This Post Originally Appeared in 2017
The beauty and depth of Scripture never ceases to amaze me. The intricately woven tapestry of the Word of God, crafted by the Master Designer, reveals a beautiful narrative through which we can share in community with one another. Even after years of hearing a story from the Bible, the Holy Spirit breathes new life into familiar Words. Such was the case as I was reading Mark 2 while our minister taught on the subject of Jesus healing the paralytic. You can also find this story in Matthew and Luke.
I don’t have any idea how many times I’ve read this story. I don’t have any idea how many teachings I’ve heard that used this story as the main text. I can only tell you what I have gleaned from this story and the teachings on the story in the past. I’ve heard probably three predominant themes in this: 1. Jesus knew what the man needed, more than a physical healing. 2. Jesus took the opportunity to forgive the man’s sins, knowing that the Pharisees would begin to question His authority. 3. I have heard ministers/teachers point out that the text says, “seeing their faith,” but with little explanation, other than to typically parallel that with the effort they made to get the man to Jesus, getting around the crowd by taking the path through the roof. Obviously, they went to great lengths to get this man to Jesus. They might even use it to illustrate the point that we have to have faith for Jesus to respond.
In my most recent encounter with this Scripture, the phrase, “seeing their faith” awakened me. It was sorta like God was saying to me, “there’s something you’re missing here; let Me show you.” Upon reading these words, Peter’s response to Jesus upon returning from the miraculous catch of fish was immediately brought to mind. Peter, returning from the sea with full nets, falls at the feet of Jesus and says, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.” This story comes from Luke 5, which happens to be the same chapter where we find the story of the paralytic in Luke’s gospel account. In this story, Peter sees the miracle and, consequently, recognizes his own sinfulness in the presence of the One he calls, “Lord.”
I began to wonder. When the paralytic and his friends heard about the miracles of Jesus, when they saw them with their own eyes, what was their hearts’ response? Did each man recognize his own individual sinfulness also? Consider this. As we can see from the 9th chapter of John’s gospel and the story of the blind man, it was understood at the time that such an infirmity was a consequence of sinfulness. These men very likely believed that sin was at play in this circumstance with their friend. The paralytic had probably heard numerous times throughout the time of his infirmity that this was a consequence of sin. When these men brought their friend to Jesus, when the paralytic asked to be taken to Jesus, what were they seeking? When Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell us Jesus saw their faith (their hearts), what did He see?
Let me draw on a Scripture that contrasts this moment, and as it happens, it's also from Luke 5. Just before we read about the paralytic and right after we read about Peter, we see a man with leprosy encounter Jesus. Verses 12 and 13 tell us, “While He was in one of the cities, behold, there was a man covered with leprosy; and when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and implored Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” And He stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” And immediately the leprosy left him.” There is no talk of faith here. There is no talk of forgiveness. The story of the man with leprosy was about belief. In contrast, the story of the paralyzed man was about faith.
There is only one other account in the gospels where Jesus speaks to someone the words, “Your sins are forgiven.” We find it in the 7th chapter of Luke in verses 36-50. In this story we see a woman who is a sinner go to Jesus at the Pharisee’s house. There, she wet His feet with her tears, wiped His feet with her hair, kissed His feet, and anointed them with perfume. After teaching the Pharisee a lesson on forgiveness and gratitude, He tells the woman, “Your sins have been forgiven.”
As I look at the story of the paralytic I wonder, how many people in that crowd around Jesus believed he had some magical power to heal, but failed to recognize His authority to forgive? Belief and healing focus on power; faith and forgiveness focus on authority. I don't mean to separate belief and faith. Truly, they aren't separate, and they aren’t equal. They are one, but they have a difference in focus. The woman washing Jesus’s feet wasn’t seeking His power; she was seeking His authority. Peter recognized Jesus’ authority, and then he received assurance, “Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men.” The woman was given assurance, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace” The paralytic man may or may not have needed any further assurance beyond "your sins are forgiven,” but just so the Pharisees understood, Jesus commanded, "get up, pick up your pallet and go home.”
I think we tend to assume that the paralyzed man would have been carried away in disappointment had Jesus not bestowed the ability to walk upon him. But have you considered, perhaps, receiving forgiveness was a far greater gift in his mind? Perhaps, Jesus's authority was what he sought all along. It causes me to look at my faith and my belief when I consider these un-answered questions. If the only way we can look at this story is to assume that the man had what we might think of as a glad-handed or maybe sarcastic response, “Oh, that’s nice Jesus,” does that reveal a faith issue for us? Does this view ultimately diminish how we perceive Christ’s authority? Could it be that we no longer treat forgiveness as an eternal gift to be greatly treasured, but instead, we view forgiveness as a temporal gift to appreciate until the big material blessings are poured out? How can we walk in the freedom of Christ if that is our view of forgiveness? If we view forgiveness as only temporal, how does that affect our relationship with an eternal Father?
Do the words, “your sins are forgiven” grant a peace that surpasses understanding? Do you expect to find your joy in the temporal, or the eternal? What do you seek?
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