Jesus, Sin, and the Paralyzed Man
Luke knows how to tell a story well. This particular one has several layers of intrigue and tension to it - as well as some humor. At least I think so!
To put this account in it's co-text: Jesus up to this point has done many healings amidst crowds of people. He is well known across the nation. He's done a lot of teaching - proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God - but he's not yet taken the next step: forgiving sins. And that is what he initiates in this story of the Paralyzed Man.
Let's call him Bob. Bob the Paralyzed Man. We don't know whether he was severely crippled from an accident, born a paraplegic, or paralyzed due to a disease. We do know that he had at least two friends who were willing to haul him to Jesus. One has to wonder how it is that this man in this condition had friends willing to do this. Being paralyzed, he would been likely cruelly impoverished, a beggar, completely dependent on others with nothing much to give back. Nonetheless he had two friends who had compassion on him, were committed to him, and courageous enough to creep through the crowds and get to Jesus.
Imagine hauling a man on a flimsy cot, a man with no ability to balance himself. Through a rough and raucous crowd, up onto the roof of a craggy house, lowered with ropes (where'd they get ropes from?) down in front of Jesus. You can imagine the excitement of the paralyzed man at having survived his friends attempt to get him to Jesus! You can imagine the excitement of the friends finally getting Bob the paralyzed man to drop right in front of Jesus! With Jesus' track record, everyone - Bob, the friends, the crowd, the Pharisees and lawyers - is expecting a healing! We expect Jesus to laugh, and cry out: "Friend, I see your faith - you are... healed!"
But that's not what he says. The place is abuzz with seeing Bob lowered from the roof, the place is already electric with the prior healings having taken place, and Jesus is then so anticlimatic: "Friend", he shouts out, "your sins are...forgiven."
What? Sins forgiven? No! No, no, no...I want healed! Heal me! Ack! This isn't supposed to happen! We went through all of this to get healed, not forgiven of sins. What's Jesus doing?
Interestingly, it's not the paralyzed man who is recorded as protesting the forgiving, but the Pharisees and Torah-teachers. They correctly state: only God can forgive sins. If only they could see with faith...
Jesus uses this moment (he is so brilliant...he knows how to get a crowds attention: always expect the unexpected!) to reveal his next strategy: I'm here to forgive sins. The healings - they establish my authority from God - and now I'm using that authority to heal people of their sins.
We want God to heal us of our physical ailments, our economic woes, our relational trials: but do we want his forgiveness of our sins? Will we come to him for the real healing? God cares about our bodies, our homes, our families, our vocations, all the stuff of earth. But God also knows that it is sin that is at work in us, enslaving us, wrecking and cracking up our lives. And so if we want healed, restored, renewed, we must begin with forgiveness of our sins.
As a follower of Jesus, in what way are you furthering the good news of forgiveness of sins? Who in your life do you need to teach how to forgive others? Who in your life could benefit from receiving forgiveness of sins from God?
As the paralyzed man, what needs healed in your life? Are you willing to receive forgiveness from God as the starting point for that healing? Or will you protest and refuse to see the sins at work in you?
In the Luke story, it's possible that the paralyzed man was healed the moment his sins were forgiven. Jesus saw his faith, his trust, his openness and rewarded it with forgiveness and healing. As the man lay there, the effects of the healing began their work, the Pharisees argued with Jesus. Jesus answered them with both his words and actions - by the time the Torah-teachers were done talking, the paralyzed man was ready to stand up and go home.
The starting place for healing of hearts and homes, of souls and cities is in repentance of sins for forgiveness from God. This then prompts us to forgive those who sin against us. To not confess sins, to not repent is to become full of a sin which paralyzes our abilities to give mercy, to act justly, to walk humbly. A quick look around will show you how many paralyzed people there are in our lives.
Be a friend and help the paralyzed walk again.
Set them free by teaching them how to receive forgiveness from God and how to forgive others.