One day, while Jesus was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting nearby (they had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem); and the power of the Lord was with him to heal. Just then some men came, carrying a paralysed man on a bed. They were trying to bring him in and lay him before Jesus; but finding no way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the middle of the crowd in front of Jesus. When he saw their faith, he said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven you.’ Then the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, ‘Who is this who is speaking blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ When Jesus perceived their questionings, he answered them, ‘Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, “Your sins are forgiven you”, or to say, “Stand up and walk”? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—he said to the one who was paralysed—‘I say to you, stand up and take your bed and go to your home.’ Immediately he stood up before them, took what he had been lying on, and went to his home, glorifying God. Amazement seized all of them, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, ‘We have seen strange things today.’
The Pharisees and teachers of the Law were “sitting there,” the account says; and the paralysed man was lying on his mat. They were as paralysed as he: they in their ‘seat of learning’, he in his bed of pain. Jesus said to him, “Get up!” and he got up and walked. But by the end of the story the Pharisees and teachers of the Law are still seated. Their version of their religion wasn’t such as to enable, or even to allow, anyone (even themselves) to get up and move. The effect of religious teaching, all too often, is to keep some people lying down and the rest seated in judgment. The effect of real religion is to raise people up. Our faith gives us “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16): his life’s work, he said, was “to bring good news to the poor… to proclaim release to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free…” (Luke 4:18).
A Christian who went to study Zen in Japan met a Zen master who asked her what was moving in her spiritual life. “I dwell a lot recently on the idea of the Kingdom of God,” she replied. Instantly he said, “Show me the Kingdom of God!” You get nowhere by telling a Zen master about your ideas. That woman became a Zen master herself eventually, and she spent much of her time and energy in prison ministry – setting captives inwardly free. She showed us the Kingdom of God.
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