If you ever attended Sunday School, you’re very likely to be familiar with this story! As one of the most visually striking stories in the life of Jesus, it’s a favourite with Sunday School leaders everywhere. The little Israelite house crammed full of people; the friends battling their way up the steps on the outside of the property… then removing the branches which acted as a de facto roof; and ultimately lowering their friend down through the ceiling, right next to Jesus.
Tomorrow, we’ll think about Jesus’ encounter with the man himself – but today, let’s give a moment’s reflection to the unsung heroes in the story: his friends. Note that it was their faith – not the man’s – that touched Jesus’ heart (v5). Not to mention the huge physical effort needed to climb up on the roof, then make a hole, then manoeuvre their friend safely and slowly down to the ground again: that is friendship in action.
Ultimately, though, what we learn today is that the greatest gift of true friendship is to bring someone to Jesus. It’s what Andrew did with his brother Simon (John 1:42): a simple invitation which not only changed Simon’s life but changed the course of history. It’s what the paralysed man’s friends do here. They didn’t have to preach, promote or pray out loud; they just had to make the introduction, to bring him to the gathering.
Some of us may be called to bear witness with our words, and certainly we can all pray for our friends in our personal prayer time. But what’s so encouraging about this first part of the story is that, even if words are not your strong suit, and we feel inadequate to give wise answers to hard questions or to share inspiring stories about your faith, we can all invite someone to something.
That’s what the friends did, and it was enough. Jesus did the rest; he did – and does – do the heavy lifting in the story. It is not our job to ‘convert our friends’: we can safely leave that to Jesus. What we can do is make the introduction, invite them to a gathering, and then keep praying and trusting that our great Lord does the rest.
So why not spend a few moments today praying for a few people you love, and also for courage for yourself: to know when, and how, to do what the man’s friends did today. It might not feel like a lot – but in God’s economy, it may very well be more than enough.