“Some men came carrying a paralytic on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles in the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.” Luke 5:18-19
I’m a rule follower. When I enter a new culture, I ask a lot of questions about what to do and not do. I observe the ways of others, and I copy their every move. I don’t want to do something offensive, or cause a misunderstanding, or draw attention to myself as someone with questionable morals or lack of sensitivity. I want to fit in (as much as light skin and hair and terrible language ability allow). I don’t want to break the rules. It’s good missiology to enter as a learner and adopt cultural ways as much as possible. It’s a respect thing.
But I encounter a dilemma in this story. You see, I say I care about justice. I say I care about people. Years ago I came to the conclusion that the heart of justice is whatever it takes to bring a person to Jesus. So I find in this story a beautiful example of a group of people fighting for justice—pulling out all the stops to get someone to Jesus. But I also discover that in order to do it they had to break the rules.
If I picture myself in this story, as one of the friends carrying this paralytic, I am stoked to see a transformation happen for my friend. That is, I am stoked until I see the crowd, the impassable masses of people blocking the way to get to Jesus. At this point, I hang my head dejected and tell my friends that maybe we can try again a different day. “They could not find a way…because of the crowds.” But then one of my more audacious friends has an audacious idea. We’ll find a way around, we’ll force our way in front of Jesus, we’ll actually break and enter someone else’s property to get this guy where he has to go. And I’m like, “That’s not OK. You can’t do that. You’ll be breaking village laws, damaging someone’s home. What’s more, it will cause a scene. What will people say?” And I follow the others kicking and screaming onto the roof. Or, even more likely, I let them go ahead and I hang back, too concerned about the ethical dilemma to do what needs to be done.
I see myself in the mirror of truth. And it shows me that there are things I care more about than justice, that I care more about than people. Things like following the rules. Things like playing it safe. Things like the “right thing to do” being obvious.
It’s not that I don’t care. I cared enough to quit my job last year and risk traveling to a fairly intense country. I took the first step. I took my burden for the poor and carried it to the place where Jesus was…right among the broken lives and dirty streets. I had a hope that I could be part of something transformative. But I hit resistance. I was asking the question “Is there a place for me here? Can I make a difference?” And I didn’t find an answer; I didn’t find a place. I could not find a way. So I came back. Two and a half months later I realize the question that really needs to be asked is not, “Is there a way,” but, “Do I care enough to find it?”