From time to time, most of us have felt the need for forgiveness. Indeed, not only the need to be forgiven for what we’ve done, but that our relationship with the person we’ve hurt can be restored. Of course, what we’ve done (or failed to do) could be either of major or minor. But we may still feel the need to put past mistakes behind us and make sure that there is no ongoing impediment to our continuing relationship.
Having sad that, while many of us find that forgiveness is of major importance, there are some that struggle with the idea. They don’t necessarily see the need to be forgiven. They don’t see the need to be reconciled with the person they’ve hurt. And some, have given up on the whole idea of being forgiven because they believe that what they’ve done was so terrible that no one could possibly forgive them.
People’s attitudes to forgiveness varies. Some see it as important, while others simply accept it as impossible. However, it is also true that even among those who hold forgiveness dear, many still have a problem with the issue of forgiveness in their relationship with God.
It’s interesting to note, therefore, that in the story of the healing of a paralytic, the topic of forgiveness not only is included but it plays a significant role.
B. THE HEALING OF A PARALYTIC
And the story begins with Jesus having returned to his home base—the city of Capernaum (1)—after having visited the country of the Gadarenes, where he had healed two people who had been demon possessed and was responsible for a herd of pigs rushing down a steep bank into the sea, where they drowned.
Now we’re not told where in the city he was (but both Mark and Luke record that he was in someone’s house). But wherever he was, a man—who was paralysed and was being carried on his portable bed—was brought to Jesus’s attention (2). And straight away we’re told that Jesus saw the faith in at least his friends.
So, speaking to man, Jesus gave some words of encouragement. ‘Take courage’ he said. And then he followed it up with the words ‘Your sins are forgiven.’
Well, you can imagine the response of the crowd. Here was a sick man—he couldn’t walk. And yet Jesus began, apparently, by ignoring the man’s physical needs by giving him forgiveness.
This, of course, upset some of the scribes who were present (3). They were experts at the law—both in terms of religious law and civil law. They were astounded. They knew that part of their role, as God’s representatives, was to decide on any question of forgiveness. And yet, here they were, faced with someone they considered to be an ordinary Galilean claiming the same divine prerogative. This was nothing other than blasphemy. But, for the moment, they kept their thoughts to themselves (4).
But, knowing their thoughts, Jesus confronted them in terms of their motivation and in terms of their thoughts. And he asked them this question: ‘What is easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven” or “Get up and walk”?’ (5).
Now, of course, the answer is obvious. It is easier to say that someone’s sins are forgiven because it is impossible for bystanders to confirm or refute whether someone has sinned or not. But it takes a healer to say. ‘Get up and walk.’ But only God can forgive sins, and only God can heal people. As a consequence, it was a question that was left unanswered by the scribes.
Jesus, however, having already pronounced the man’s sins forgiven, then went on to show he could do both. Because he then went on and healed the man (6). Jesus may have been a man from Nazareth, but he was also the Son of Man. And so, the man got up, and did as he was told (7).
Indeed, the man who had been carried to Jesus because he was unable to walk, got up, picked up his portable bed, and did what was, for him, previously impossible.
Now, we’re not told what affect that had on the scribes (8). But we can imagine. However, the crowds . . . well, the effect of the miracle on them was that they were awe-struck. And they reacted as though they were in the presence of none other than God himself.
Now it is an intriguing story, not least of all because of its emphasis of forgiveness, in what would otherwise could have been a ‘normal’ healing miracle.
The question for us then is, ‘What is the significance of the man being forgiven in the story? And what difference should that make in our daily lives today?’
Well, I’m going to suggest three things.
1. Unforgiven Sin – The Cause of Illness
Because, firstly, although Jesus doesn’t explicitly state here—or anywhere else—that the man’s illness was the result of sin, there appears to be a strong correlation.
The implication is that the sin, which caused the illness, needed to be dealt with before the cure could proceed. And that’s why in this particular instance Jesus forgave the man his sins before telling him to get up and walk.
And that may be similar to the situations that many of us have witnessed—people who have done something wrong and not received forgiveness. And the lack of forgiveness has allowed their sin to eat away at them, sometimes making them quite ill.
As a consequence, the need for forgiveness—and divine forgiveness in particular—maybe a very important part of the healing process.
2. Partial Salvation Not Enough
Secondly, it demonstrates that Jesus was not interested in only bestowing partial healing to the people.
Jesus’s ministry was centred on his teaching, which called on men to repent and believe in the Gospel. And he would have not been satisfied with healing people’s physical ailments, while leaving their spiritual welfare untouched.
Jesus was concerned about the whole person—physical, mental and spiritual. And while he could easily have healed the man’s physical and mental needs, he demonstrated he was concerned about the man’s spiritual wellbeing too. As a consequence, he provided forgiveness as well as physical healing.
So, when we are caring for those who are physically and mentally unwell, we should not ignore people’s spiritual wellbeing either. We too should be concerned with the total wellbeing of those around us.
3. Jesus – The Forgiver
And thirdly, this passage reminds us of something of the nature of Jesus himself.
The more visible act of physical healing, after he had pronounced divine forgiveness, should give us proof of the authority that Jesus had been given by God the Father. It is Jesus who has been given the authority to forgive sins. As a consequence, it is to Jesus we can go in confidence for our forgiveness too.
So, forgiveness has a very important role in the matter of healing. Because not all physical ailments have a physical disability at their base.
Indeed, Jesus demonstrated, in the healing of the paralytic, that sin and lack of forgiveness can also be the cause of physical ailments. As a consequence, a more holistic approach to healing is required.
But the story also illustrates that Jesus was (and is) interested in the whole person, and that he when we are in need, he has the authority from God to forgive our sins too.
Posted: 1st June 2022
© 2022, Brian A Curtis