“Amazement seized all of them, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, ‘We have seen strange things today.’” –Luke 5:26, NRSV
My husband and I are obsessed with the show Stranger Things. It’s a science fiction thriller that follows four adolescent boys who get mixed up in paranormal and supernatural activities when they discover an alternate dimension called the “Upside Down.” It’s full of conspiracy theory, government cover ups, corny 80’s references, and many strange things.
Luke’s gospel is like a 1st century version of Stranger Things. It’s a story that follows Jesus and his 12 disciples as they get mixed up in religious and societal issues when they proclaim an alternate dimension known as the “Upside Down Kingdom.” It’s full of confrontation with religious leaders, government critique, Old Testament references, and many strange things.
In Luke 5:26, after the Pharisees, scribes, and crowds witness Jesus forgive and heal a paralytic, they proclaim, “We have seen strange things today.”
The word strange comes from the Greek word, παράδοξος (transliteration = paradoxos). It means unexpected, uncommon, contrary to expectation, incredible, wonderful. It’s where we get the English word, paradox. This is the only time in the New Testament that this word appears. Which is indeed strange.
When we look at Luke 5:17-25, there are several paradoxical, or strange things, that happen before verse 26:
1) Jesus is in the middle of his teaching when several men randomly bring a paralyzed man to him.
2) The said paralyzed man is lowered through the roof because the crowd is blocking the doorway to the house.
3) Jesus forgives the paralytic’s sins (something God alone can do, but which Jesus claims, and proves, he has the authority to do), showing that his authority surpasses that of the Pharisees and scribes (the most influential religious leaders of the day).
4) Jesus heals the paralyzed man, allowing the man to exit the scene in a very different way than he entered. The very verifiable fact that Jesus heals the man, proves to his naysayers that he has the authority to forgive sins (a very unverifiable fact).
I don’t know about you, but if I was in church on a Sunday morning, listening to the pastor’s message, when all of a sudden the roof opened, a quadriplegic man descended on a blanket (thanks to his friends’ help), and was then healed, and forgiven, and walked out of the church, I too might think this was very strange.
Yet, this strangeness is the very essence of Jesus’ ministry. It’s what’s so wonderful and incredible about him.
Luke 5:17-26 shows us the paradoxical nature of Jesus’ mission. Jesus was willing to be interrupted for the higher purpose of meeting the man’s need. He wasn’t afraid of being tainted by the man’s paralysis. He brought both spiritual and physical transformation, which is why he forgave the man, even though this wasn’t the problem, nor what the man was asking for.
This entire scene is actually one giant object lesson about the upside down kingdom. Jesus’ interaction with the paralyzed man illustrates the very thing he’s just been teaching, and the very thing the Pharisees and scribes challenge him on— the authority he has to forgive sins. In this healing and forgiving exchange, Jesus shows the crowds and the disbelieving religious leaders what his upside down kingdom is all about.
It’s an incredible reality in which the lame walk and the good news is proclaimed to the poor (Luke 7:22).
As we witness this incredible reality in our 21st century, may we also glorify God, and proclaim amazement at his strange, upside down world.
*And, for those of you who have been patiently waiting, may we proclaim our excitement about the Stranger Things Season 3 premiere tomorrow, July 4 (finally)!