• Gabriel von Wendt

Luke 5:17-26 - A Symphony of Life

One day as Jesus was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem, were sitting there, and the power of the Lord was with him for healing. And some men brought on a stretcher a man who was paralyzed; they were trying to bring him in and set him in his presence. But not finding a way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on the stretcher through the tiles into the middle in front of Jesus. When Jesus saw their faith, he said, "As for you, your sins are forgiven."
Then the scribes and Pharisees began to ask themselves, "Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who but God alone can forgive sins?" Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them in reply, "What are you thinking in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"–he said to the one who was paralyzed, "I say to you, rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home."
He stood up immediately before them, picked up what he had been lying on, and went home, glorifying God. Then astonishment seized them all and they glorified God, and, struck with awe, they said, "We have seen incredible things today."

Teach, sit, come, be with, bring, paralyze, try, set, find, go up, lower, see, say, forgive, ask, speak, know, reply, think, rise, walk, have, pick up, go, stand, lie, glorify, seize, strike with awe.


This is a list of the verbs used in our pericope. Even when pronounced without the specific account, their combination creates the impression of a fluttered storyline. These verbs are colorful. Rather than bricks used to erect a wall, they resemble chords forming a touching musical piece. The very experience of the friends who circled the place before finally climbing up in order to descent into the core of the happenings seems emblematic to the undulating style of this Gospel. What is the core of such a rich account?


Like in a complicated movement within a symphony, Luke combines different figures. In fact, there are several characters within our verses looking at the happenings from quite different angles. However, no one of them seems to be the true focus of our attention. The paralyzed man and his friends are amiable figures, of course, but they still seem accidental; the pharisees are well known antagonists, as always, willingly fulfilling their roles as hypocrites; the masses filling every inch around Jesus assemble disciples, skeptics and bystanders alike, but nobody draws the spotlights right now. Unsurprisingly, we need to look closely at Jesus - zooming in alongside the stretcher lowered through the roof - in order to get to the core of the message.

Like in a complicated movement within a symphony, Luke combines different figures

The verbs that could describe the “musical figure” of Jesus in this symphony are teaching, healing, and forgiving. If we look closely, Luke intentionally seems to lay these three actions one over the other in order to create the right “tone” to describe Our Lord: Jesus was teaching and, at the same time, “filled with the power of healing;” He pronounced forgiveness of sins and, as a proof of its efficaciousness, healed the man. The way Luke stages this, the Jesus figure conveys an impactful revelation of what Jesus can do.


Moreover, the “Jesus figure” is woven into what we could summarize as “humanity figures.” This is the core logic of the composition. Like two colored streaks in a braid, Jesus’ “teaching-healing-forgiving figure” responds to humanity’s needs. Those needs resound in the verbs paralyze, bring, find, rise, pick, go, which form a figure which we could call “humanity’s quest.” Like so often in his Gospel, the evangelist sets a scene in which humanity surrounds Christ in concentric circles. His Gospel is the story of dozens of persons who encounter Jesus along the quest to heal their dire needs. The constant context is: Humanity needs a savior.

The two figures merge into a third, new melodic experience

In the final movement of this “symphony” the two figures - the “Jesus-revelation” and the “quest of humanity” - merge together in the verbs glorify, struck in awe, and see incredible things. The braid-like interplay between the two creates a third, new melodic experience for the listener. When Jesus’ love and power encounter humanity’s needs and quest, a wonderful harmony surges: glory. Divine power is manifested and human life is made beautiful. What could there be more marvellous than that? What better climax for a symphony dedicated to celebrate Christian life?


Jesus’ coming - Advent - has a specific melody. It entails both the Revelation of His Divinity and the drama of our needs. Hark for the tune of His arrival and respond by honestly sounding the cords of your needs. You need Him. Meeting Him in Bethlehem shall be “an incredible thing,” an encounter which shall explode in glory.