The Stretcher Community

We always have very interesting encounters with people. I remember one particular morning, when we did our coffee walk, we met a number of people under some palm trees. Some were still asleep (we never wake them), but around 15 people were awake and happy to see us with hot coffee. After some time chatting and getting to know them, we decided it was time to move on. So as we started saying our goodbyes we were interrupted by a young man in his twenties. “What about the Word? Will you not share the Word of God with us, so we can have hope for the rest of the day?”

“Of course! The Word!”, I thought to myself slightly ashamed.

You know, it is so easy to try and deal with what meets the eye, but it is so much harder to meet real need. Need of the deepest kind often goes unseen. Here we were, trying to confer dignity to people through speaking to them in a loving and caring way (all wonderful stuff), but what they really wanted was hope for the day. This reminded me of the passage in Mark 2:1-12, where we read about a man who is carried by his 4 friends to meet Jesus. 

The man in the passage could not get to Jesus on his own. He needed the help of his friends. When they lower the stretcher from the roof, the reader is in eager anticipation for what Jesus will do. Of course, the reasons for going through all that effort are obvious. A quick look, just a glance, at the man on the stretcher would have made any of us realise that what he needed was to be healed… he needed to walk again. He needed to be included in society. His healing would allow him to hold down a job. He would have a normal life. The obvious need, however, was not his greatest need.

His greatest need was his need for forgiveness. To the reader this seems strange though, a man who so clearly needed physical healing was at first just forgiven. Just. Isn’t it funny that we place so little value on what is truly important? But Jesus sees past what meets the eye and provides the man with what he really needed. Shocking the religious people who were watching them. That man’s greatest need was not his inability to walk, it was his need for forgiveness. His need for inclusion. His need for the Word made flesh. His real need was met at the feet of Jesus, and then physical healing took place.

Sometimes in the work we do we are motivated by a sense of urgency, trying to meet needs as we see them. However, we can sometimes miss the point. Jesus offers something much deeper. Something that truly transforms. Something that lasts. By forgiving that man, Jesus frees him from the stigma that he was bad and sinful. The widespread belief was that people were sick because of something they or their parents had done wrong. By speaking forgiveness over him Jesus frees the man from the social prison he found himself in. Jesus places him in a new paradigm of freedom.

Another important thing. We need to be the people who, like those four men, carry people to Jesus. Jesus will meet their needs, but our job is to carry them. Those four men faced the multitudes. They had to devise a plan to overcome the physical obstacles to get that man to Jesus. Many around us, cannot get themselves to Jesus. Our job is to carry them to Jesus, even though that may mean facing challenges. Like those four men were a community of care to the man on the stretcher, we need to be the stretcher community to many. We need to be those who choose a life style of mission that will allow many who are prohibited, by their own condition, to meet Jesus. Then Jesus himself will meet their need. Our job is just to carry one end of that stretcher. We need to be the Stretcher Community.

The greatest need is often not the most obvious. I wanted to offer coffee and friendship to people on the streets, but they needed me to take them to Jesus… they needed hope. May we be those who dig through roofs to give them access to the One who forgives and heals.

Questions to ponder:

Who are the people in your community who prohibited, through their own condition, to meet Jesus? What can you do to help them get closer? This passage is a rich reminder of our obligation to those who are excluded by default because of their own condition, can you identify them in your community? What could God be calling you do about it?

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