Rev. Stephen Milton
Feb 11, 2022
In today’s reading, we find Jesus near the beginning of his ministry in the gospel of Luke. He’s quickly earned a reputation as someone who can heal anyone he meets. Not surprisingly, this makes him very popular, and everywhere he goes, crowds form. But not everyone in those crowds were sick, some were helping the sick, like the people we meet in today’s scripture.
Back in the first century, they had a different idea of disease than we do. They assumed that if you were sick or injured, it was probably caused by some kind of sin on your part, or by an invading demon. The idea of germs and viruses didn’t exist. All sickness had a moral aspect to it. Diseases of the soul had a way of becoming diseases of the body. And, since this was a small-scale society, every person’s labour was needed for the family and even the village to survive. Health and disease were collective experiences back then, not individualistic ones like they are now. So, when a family member or friend was paralyzed, it wasn’t just that person’s problem, it was a problem for their entire social circle.
That’s why this paralyzed man is being carried by four people. His problem is their problem. Or, rather, they have one problem together. And they are so determined to solve this moral-medical problem that when they can’t get into the house, they decide to do something more radical.
They get up on the roof and tear away the tiles so they can lower their mate down to Jesus. This is a surprising turn of events, but so is Jesus’ reaction. He doesn’t get upset at this sudden hole in someone’s roof, this breaking and entering, this damage to someone’s property.
That doesn’t seem to phase him one bit. Instead, he applauds them for their faith and determination. They really want to help this man, and they fervently believe Jesus can do it. So, he forgives his sins, and then even gives him the ability to walk out of there.
One way of reading this story is that it the New Testament’s first example of civil disobedience. These men don’t live in this house. They have no right to break in like this. And why doesn’t Jesus get upset at them? He completely ignores the invasion and the damage to the house. He gets straight to the point: this is about healing, moral healing, and physical healing. He has no interest in whether the house is damaged or not. The way the scene is described, it sounds a lot like Christ’s baptism, which happened a few days before. Luke describes it as the heavens breaking open so the holy spirit could descend on Jesus, like a dove. Here again we have a roof breaking open, but this time with a man paralyzed by his sin, begging for healing. The lesson appears to be that when healing is needed, it’s okay to break the rules.
But how do you know when someone has gone too far? That’s the question many of us have been asking over the last two weeks as the co-called Freedom Convoy has invaded Ottawa and then Toronto. This has been a prolonged act of civil disobedience. They have taken over downtown streets in Ottawa, blaring their horns at all hours of day and night. They arrived demanding that the vaccine mandates for truckers and everyone else be rescinded. They have denounced these laws as undemocratic. They believe Canada has become a dictatorship, and they want their country back.
This has been a test of Canada’s tolerance for dissent and civil disobedience. This is Black History Month, so we are reminded of the many famous acts of civil disobedience during the 1960s in the United States. African Americans deliberately broke the law by sitting in sections of buses and lunch counters reserved for white people.
Rev. Dr Martin Luther King led marches that clogged streets and blocked bridges in the American South. In retrospect, those actions appear as courageous and necessary.
But at the time, these actions were denounced as illegal infringements on the rights of others. They had no business breaking through that roof to seek healing. Those people should know their place and obey the law.
So, what is the difference between those acts of civil disobedience and the trucks that have clogged the streets of Ottawa? Is the only difference time? Will the “Freedom Convoy” be remembered as a brave and principled stand against government overreach? A coming to our collective senses after the ravages of the pandemic?
Long before the trucks arrived in Ottawa, the seeds for this kind of protest were being sown right here in Toronto. Since the beginning of the pandemic, each Saturday a group of protesters have gathered in front of the home of Premier Doug Ford in Etobicoke. He lives in a house on a residential street.
The protesters have appeared each Saturday morning, and often at night, carrying anti-mask and anti-vaxx placards. They chant, they yell, and they keep coming back. The groups are not large, 10-20 people. One has been arraigned for carrying a weapon and slashing tires in the neighbourhood. 
The Premier is not happy about this, he has begged them to go away. They are disturbing the peace and quiet of neighbours who never asked the fellow three doors down to become Premier.
Had these protesters appeared in front of Queen’s Park chanting the same slogans, there would be nothing remarkable about their actions. But the fact that showed up at the premier’s home marks a dangerous shift in political protests in this country. We live in a democracy. That means that Doug Ford is the leader of the current ruling party. But that does not mean that he gets what he personally wants. His job is to promote and protect the interests of everyone, even when that means he personally disagrees with a policy. Ford has expressed personal hesitation at many stages of the pandemic – he was reluctant to start lockdowns, and he initially rejected vaccine passports. His daughter regularly posts videos railing against vaccines and masks. It is entirely possible that her views are a reflection of his personal views, or at least used to be. But as Premier, his job is to deal with the messy realities of our entire society, as filtered through political parties, medical health experts, legal requirements, and two other levels of government. Premier Ford is called upon to look beyond his own personal views and come up with policies that will promote and protect the wellbeing of everyone.
Yet, the anti-vaxxers who have been protesting outside Ford’s house for the past two years have willfully swept aside all those complexities. They blame one man for all their troubles. As though Ford is a dictator. And that is a lie. Not just wrong, but a lie. And that is the lie that is at the heart of the Freedom Convoy, where the leaders blame the vaccine mandates on one man, Justin Trudeau
In Ottawa, the leaders of the occupation demanded his immediate resignation, as though he was a dictator who is out of control. And now, the far right in other countries have taken notice.
