On Tuesday mornings when I pray for my friends, I use the above image from Matthew 9 to center my prayer.
Though the passage doesn’t use the word κοινωνία (koinonia), I think the scene is the epitome of it.
Koinonia is the Greek word used to describe the relationship between God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. It’s also the word used to describe our relationship with God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. And therefore, it’s the word used to describe our relationship to one another as believers.
Koinonia means fellowship, joint participation, community. It means to share in, to join with, to contribute to the life of others. It’s taking up our crosses together as we seek to live out Jesus to one another and to the world. This word conveys such a deep intimacy, such a connectedness, that it can be translated as intercourse. It’s this very intimacy that the biblical authors try to convey when they use this word to illustrate the relationship between those who follow Jesus.
And this is the very intimacy we see play out in the passage.
Ironically, those who bring the paralyzed man to Jesus aren’t necessarily friends, family, or acquaintances. The text merely tells us that “some people” carried him (Matthew 9:2). We don’t know who they are. Yet, though they’re just “some people,” their action betrays the unimpressive description they’re given. Their action reveals the value, care, and compassion they have for this man’s life. In carrying the paralytic to Jesus, they participate in the man’s suffering, share in his weakness, and contribute to his healing. While Jesus alone is responsible for the healing, their faith is the catalyst for Jesus’ action.
They minister to the paralytic, and in return, he is healed, restored, given new life, and granted acceptance into the community. Yet, they are also ministered to in this process. They witness the Son of Man heal. They see the Son of Man’s authority to forgive. They experience the reward for their faith—the incredible power of God to restore a man once paralyzed.
This reciprocity is the beauty of koinonia.
In our own lives, we’re often “some people” carrying those we know and love to Jesus. Other times, we’re the paralyzed man. Sometimes we’re the strong, courageous, faith-filled carriers. Other times we’re the weak, incapable, broken ones being carried.
When our faith is paralyzed, we live off of the faith of others. When we have no hope, we borrow it from those around us. We rely on others to enter into our pain, suffering, and confusion, and to speak light to the darkness surrounding us. When we can’t muster up the strength to bring ourselves to Jesus, we rely on the spiritual fortitude of others to lay us down before him. And just like in the passage, relying on the faith of others can be the catalyst for Jesus’ action in our own lives.
Whether we’re lending or borrowing hope, whether we’re the ones being healed or the ones witnessing the healing, it’s this reciprocity that intimately binds us together. We give love and support to those we carry, and receive encouragement and hope from those carrying us. And in return, all see the miraculous power of Jesus to redeem, rescue, and restore.
This is what fellowship means. This is koinonia.