Who is on your list?

I am in the Holy Land this week with a group of young adults. We have visited Nazareth and arrived today in Bethlehem. Our visit today to the house of St. Peter and the seaside town of Capernaum reminded me of the card in my wallet.

This card in my wallet tells a story and it started, like all good stories do, with a teacher who made a difference.

It was my junior year in high school and Sr. Judy Eby, RSM asked us to reflect on that great passage from the Gospel according to St. Luke.  You remember the story: Jesus is teaching at the house of Peter in Capernaum and some friends want to get their buddy, who is paralyzed and has spent the better part of his life flat on a mat, closer to Jesus. Unable to get through the crowd, they drag the poor fellow up a ladder and down through the roof.

Then, after we read the passage, we watched a scene of Franco Zeffirelli’s 1977 masterpiece, Jesus of Nazareth. The story unfolds just like it does in Luke’s Gospel: the crowds have gathered and there is no room for the men to bring their friend to Jesus. He cannot walk, so they carry him over the wall, through the thatched roof, and place him before the Teacher.

You know what happens next. The movie takes some editorial license, but after a brief conversation, the man is told his sins are forgiven. The movie version, while riveting, fails to follow Luke’s account. Jesus forgives the man’s sins because he is moved by the actions of the friends. But more on that later.

In both versions, the crowd goes nuts. “Only God can forgive sins,” they reproach Jesus. Putting yourself on the same plane as God is only going to cause trouble. To this, we get a classic Jesus response: “Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?”

Think about that. Surely forgiving sins is easier. Right? To show the crowd what he’s really capable of, Jesus tells the man to get up, pick up his mat, and go home. The man obliges. The crowd goes nuts for an entirely different reason and everyone learns an important lesson.

But back to the card in my wallet.

We wrap up the reading, the watching, and the discussion about the friends who carried the stretcher, and Sr. Judy hands us all an index card. “Now,” she tells us, “write down the names of those who carry you to Christ.”

Wait. What? This just got real.

I have repeated that exercise with youth and adults alike for years.  I even used it last night with my group here. Like Sr. Judy, I challenged them to think of those who, when we are paralyzed with fear, sinfulness, and selfishness, carry us to Christ. When you cannot move, who lifts you up? When you are sick or alone or unhappy or in serious need of a friend, who do you call?

I have edited my list throughout the years. Friends come and go. People die. But my list has been there since that spring day in 1987. I have moved it from wallet to wallet. It’s a thirty-two-year-old ratty piece of paper that I carry with me everywhere. On more than one occasion, the list has saved my life, my soul, my sanity.

Yes, there is a card in my wallet that tells a story. It tells a story of salvation.

Who’s on your list?

By: Patrick Donovan, director of The Leadership Institute

This post originally appeared on Patrick’s personal blog: Five Minutes on a Monday