Which Is Easier?

walking and wheeling
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/dominikgolenia/527517137/">Dominik Golenia</a>

Mark 2:1-12

A few days later, Jesus returned to Capernaum. When it got out that he was home the masses gathered around until there was no space left for anyone, so that the door was blocked. And while Jesus was telling them what was up, some people arrived: four of them carrying a paraplegic. When they couldn’t get through the crowd to Jesus, they broke a hole in the roof, and after having made an opening they let down the paraplegic to Jesus on his gurney from above.

When Jesus saw their devotion he said to the paraplegic, “Kid, don’t let anyone tell you you’re a defect.”

Some of the bureaucrats who were hanging around there started whispering among themselves, “He’s got no business talking as if he were God! God alone is the one who can say whether he’s defective or not.”

Jesus had a hunch what they were talking about, though. So he said to them, “Why do you insist on ignorance? You can’t do the easiest thing of all: affirm someone’s human value. Do you think it’s easier to tell him to get up and walk out of here? But if you need proof that to forgive is a human capacity….” And with that he turned again to the paraplegic and said, “Go ahead, get up and go home. And get this gurney out of here.”

Jesus pulled him to his feet, and he took his gurney and walked out as everyone looked on. They were awe-struck, saying it was God: “We’ve never seen anything like it.”

Make no mistake. This is about who gets to say whether someone is “good enough.”

The bureaucrats say only God can. But what they mean is, “Only we can.” Their logic is that God has put them in charge of “society” and since they’re in charge on God’s behalf, they get to say. And they say this paralytic is unable to walk and to participate in “society,” because he owes them something. “Look, he’s done nothing but lie about all day. Instead of asking for a handout. If he wants health insurance and health care he should get a job.” Sound familiar?

Jesus, on the other hand, insists that it’s much easier to give him what he needs to be a contributing part of the social network than to expect him to pull himself up by his own bootstraps and excoriating him when he can’t. And, behold, given what he needs, he turns out to be quite capable of carrying his own load.

It’s not magic. It’s just what happens when you recognize that sometimes the easiest, most practical thing is to give a hand to help someone up. It turns out to be much harder to pretend to speak for God with any kind of credibility. And it’s even harder than that to defend the illusion that some people really are better than others (on whatever basis). So why not get over ourselves? And, Jesus insists you don’t have to wait for God to help those who help themselves. It’s a responsibility that comes with being human to simply lend a hand when and where you can.

People Are People, Not Pawns

Cold War World Map, 1953
Map via Wikipedia

1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:5

Meanwhile, friends, since we’ve been cut off from you (but only in person, you are still near to our hearts) we’ve longed to see you again face to face. We wanted to come – well, I, Paul, did – many times, but Satan kept getting in the way. What hope do we have? What joy? What trophy can we brag about when Jesus comes if it’s not you? You’re all that to us and more.

So when we couldn’t stand it any more we decided to stay by ourselves in Athens and sent Brother Tim, our coworker in the spreading the Jesus story and the movement, to give your faith a shot in the arm. We didn’t want you to start second guessing because of all this trouble. Of course, you knew that you were sure to get in trouble, and you know we were up front with you from the beginning that you would face a lot of opposition – and it went down just that way. That’s why we sent Tim. I just couldn’t stand not knowing how you were holding up, and I was worried that you may have been tempted to give up and that our whole project was a wasted effort.

Paul’s concern for the Thessalonians is a pretty thin veil for his deeper concern about the success of his own efforts. He’s afraid that the new church may be (literally) shot to hell.

In the titanic, cosmic battle (in Paul’s mind) between Paul and Satan, the people of Thessalonica are pawns. The same way third world states were pawns in the cold war: each side calculating tactics and sending agents and reinforcements, fighting their battles by proxy.

This is another profound shift from the way Jesus treated people – as people with their own inherent value – that happens when Jesus is turned from a person into a religion. The stakes go up in cosmic terms, while the relative value of the people’s own interest goes down, all under the umbrella of “saving the world from the evil empire.” Call it Satan. Call it the USSR. Makes no difference: it’s still a facade.

Here’s another way to discern the difference:

When Jesus is concerned about the suffering of the people, he goes himself into the maw of death. When Paul is concerned about the people, he sends Tim to check the situation out and report back. It’s not that Paul isn’t earnest. It’s that his priorities are different, and therefore his strategy is different.

In the final analysis, people are not pawns, and any project that treats them as such, no matter how well-intentioned or titanic in scope, is in itself a betrayal of the noble causes it purports to stand for.

And the moral of the story: In whatever you do, lose your self-interest in winning a trophy, and treat the people involved like people.