An old pastor and friend of mine loved to use the story of the paralytic man as an illustration of ministry in community. Mark tells us that five men came to see Jesus although only four of them walked. The fifth man was unable to walk to Jesus, but was carried by his friends. You know the story: overcoming the obstacles of the distance, of the crowd who surrounded Jesus, even of the tiled roof, these men were diligent to bring their friend to Jesus.
After painting this picture afresh, my friend would turn to his listeners, pointing out that at any given moment, you might be one of the men carrying your friend to Jesus or you might be the one being carried. This is part of the fluid nature of life in community. One day you might be one of the four carriers, but the very next day you might find yourself needing to be carried.
I like to think of myself as one of the people who is able to carry others to Jesus. I admitted a long time ago that I have very little to offer in the way of ministry. However, I increasingly understand that my task in ministry is to bring people to Jesus. I bring people to Jesus in prayer. I bring people to Jesus through teaching. I bring people to Jesus through preaching. I try to bring people to Jesus who don’t yet believe in him. I endeavor to bring people to Jesus through service. Whatever form ministry takes, being functionally gospel-centered means that Jesus is my destination and hope.
Despite my preference for being one of the carriers, I recently found myself being carried. When my Achilles’ tendon snapped during a volleyball match at church, I immediately found myself unable to walk, even to the edge of the court. I was surrounded by people who lifted me and all but carried me off the floor to a place of rest. They prayed for me and helped me get to the hospital where the doctor confirmed my injury and my need for surgery.
After surgery, my brothers and sisters in Christ continued to carry me through visits, prayers, and meals. I confess that I do not find it easy to ask for help. Perhaps I am more conscious of my own limitations when I am being carried. Perhaps I can fool myself into believing the lie that I am self-sufficient when I am carrying someone else. I do not enjoy being the fifth man, but this has been a season of learning to be carried.
I have heard speculation on the paralytic man’s willingness to be carried to Jesus and at the end of the day that’s all it is: speculation. However, I know my natural tendency is to isolate myself rather than ask for help. John Butler’s recent blog post continues to challenge me to pursue community, regardless of how needy I believe myself to be at any given moment. I am much better off being the fifth man than going it alone.