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.

Give Yourself Away

Photo credit: Patricia Soransso

Matthew 23:1-12

Then Jesus said to his followers and the crowds:

“The traditionalists and the legalists have inherited Moses’ formal authority. So do as they say. But don’t do as they do. They don’t practice what they preach. They rope people into carrying impossible burdens without lifting a finger to help. Everything they do is self-promotion. They wear their religion on their sleeves, and show off their fancy clothes. They go to charity dinners, not for the charity, but to get noticed. They cater to the Wall Street crowd and want everyone to call them by their titles.

But don’t use titles, even if you have them; you are all equals under one cause. Don’t call anyone Leader: your leader is God. And don’t claim to know it all – that’s God’s place alone. The greatest among you are those who serve. The high-fliers will fall. But give yourself away, and you’ll soar.

Formal authority only gets you so far. If you use it as a yardstick to measure your self-worth, it always comes up short. And, if you depend on it to get people’s compliance, it earns you only disdain. Witness the TSA. Lots of formal authority. Hardly any real credibility. Universally abhorred by anyone who has to deal with them.

Being born with a silver spoon or making it big-time can buy you the life of Riley. But (and this has been scientifically proven now) money really can’t make you happy. Witness the messy divorces, addictions and suicides of the rich and famous on Entertainment Tonight.

It goes without saying that using “I’m a Christian,” as an appeal to competence, reliability, or character is completely meaningless. And we all know that beauty is only skin deep. Seth Godin wrote recently about being invited to a charity gala dinner. But even though it feels like a welcome invitation, he reports, it’s a venue fraught with peril.

But if all these common measures of people are false indicators, the only remaining assessment of the value of human life is that “all are equals under one cause.” And the only real indicator of greatness is service. Real service. As in, What have you done for someone else lately? Without expecting someone to do something for you. Again, the divine paradox: the only way to benefit from a gift is to give it without any expectation of receiving any benefit.

And the only reason Jesus’ saying it is credible is because he did it.