And behold, men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they sought to bring him in and lay him before Jesus; but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. And when he saw their faith he said, ‘Man, your sins are forgiven you.'” (Luke 5:18-20)
Were I limited to one depiction of Christian community, I’d choose the healing of the paralytic in the fifth chapter of Luke. Jesus sees not just the faith of the paralytic but their faith, the faith of the paralytic’s friends. They work to gain their friend’s healing. When the way is blocked they create a path. Mere building materials can’t interfere with their love. These friends are filled with solid faith which the paralytic needs to reach the One who has the power to heal.
I have not always experienced Christian community in the Catholic Church. Obviously, I believe Catholicism is true or I wouldn’t be Catholic. But Catholicism is as filled with selfish individuals as any other place where humans gather. (Too often, I’m one of them.) It’s so easy to become involved in the forms and forget the people. It’s so easy to write a cheque each week and contribute to parish charities but never get to know the other people in the pew. It’s so easy to be concerned with myself to the exclusion of others. The “Sign of Peace” during Mass can be the only expression of Christian community many Catholics experience.
Fortunately, some Catholics take Christian community seriously. They reach out to others, befriend them, and don’t give up until they have helped their friends reach the One who heals. And fortunately many Christians do the same in many, many churches throughout the world. Their arms are open, ready to embrace others. They carry each others’ burdens — carry each other, when necessary. They don’t give up even when the way is blocked.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. This I command you, to love one another.” (John 15:12-17)
This is how the community of believers in Jesus Christ love one another, by daring to get our hands dirty in each others’ lives, by sacrificing for one another. When we are as concerned with our neighbour who sits next to us in church as we are with our own lives, we live the great commission to love one another. That is Christian community. It’s not an either/or proposition — the people and concerns in our lives matter. It’s a both/and experience, making space in our hearts and lives for one more person. Sometimes the tiles we must peel away are not on another person’s roof but in our attitudes and hearts. But because we are heirs through hope of Jesus Christ, every Christian has the ability to peel away those tiles with help from our friends and through the healing power of Christ, and love as Christ loves us.