“When Jesus saw their faith, he said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven.’ “ (Luke 5:21)
Jesus Heals a Paralytic.
This is the chapter heading that one of my Bibles (NIV Study, 1985) uses to describe passages in Mark 2:1-12 and Luke 5:17-26, in which a determined group of men, unable to access Jesus through the crowds, climbs up on the roof, digs through the tiles, and lowers a paralyzed man, on his bed, down to Jesus.
We don’t know if the men were friends — although this level of trouble and activity is something we associate with people who care about one another — but what we do know is that,
“When Jesus saw their faith, he said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven.’ “
Because of their faith (plural, indicating the men at minimum, possibly the paralyzed man as well) he (singular, the paralyzed man) was forgiven of his sins — an intriguing incongruity to contemporary politico-Christian doctrine which avers that the only way to be saved and have our sins forgiven is to say the Sinner’s Prayer, or repeat the Four Spiritual Laws.
Interestingly, the politico-religious element in the room at that time — “Pharisees and teachers of the law, who had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem” — were offended by Jesus’s breach of their doctrine of the day, and they “began thinking to themselves, ‘Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ “
Who Is He? He’s God
We, in hindsight, know exactly who this fellow was, and that He indeed has the power to forgive sins because He was, and is, God, but we, like the Pharisees, are also in danger of grumbling within our hearts, “What’s with this forgiveness thing? How could that person possibly think he is forgiven?”
In setting up rules, and doctrines, and extremely narrow parameters of determining who is, and is not, forgiven by God, we are at risk of shutting the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces, not entering ourselves, nor letting anyone else enter who are trying to. (Matthew 23:14)
Many years ago, a friend of mine committed the sin that we still rank at the top of Bad Things Women (but Not Men) do: she slept with a guy, one time, got pregnant, and didn’t abort the baby. And while she earned points from the church community she was then attending for not taking the life of the child, she was ostracized to the point of having to leave that specific religious assemblage because nobody believed that she was truly forgiven — at least, not yet.
“I approached God immediately,” she told us, “and He forgave me. But for some reason, outside people seem to think that I need to ‘go through more’ before I can be fully forgiven. But that’s between me and God, and we have worked that out.”
So it was between the paralyzed man and Jesus, who “worked things out” to the point that the very first, and most important, thing Jesus did was forgive the man’s sins.
“Why would you do that?” I asked God the first time I saw this. “From the man’s point of view, it’s more important that he walk again.”
Maybe. Maybe not.
Having spent a significant amount of time in the Christo-religious church environment, I have had it hammered into my head that true spirituality means being so overjoyed by the forgiveness of my sins and future eternal life that I am not affected by the flesh, but quite frankly, as a human being who lives in a body of flesh, I do get distracted by the physical stuff. When I’m hungry, I crave food — not the Word of God — and my spirituality battles regularly with the physical body. I’m pretty sure that this situation is not unique to me.
We Bear Our Past Sins in Our Bodies and Minds
So Jesus’s focusing on forgiving the man’s sins — to the point that the passage should be entitled, “Jesus Forgives a Man” as opposed to “Jesus Heals a Paralytic” — was baffling.
But then I started thinking, which is a primary aspect of meditation and prayer, and I realized:
“Jesus doesn’t do things randomly, nor does He play with people. He knew — whether the paralyzed man did or not — that the man needed forgiveness first, or the healing of his body would be meaningless.”
Perhaps the damage the man carried in his body was “evidence” of his sin, much in the way that rotting teeth can point to someone who has had, or still has, a meth addiction; or liver problems indicate a battle with alcoholism; or a living child — and no corresponding wedding ring — shouts out, fornication!
In other words, the results of our past behavior leave indelible marks upon us physically and/or mentally, and the very real tendency of the religious community around us is to point, and say,
“See! He’s a felon, and he committed that crime. It’s no wonder he can’t make anything of his life.”
And while that felon may have approached God in all humility and begged for — and received — forgiveness for his sins, we, like the Pharisees, are reluctant to see it happen, and every time that felon falls — and he will fall, because he is human — we say, “He’s just a felon. He’ll never be anybody.”
Yes, there are consequences for one’s actions: the apostle Peter no doubt understood this truism very well. But in dealing with those consequences, we are far more able to prevail when we realize that, when we ask God’s forgiveness, we get it. But how much it would hurt if, every time we told a little lie, or gossiped, or manipulated a situation to our advantage, someone announced, loudly,
“Look at that liar and deceiver! He’ll never be forgiven, and he doesn’t deserve to be!”
Of course he doesn’t “deserve” to be. Neither do I. Nor you. But Jesus’s words to us are,
“Friend, your sins are forgiven.”
Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, a column written by just an ordinary Christian who reads a lot, thinks a lot, prays a lot, and encourages all my brothers and sisters to do the same. For years, I was fooled into thinking that it took special credentials to speak for Christ, until I started taking a serious look at the words, and message, of some of those people with the special credentials.
Posts complementing this one are