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Take Up Your Mat

17 One day while Jesus was teaching, some Pharisees and teachers of religious law were sitting nearby. (It seemed that these men showed up from every village in all Galilee and Judea, as well as from Jerusalem.) And the Lord’s healing power was strongly with Jesus.

18 Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a sleeping mat. They tried to take him inside to Jesus, 19 but they couldn’t reach him because of the crowd. So they went up to the roof and took off some tiles. Then they lowered the sick man on his mat down into the crowd, right in front of Jesus. 20 Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the man, “Young man, your sins are forgiven.”

21 But the Pharisees and teachers of religious law said to themselves, “Who does he think he is? That’s blasphemy! Only God can forgive sins!”

22 Jesus knew what they were thinking, so he asked them, “Why do you question this in your hearts? 23 Is it easier to say ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up and walk’? 24 So I will prove to you that the Son of Man[a] has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!”

25 And immediately, as everyone watched, the man jumped up, picked up his mat, and went home praising God. 26 Everyone was gripped with great wonder and awe, and they praised God, exclaiming, “We have seen amazing things today!”

Recently I’ve been drawn into deeper intrigue with this story in Luke 5. This story holds countless levels of wisdom and meaning for the church and personally but I want to focus on one verse particularly.

“And immediately, as everyone watched, the man jumped up, picked up his mat, and went home praising God.”

If you’re like me you’ve experienced many wounds in your life and you’ve received a lot of healing too, but it can be stories like these that lead us to believe that healing comes once and when it comes it heals us completely, with no need for further healing.

We all have friends or friends of friends or at least we have stories of people who had a healing experience and who “jumped up, picked up their mat” and never looked back. I remember a testimony I heard once of a man who was healed of depression and the way he described it was as though God zapped his mind and suddenly he was no longer depressed.

We love these kinds of stories and even if we don’t believe them we desire them because we believe they are what Christ desires for us, to heal us, finally. This is good, but it can be over emphasized when we assume our lameness is a hinderance to the gospel instead of an invitation, a roadblock instead of a womb, an enemy instead of a friend. We believe he wants to heal us, once and for all so we won’t be so lame anymore because deep down no matter how many times we read the gospels we still believe God has little use for weakness unless it on a fast track to strength – that the least among us are the greatest especially when they show true “leadership potential” and got their shit together.

Yes, Christ wants to heal us but when we say “heal” we must be clear that healing takes time, it’s messy and because the image of God is found in our neighbor, healing also takes community. Healing is never magical but it is always the way of the cross.

We do not know whatever happened to the formerly lame man in Luke’s account. For all we know he never stopped praising God. And we do not know what ever became of the mat. Maybe he ditched it on the side of road like a hard cast he had worn for to long. Maybe he had trouble parting ways with it the way many of us have trouble parting ways with a lifelong companion, or how a child struggles to part ways with a security blanket.

Whatever became of the mat I’m certain the man never had to lay on it again, at least not literally. I think he picked up his mat for the last time when Jesus healed him but I think he returned to that “mat” in other ways.

He probably returned to the mat when he saw capable young men with their families knowing in his heart that he’d never have that opportunity. He probably returned to his mat when he saw little boys and girls playing in the street, teenagers flirting with each other in all the hope, anticipation and fear adolescence and young adulthood offer. He probably often returned to his mat when he fell asleep at night with little to no family knowing life had somehow passed him by and though Christ had healed his legs and forgiven his sins his heart was still broken, still lying there on the mat he pick up so many years ago.

Jesus said, “Whoever wishes to follow me must deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23

We’ve been taught our whole lives to take up our cross daily but we’ve been led to believe that it would be shameful, if not faithless to take up our mat more than once. Culturally (White Protestant America) I believe taking up our cross represents our pride which needs put to death and the taking up our mat represents our brokenness which needs healing and life. Both are needed to “follow after Christ” but since it is acceptable for our cross to be picked up daily and unacceptable to pick up our mat more than once we tend to be people who carry crosses our legs simply can’t support.

And we do this because we think it is what Christ does and what he wants us to do. We think he wants sacrifice more than mercy, strength instead of weakness, gladness instead of mourning, to be rich in the spirit instead of poor. We are ok with him washing our head but ashamed for him to wash our feet. Because we carry our cross daily but not our mat we in effect share in the suffering and death of Christ but not His resurrection.

Just as taking up our cross is about putting to death all that is in excess of Christ, taking up our mat is about receiving His healing. This takes time. As one mentor years ago said, “…it is about a long obedience is the same direction.” And we must take up our mat many times because chances are we will find ourselves back on the mat. We must believe trust Christ who has invited us to take up our mat but we must also recognize that our mat is a comforting place and it has well established itself in our lives.

Healing comes as we choose it over the long road. Let us take up our mat, daily for that is what Christ calls us to. That is the road to healing.