In the 1920s a group of archeologists from Yale University made a stunning discovery. In the heart of the Syrian desert they located the ancient city of Dura-Europos. The city was abandoned in the third century after the Partian army captured the city and deported its population. They never returned; the city was never to be populated again. The desert filled its streets and homes with dust and sand, creating a protective layer. One of the structures the researchers uncovered was a house converted to a church. They have discovered the oldest church in the world. Its walls were covered with ancient priceless frescos which featured some of the oldest depictions of Christ and Biblical themes. Since then the ancient city was also discovered by ISIS who looted and destroyed much of it. Fortunately, the frescos were carefully removed and transferred to Yale University Art Gallery by the researchers where they are on display as part of the Dura-Europos exhibit. Therefore, in a way, we can rightly claim that the oldest church in the world is now right here in Connecticut.
The healing of the paralytic was one of the frescos in the Dura-Europos exhibit. It was discovered near the baptistry and is recognized by many as the oldest representation of any of Christ’s miracles in Christian art. It depicts the sick and suffering man both before and after his healing. On the right side he is shown laying down powerlessly and helplessly in front of Christ and on the left – he is cured, he is able to stand again, he is strong enough to walk away carrying his own pallet. This is precisely how the story has been predominantly presented in Christian iconography.
The story also has a small but important introduction, something we often skip over and focus on the healing itself. We are told that a man was brought to the house, where Jesus was teaching, on a pallet, carried by his friends. The house was full of people who gathered to listen and learn from Jesus. There was simply no way for the men to carry their friend inside so Jesus could heal him. So they do something unimaginable, they carry him all the way to the roof, make a hole in the ceiling and lower his bed with ropes in the middle of the room where Christ was teaching.
What a dedication, what love and what commitment? How much they must have loved this man. How strongly they believed that Christ could heal their friend. The paralytic man says nothing, does nothing the entire time. He is really healed and elevated to God through the faith of his friends.
Do we have four, five such friends in our lives that would go to such extremes in order to help us, carry us, lift us and give us hope when we are helpless, powerless to do anything?
Friendship is really a blessing, a precious and priceless divine gift. Taken from the book of Genesis we know that it is not good for a man to be alone in this world. We can never be complete and whole in ourselves. The life that God gave us is meant to be shared. By doing so we expand our hearts, grow in faith and strengthen the bond of our friendships. The assurance that there is someone to always talk to, someone we can depend on, someone who will always find time to listen and try to relate is truly what we cherish within our friendships. How beautiful and rare gift this is?
Today, let’s recognize God’s wonderful gift of friendship. Let’s reflect and try to see how often God worked and touched our lives through our friends. Today, let’s treasure and recognize our friends, let’s reach out to them and tell them how much they mean to us. Today, let’s check on a close friend we lost touch with. And if they need help, support and someone to lean on let’s tell them that we are here for them, ready to carry them and be their stretcher friend.
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