There are now freedom convoys underway in Australia, New Zealand, and in 27 countries in Europe. All inspired by the convoy in Ottawa.
One of the hallmarks of fascism is that it attempts to flatten society so that there is only the tyrant and his subjects. To fascists, any civil group is a potential source of resistance, so they are shut down. Opposition parties are dismantled, their leaders killed, exiled, or thrown in jail, as we’ve seen in Russia. Families become targets because blood loyalties can be a strong source of opposition. So, in Latin America authoritarian governments of the past made fathers, brothers and sisters simply disappear, plunging their families into paralyzing fear and prolonged mourning, never knowing what happened to their loved ones. The fascist government promotes a fantasy that the dictator is a benevolent father figure whom all citizens should adore. The fearless leader wants to have direct access to each individual so they can be controlled.
This flattening of society is what we see in these right-wing protests. They have adopted the far right’s fantasy of how government should work. A strong man at the top, who has a direct relationship to his citizens. It is a one-on-one relationship, no one else matters. So, they picket Ford’s house, because he is the problem. Not Queen’s Park, not the messy democratic process. Just him. In Ottawa, the truckers blare their horns all night long, ignoring the impact on anyone else. They demand that Trudeau step down. He is the wrong dictator.
Canadians have wondered when the American shift to the right would reach Canada. Here it is. A growing authoritarian movement on this side of the border. The call for freedom from vaccines is a mask for the end of democratic freedoms. What started out as frustration with vaccine mandates for one industry has been taken over by voices of the far right who see no contradiction between this kind of protest and flying Nazi and confederate flags.
There is a racial side to this – Indigenous People wouldn’t have dared do this. When they block the borders of their own land, they get an armed police response. They could never invade Ottawa with trucks. Black people who have been carded for simply walking down the street in white neighbourhoods know they couldn’t get away with this. Only white men could have assumed this would work, and the mostly white men in the Ottawa police let them do it. Even after armed white men took over the Michigan legislature in 2020. Even after a kidnapping plot against the Michigan governor was discovered. Even after January 6th in Washington. Even after a plot to hang Vice President Pence was discovered. It has been utterly clear that the far right believe it is their right to target and threaten political officials. Yet still, Ottawa let these men and their 30,000-pound weapons into the center of the city. 
How did frustrated truckers get to the point of rubbing shoulders with Neo-Nazis? Part of it is a shift in how we see ourselves. We live in a consumer society, where the customer is always right. When we walk into a store, we know that everything on the shelves can be ours if we have the money to pay for it. If there is just one box of diapers left on the shelf and we need it, we buy it. It doesn’t occur to us that someone else might need it more than we do. As consumers, we are discouraged from considering anyone else’s needs. If we have money to pay for it, we are entirely in our rights to buy the last item on the shelf. How this affects other people is irrelevant.
The far right has been able to weaponize this idea of consumerism to make it political. We are increasingly thinking of ourselves as consumers, and not as citizens. Citizens are asked to think about how their actions will affect others. That’s why we have multiple political parties, so all points of view can be considered. But as consumers, all of that goes away. Political consumers see the government as a store that has a duty to give us what we want, when we want it, period. We should get our money’s worth for paying taxes. If we don’t get it, the government should be put under new management. Get rid of the store owner, hang him if you need to.
At the beginning of this sermon, I asked how the Freedom Convoy is different from the acts of civil disobedience seen during the civil rights movement in the United States. The key difference is that those African Americans were trying to get the United States to live up to its own promises as a democracy. They were not a threat to democracy, but its champions. They were trying to heal a wounded democracy so it could serve the entire society. When Rev. Martin Luther King was jailed in Birmingham for staging a march without a permit, he wrote a famous letter. In it he argued, and I quote,
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” 
Jesus didn’t get upset when the paralyzed man was lowered through the roof because he could see that the goal was healing. Not just of this individual, but of all the people who had been affected by his paralysis. This was a group healing. Throughout the New Testament, Jesus heals in crowds because he knows he is healing not just the sick person, but their family, friends, and village. Justifiable civil disobedience breaks laws and barriers, crashing through roofs and glass ceilings in order to heal the many. To heal a society that has fallen short of its own promise. Civil disobedience that demands democracy live up to its own ideals will always have a place in our society. It is how we are called to look past the present towards a better and more inclusive future.
But for those who threaten democracy itself, who ignore the needs of others, the blocking of roads and the blaring of horns is not healing but wounding, an attack on the body politic. As Christians, let us remember the difference, and embrace those who dare to break through the roof to solve problems, to promote justice, to deliver on the promise of our society. For Christ didn’t mention the broken roof. Instead, he offered forgiveness. He sent a paralyzed man out walking on his own two feet. Let us walk with those who desire justice, and healing for all.
 https://www.thestar.com/politics/provincial/2022/01/14/pandemic-protesters-target-houses-of-doug-ford-and-his-ministers-raising-police-interest-and-neighbours-ire.html  https://www.politico.com/news/2022/02/06/ottawa-truckers-convoy-galvanizes-far-right-worldwide-00006080  https://www.jdpower.com/cars/shopping-guides/how-much-does-a-semi-truck-weigh  – Letter from a Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963.