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Friendship, stories and justice (April 7, 2024)

Luke 5:17-26 asks us both what kind of friends we will have, and what kind of friends we will be, writes Sheldon Sorge.

Outlook Standard Lesson for April 7, 2024
Scripture Passage and Lesson Focus: ​​​Luke 5:17-26

The company we keep

We are taught from our youth to avoid associating with bad people. I was counseled as a youngster that all it takes is one bad apple to ruin a barrel of good ones. In this vein, Proverbs is replete with warnings against foolishness, including its contagiousness: “The companion of fools suffers harm” (Proverbs 13:20).

Conversely, we’re assured that associating with good people makes us better. The verse from Proverbs above begins, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise.” One reason religions form communities is that being together with people of shared faith encourages us individually to be stronger. We are made better by being part of a faith community. According to Hebrews 10:25, meeting together brings us much-needed encouragement.

Yet there can be a dark side to community. The atrocities of Naziism and slavery were perpetrated by people who would have never committed them on their own but indulged them on account of community complicity. In his classic Moral Man and Immoral Society, Reinhold Niebuhr warned against a community’s tendency to amplify our sinfulness. This story is as old as Adam and Eve, who each disobeyed God by conspiring together.

Today’s story from Luke 7 reveals the healing power of good company. But first, a word of caution is in order. Jesus complicates the classic wisdom we’ve been talking about by hanging out with the “unclean,” even calling into his inner circle someone he knew would betray him. When he touched wounded people his wholeness flowed into them, rather than their damage infecting him.

Still, the story of the paralytic man’s friends getting him to his place of healing is a powerful reminder that sustaining and healing faith is not an independent achievement, but something for which we depend on others. It’s the faith of Jesus, not my own faith, that assures my salvation (Galatians 2:20). It is likewise the faith of the Body of Christ that sustains me, not merely my own.

The stories we tell

Mark’s version of this story locates this event in Jesus’ home (Mark 2:1). The helpers tore Jesus’ house apart to get their friend the help he needed. Such risky action is a strange way to access Jesus’ good graces! What are we ready to risk to help our friends?

The stories of faith in the Bible, especially as recounted in the Faith Honor Roll (Hebrews 11) celebrate people who were willing to take great risks because of their faith. These are stories of individual heroes, giving the impression that faith is mainly a solitary possession. But what if we take these stories as suggestive of how a community of faith ought to live?

Being part of a faith community that is willing and committed to take risks for the sake of what is right encourages each of us individually to live more fully by faith, rather than merely by sight.

One of the most powerful tools in building faith is telling our family stories. Remember that time when those guys wrecked Jesus’ roof just to get their buddy in front of him? What a day that was! Then there’s when he fell asleep at the helm of a boat in the middle of a storm, or stretched a picnic to feed thousands of hungry people. The Gospels are first and foremost story books.

Both my parents are deceased, but they left their children with a treasure trove of faith stories from when their families endured the ravages of the Great Depression. Last month we celebrated the host of American Black heroes whose faith stories in the face of horror inspire us to keep true to our faith against forces of evil.

The justice we seek

The paralytic’s friends wanted justice for their companion. It wasn’t right that he couldn’t reach Jesus due to his physical disability. They jettisoned all norms of “good” behavior to gain justice for their friend.

The point of faith action is not to better ourselves, but to gain justice for others. Against all odds, we will do whatever it takes to make things right for the disenfranchised, the marginalized, the hopeless, the stranger, the orphan, for everyone whose life situation leaves them vulnerable to bigotry, loss, suffering, and blame.

Our story asks us both what kind of friends we will have, and what kind of friends we will be. To the extent that our answers lead us to greater justice, we will follow the way of Jesus and his risk-taking followers who refused to take “no” for an answer in the face of every obstacle.

Questions for reflection

  1. Who has been an encouraging influence for faith in your life, and how?
  2. Where have you invested yourself in justice work on behalf of others, and who did you do it with?

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