By: Matt Gordon
My sister is coming to visit. She loves me. She loves my sons. I love her. She is my sister, after all.
My boss shot me a text a minute ago about a work thing. I’m glad he’s in my life, encouraging, shaping, and, when necessary, rebuking me. (And sometimes when rebuke may be necessary, you know, not rebuking me too.)
My kids are awesome. MJ Gordon is the single coolest person on earth. He imagines like no other, and he is willing to take me with him into worlds long-forgotten.
His brother is close. He’s trying to talk, which will help a lot. But I’ve never seen a smile like that—a buck-toothed thing of sheer joy and wonder. I want that tiny face engraved on my heart to stave off the cold of this world.
Relationships. Sister. Coworker. Kids. Relationships.
Relationships are the stuff of life. We work to feed others, or to feed ourselves so we can continue enjoying others. When crisis drives us apart we’ll strain our eyes (and minds) to cobble together screens that contain those we love.
But most relationships are inherited. Sister. Coworker. Kids. I didn’t really choose any of these things—they just sort of happened. My kids weren’t engineered—they just turned up one day. Seriously, if I get more detailed than that I will likely faint. I am naturally queasy and weak. Again, something I didn’t choose, any more than I chose my height or athletic ability (or inability) or sister or parents.
So relationships are the stuff of life—the sweet nectar, the candy at the center, the cream in the Oreo, the kiss at the end, the hook of the song, the meat of the sandwich, the spoke in the wheel, the meaning. The meaning. And yet most of the relationships we have are inherited. Most.
Enter a man from the ceiling. Enter friendship.
Friends are not relationships that are forced upon us, but sacred treasures we choose for ourselves. Growing up, we’d get this JC Penney magazine—now a certainty to be a thing my kids will never have—a few months prior to Christmas. Nestled between the women’s section and the bedding were toys. Glorious toys. My sisters and I would take turns with the magazine, highlighting our prospects before finally circling in black marker our desired Christmas gift. We do a similar thing with friends. We sort through the pages offered us—in high school or college or at work or church or gym—and we circle who we want. Not who we want to marry or raise or pay or collaborate with—who we want to do life alongside.
CS Lewis said lovers unite and turn and face one another, staring hopefully in the eyes and hearts of their beloved. To borrow from Cormac McCarthy: They are each other’s world, entire. And lovers talk about their love—assessing it, remodeling it, retreating over it, nurturing it. Friends have no time for such romantic nonsense. They link arms, united against and for the world in front of them. They choose one another and grow through experiences and laughter, through shared victory and defeat. Friends don’t constantly talk about their relationship—they talk about hopes and dreams, past and future. But the best of it comes when they talk about nothing at all.
So here, again, let us focus on the limp form of a paralyzed man being lowered from the roof to the surprised crowd below. The hands that hold that man, that lower him, that quite literally and metaphorically support him, are those of his friends. They heard about this wonder-worker named Jesus, and so they went to their friend’s house to tell him the speaking tour was coming to their town! They loaded him up. They carried him. When the doors stood bared to them by the overflowing crowd, they did what friends do—find a way or get arrested trying. They carry the man to the roof; they dig a hole in it. Then they lower their friend in hopes he’d be raised. This is what friends do—they hope for the raising of their companions.
Jesus looked at this man, and if he is indeed God, surely he swelled with pride at that moment—that his dear creatures were engaging in something more beautiful than a thousand sunsets, than a myriad moonlit nights. Here, his creations were loving another well. With purpose and reckless abandon. They stood where their friend could not. They wanted better for him than he could probably even fathom having himself. Jesus surely smiled at this.
And then he forgave the man his sins. Mark 2 says, “When he saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’” Their faith. Their. The faith of friendship is a noble, reward-worthy thing.
As doubters denied this blessing and Jesus’ ability to forgive sins, he does something else. He physically heals the paralyzed man with these words: “Get up! Take your mat and go home.”
What must that first walk home have felt like?
I know what it didn’t feel like: Loneliness.
There is no way that cat was walking home alone. A cheering crowd surely followed his new, fresh steps. But beyond that, side-by-side with him, facing down the world together—his friends. They likely bumbled down off the roof in a rush, eager to celebrate the thing Jesus had done for their friend. They likely raced and kicked and jumped together, laughing for the levity of restoration, of winning the day: together. They lowered to raise, and Jesus lifted them collectively up—forgiveness and redemption. The man had a new mobility and an age-old beauty: friendship.
A song plays over my speakers right now from a band called Mt. Joy:
Who would you die for?
Who would you die for?
List their names in the stars.
Who would you lie for?
Who would you lie for?
Is she laying in your arms?
These are good questions. Who would I carry through town and lower through a roof? Who would do that for me? Who would you die for? Who would you live for?
Here’s how I know them: As I descend nearer and nearer the feet of my healer, I look up to find their warm faces smiling as they lower me toward all I’m supposed to be.