The incident related in today’s gospel lesson (Matthew 9:1-8) shows up in all three of the synoptic gospels. A paralyzed man, lying on a mat, is brought to Jesus by a group of men. Somewhat unexpectedly, Jesus tells the paralyzed man that his sins are forgiven, which probably isn’t the response that either the man or his mat-bearers were hoping for. But it is a response that generates consternation among the teachers of the law, who are convinced that Jesus is blaspheming by claiming the authority to forgive sin. Knowing these thoughts, Jesus heals the paralyzed man, which demonstrates not only his authority but also his identity as God’s anointed. But on the way to that important conclusion, there’s one little detail that has always caught my attention. When the paralyzed man is first brought to Jesus by his group of friends, all three synoptic gospel writers say, “When Jesus saw their faith…” (v.2)
So often, when we’re trying to figure out what it takes to receive the blessings that God promises in His Word, a lot of emphasis falls upon the issue of “personal” faith: Do I believe enough? Is my faith big enough? And naturally, there are plenty of biblical passages we could cite in which personal faith seems to play a key role (Jesus statement in Luke 17:6 comes to mind).
However, not only does this overlook the fact that the culture of first-century Palestine was much less individualistic than our own (the just cited passage, for example, is addressed to “you plural” rather than “you singular”). It also overlooks the fact that none of us is able to “believe perfectly.” Even at our best, our faith is always a mixture of trust and doubt, altruism and self-interest, confidence and fear.
But rather than leading us to despair about the imperfections in our “personal” faith, perhaps this can encourage us to take more seriously the power of our “corporate” faith. Within the Body of Christ, we are given the gift of being supported by the faith “of” others — and the gift of having faith “for” others.
Who are the “others” who are having faith for you today? Who are those people who pray for you and believe in you and have confidence in God’s plan for you — even when you yourself are having a hard time believing? Similarly, who are the “others” for whom you’re having faith? Who are the people that you’re “carrying to Jesus,” because they find themselves at a place that they can’t come to him themselves?
May we be strengthened by our mutual faith today. And may the authority and identity of Jesus be demonstrated in our lives as He brings healing to our broken places.