In the fifth chapter of Luke’s gospel we read about a huge crowd gathering around Jesus for healing. They have heard of his healing dreadful things like leprosy and have flocked to the house where he is staying to receive that healing for their own various ailments. It’s a scene of desperate need.
Some friends of a paralyzed man have carried him on a cot, just how far we are not sure, and they arrive at the house to find a long line of folks in front of them. Rather than wait patiently, the friends climb up on the roof, pull the man on the cot up with them, then loosen the tiles in the roof and lower their paralyzed friend right down in front of Jesus. If this were to occur at the Department of Motor Vehicles, there would be quite a stir. The crowd and the bureaucrat behind the desk would tell the man to get to the back of the line and wait his turn like all the others. Yet Jesus recognizes this as an act of faith. He heals the man and, much to the crowd’s amazement, even speaks of forgiving his sins, something only God is able to do. Healing and forgiveness are all wrapped up together here.
So much of my life is spent in impatience and anxiety. I want things to get fixed right now. I worry that those big and little things going in my life will gain more and more power and that I will somehow be totally overwhelmed. I am constantly questioning the timing of things, fearing that what I or others need isn’t being addressed quickly enough. It’s always felt like a demon I do battle with, this impatience and anxiety. Certainly I, perhaps above all, should trust that things are being healed and redeemed in God’s good time. But I don’t, at least not easily. Even in my relatively comfortable life, I struggle with desperation. And since I’ve been around a while, I know you do too. It feels yucky, like I’ve got some condition I should be able to get rid of.
In this particular incident, Jesus seems to acknowledge the desperate feelings of the man and his friends as some sort of faith action. They seem to know that Jesus can help and they want that help right this minute. Very generously Jesus calls that faith and extends healing along with forgiveness. He could well have used the situation to teach the man about his need for patience but instead he sees faith. We don’t exactly hear how the crowd reacts but we’re led to believe that Jesus gets to all those in need before he moves on. The back of the line will receive the same healing that the front of the line received.
I wish I could wait my turn more graciously. I wish I didn’t get so impatient. I wish my anxiety would lessen. My experience is that God gets to my need, and those of others, in perfect timing. I don’t want to mistrust that timing for the rest of my life. I actually need healing for that portion of my life more than any other. But maybe I’m looking at all this in the wrong way.
Could there be such a thing as holy impatience? Could it be that this desperate anxiety we hold inside us is not so much a demon that is keeping us from God as it is an angel bringing us closer to God? When I am questioning the timing of healing, I am actually acknowledging that healing is possible. I’m not so much wondering if it will take place but more how and when it will take place. God seems very generous with that kind of impatience.
Occasionally I think I have heard God tell me to get back in line and wait my turn. And sometimes I think he has eased me in way ahead of others who have waited so much longer. But it does seem like he gets to everyone in line before he finishes. I guess with God there is no front or back of the line. He just sees the need for healing and forgiveness and is working that grace simultaneously in all our lives.
I still hope to gain more trust and more patience, less anxiety and less desperation. But I am reminded that really only God will be able to forgive and heal that in me. My impatience and anxiety, self-centered as it is, is met by God’s grace and is turned into trust and faith. It’s the struggle we go through to find the reward of God’s presence. As much as I wish it would go away, perhaps I should also be giving thanks to God for the pathway to faith and forgiveness.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.