And again He entered Capernaum after some days, and it was heard that He was in the house. Immediately many gathered together, so that there was no longer room to receive them, not even near the door. And He preached the word to them. Then they came to Him, bringing a paralytic who was carried by four men. And when they could not come near Him because of the crowd, they uncovered the roof where He was. So when they had broken through, they let down the bed on which the paralytic was lying. When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven you.” — Mark 2:1-5
I’ve found myself wondering lately how often I have repudiated the valuable simply because it didn’t look like that for which I’d been asking. How many times do I pray and pray, seeking something specifically, and then throw away the answer in ingratitude simply because I was expecting something else.
That word “expect” is so pregnant with implication. One of the lessons from elementary school that has stayed with me all of my life taught the difference between a hope and a wish. Although my teacher didn’t express it in these terms, I learned that the fundamental difference between the two is expectancy. We don’t expect wishes to happen. Expectancy involves preparing our hearts in some way to receive. Deferred hope only makes the heart sick because the heart has gone through the process of arming itself with expectancy, truly believing that that for which it longs will one day come.
The paralytic (or at least his friends) came to Jesus with a certain expectation. Jesus had a reputation of miraculous healings. He also had a reputation of compassion. The logical conclusion was that Jesus would lift the man from the bed and restore him to wholeness. I do the same thing every time I come to God and latch onto three Scriptures that seem to promise what I want. “God, this is who You are” (as if I truly know), “and this is what You want…so go ahead and do thus-and-so.”
But Jesus didn’t seem to care about the expectation of the paralytic, his friends, or even of the crowd. Jesus addressed a need within the paralytic that was greater than the one that seemed most obvious; and He did so without tagging it onto provision for the expected. I probably would have couched it in “spiritual terms” and said something like, “Hey, buddy, go ahead and get up and walk, and by the way, let that be a sign to you that your sins are forgiven.” I certainly wouldn’t have said, “Your sins are forgiven” and then just stopped. If nothing else, that could be very damaging to my reputation, right?
I found myself in a situation yesterday where I expected one thing and received another. As I was driving away from church in typical “such a nice day” mode (which involves car windows rolled down and music blaring), I pulled to a stop at a red light and somehow managed to disconnect my ipod and send it skittering to the floor. I reached to retrieve it, and because the music was off but the windows were still down, I was able to hear the lady in the car that pulled up beside me calling across to me, “Ma’am?” I gave her an inquisitive look, and she informed me that my front tire was really low. Having noticed as much when I cranked my car earlier that afternoon, I made a split-second decision and thanked her, saying I was on my way to have it fixed. She and her husband broke into broad smiles (he gave me a thumbs up), the light changed, I put my music back on and we went our separate ways.
Fast-forward about ten minutes and I was in the automotive department at WalMart, slowly reversing while a kind employee eyeballed my front tire for signs of damage. At one point, he threw up his hand and indicated for me to stop and then drive forward a little again. The culprit for my flat tire was a small nail that would take about twenty minutes to repair. I thanked him for his help and went to meander around the store for a while.
Two hours later, I was sighing in near-disbelief that my simple patch job had progressed to me needing at least two new tires. My car is out of alignment and has been damaging the interior wall of my tires for months. Not only was the one on the driver’s side flat, but the one on the passenger side was just about to blow as well. While the men continued to work on my car, I took a minute to forcibly change my attitude to one of thanksgiving that God had provided the resources I needed to pay for what was for me an unexpected circumstance. It was at that point that I felt Him whispering to me that, that wasn’t the only provision He’d made that afternoon. It could have been very bad had my tires blown out at 70-miles-per-hour on the interstate. He reminded me of all the times I’ve prayed (and continue to pray) for safety on the roads; and He reminded me of the prayers my family has prayed for such as well. Now, I must admit that I’ve prayed these prayers with a certain expectation of how He’s supposed to go about giving me protection. Don’t let me hydroplane. Keep that 18-wheeler in the other lane. Block tree branches from crashing through my windshield. That sort of thing. I’ve expected divine intervention in the “big” areas. He chose instead to send a nail.
The irony isn’t lost on me. After all, this isn’t the first time the Lord has used a nail, even at the risk of disappointing the hopes of men. And so often our reactions are the same as those of our ancestors 2,000 years ago,–disgust, confusion, and pain when He doesn’t do things our way. It would have been easy for the paralytic to reject forgiveness of sins because it didn’t look like what he thought he wanted at the time. It would have been easy for me to grumble for having to replace my tires, or even for having a flat in the first place. But His ways always work better than ours, and He walks us through things for a reason. In the end, the paralytic and I both received what we truly want; He just did it His way.