added a request for my mom: "Lord, please heal her headache." I must admit that I did this more out of obedience than faith. God did not seem to be answering my prayers in those days. When I finished, I said goodbye to my mother, adding, "I hope your headache goes away." Her answer stunned me: "It just did. My headache is completely gone. That's amazing. Thanks for praying for me."
As I left my dad's hospital room, I praised God for his power. But I felt deeply perplexed as well. If he had such power to heal, why didn't he heal my dad? Why take away my mom's headache but leave cancer filling my dad's body? Yes, I was amazed. But I was also struck by the paradoxes of God's grace and power. I was reminded once again that God's ways are not my ways.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Have you ever experienced God's grace and power in such a way that it filled you with praise? Have you ever responded to God's grace and power by being confused or perplexed? How do you respond to a God who graciously makes himself known to us, yet who is also beyond our comprehension?
PRAYER: Dear Lord, as I think about this story in Luke 5:17-26 from within the "skin" of the crowd, I must admit that my first feeling is envy. I wish I could have been there! I wish I could have seen what happened that day! I do thank you for Luke's faithfulness in passing along this story. But it must have been something to be part of the crowd that day!
My second response, Lord, is to remember when you have shown your mighty power to me. Yes, there have been many times when I have been blown away by your goodness and strength. I thank you for these times and for how they encouraged me to praise you.
My third response, gracious Lord, is to think of the paradoxes of the life of faith. There are so many things you have revealed to me. Yet there is so much I don't quite get. Help me, Lord, to grow in my understanding of you as I wrestle with the paradoxes. But help me also to accept my limitations, to trust you fully even when I don't understand you fully.
All praise be to you, God of power and might, God of healing and compassion, God of unsearchable wisdom and grace. Amen.