Who are the Stretcher-Bearers?
Let’s consider a familiar Gospel story–the story of the four stretcher-bearers and the paralytic (Luke 5:17-26)–in a not-so-familiar fashion. Instead of a story about faith and friendship, let’s consider it as a metaphor for prayer.
Who are the stretcher-bearers? Are they relatives, neighbors or childhood friends of the paralytic? We don’t know, because Luke doesn’t tell us. Neither do Matthew and Mark, who also include this story in their gospel narratives. From the actions of the stretcher-bearers, we can surmise that they are more than determined to find a cure for the paralytic; they are desperate.
The four stretcher-bearers remind me of the Russian grandmothers (“babushkas”), who witnessed Joseph Stalin’s rise in power in the Soviet Union during the 1920s. These women carried their grandchildren to Christ—not literally but figuratively—while political youth organizations replaced generations of faith with blind allegiance to the Communist party.
Did the babushka’s prayers have any effect? According to Stalin, they did. “If I can get rid of these old women,” he grumbled, “we will have the youth in our grasp” (The Grandmother’s Bible, International Bible Society, Joni Erikson Tada, page 867).
The stretcher-bearers also remind me of the praying grandparents whom I have had the privilege of meeting in my travels. Let me introduce you to a few:
1) Joe’s rises early each morning to pray for his grandson, a college junior who is trying to “find himself.” Finding himself includes denouncing his Christian upbringing and playing video games instead of attending class. Joe suspects his grandson is experimenting with drugs.
2) Barbara’s son-in-law received orders to Germany for three years. Barbara’s heart breaks when she thinks about saying good-bye to her daughter and three granddaughters for what seems like an interminable period of time. She has already begun covering them with prayer.
3) Tom’s daughter, the mother of two young children, has been diagnosed with cancer. Tom and his wife, Betty, keep their weekly Bible study group updated about their daughter’s chemotherapy. Together, they pray for her healing.
4) Nancy dreamed of being a grandmother but never under these circumstances. Her youngest daughter, a high-school senior who was being considered for a college soccer scholarship, announced she is pregnant. Nancy prays daily, asking God for the ability to forgive her daughter and to love her unborn grandchild.
Like the paralytic, our grandchildren need support navigating the world in which they live. Drug and alcohol addiction, humanism, immorality, pornography, peer pressure, social media, school shootings and broken homes are now commonplace. Our grandchildren are unaware of the spiritual battle occurring around them. They need us to carry them to Jesus on a stretcher of prayer; they need us to stand in the gap as their intercessors.
What Does Faith Have To Do With It?
Why does Jesus heal the paralytic? The answer to this question is so significant that all three synoptic gospel writers—Matthew, Mark and Luke—provide the answer. Jesus heals the paralytic because of the faith of the men who lowered him through the roof. Similarly, God answers our prayers for our grandchildren.
Jesus is the ultimate Stretcher-Bearer. He is “able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for (us)” (Hebrews 7:25). While he bears the weight of our burdens, he invites us to grab a corner of the stretcher and walk with him in faith, even if we have to adjust our grip from time to time.
Dearest Lord Jesus,
We want to commit ourselves as stretcher bearers, who stand in the gap, interceding on behalf of our grandchildren. Place our hands firmly on the stretcher and tighten our grip. We are committed for the long haul.
In Your Precious Name, Amen.