Miraculous Healing a Signpost for Religious Leaders
Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. Some men brought to him a paralysed man, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!” Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralysed man, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” Then the man got up and went home. When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to man.
ALL THE INFORMATION
- Jesus returned to Capernaum from Gadara.
- Some men brought a paralysed man to him lying on a mat.
- Jesus saw their faith.
- Jesus told the paralysed man that his sins were forgiven.
- The teachers of the law who were watching thought that Jesus was committing the sin of blasphemy by presuming to be able to forgive the man – something that was reserved for God alone.
- Jesus knew what they were thinking.
- He addressed them by telling them that their judgmental thoughts were evil.
- He asked them which would be easier to do: to tell a paralysed person their sins were forgiven or to tell them to get up and walk.
- He said he was doing this so that they would know that he, the Son of Man, had authority to forgive sins on earth.
- He told the man to get up, pick up his mat and go home.
- The man did just that, he got up and went home.
- When the crowd that was around him saw this, they were filled with awe and began to praise God because of the authority that had been given to Jesus.
Jesus….came to his own town.
This is the shortest version of the story. We are more familiar with other versions where the man is lowered through the roof by his friends. As previously mentioned, it is not my aim to gather a composite story from all of the accounts and then draw the message from there. My conviction is that the stories in different gospels exist as stand-alone stories with their own independent (even if similar) message. We will see what happens when we let this version bring its message without adding the details we know from the other account.
If we gather all of the information from this story we know that there was a crowd around Jesus as he arrived in the boat from the Gadarene region. There were also religious leaders there, teachers of the law in point of fact. These two groups of people represent very different attitudes and agendas. The crowd are there at worst to see the “show” and at best to check Jesus out for possible Messiah credentials, or perhaps they want to be healed. The religious leaders are there to check out the orthodoxy of this rabbit from Nazareth. They are going to check him against their tick boxes to see if he passes muster for traditional religious orthodoxy. Enter four people carrying a paralysed man.
“Some men brought to him a paralysed man, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man…”
This particular incident starts out as a straightforward healing story. We have a paralysed man who needs a miracle. We have four friends whose sole intention is to get him to where Jesus is. This action is referred to as “Jesus, seeing their faith…” Pretty straightforward and accessible. We know from reading the rest of the story that the man eventually does get healed. If that was all this story was about the takeaway message would be for us to exercise similar faith by bringing our friends to Jesus – through prayer for example, or to a healing meeting with the intention of seeing them made well. But this is where the story takes a fascinating turn. For what it’s worth, I think we ought to be looking for these uncommon twists and turns in the ministry of Jesus. They will almost always highlight the difference between the life pattern of a servant of the kingdom of God (Jesus) and the normal operations of people who have been thoroughly trained in the ways of the kingdom of this world. If we were to make the healing of a lame man or the faith of four wonderful friends as the core message of this story, what happens next makes no sense. My way of understanding the Bible is to presume that the message from heaven through the story will be the one that is consistent with the whole story, not just a few verses from the story. I was taught, and believe even more firmly, that “a text without a context becomes a pretext.” So the message from heaven contained in this story must make sense of the whole story. While faith and healing are always going to be important, I don’t think it is the primary message we should take away from this incident.
Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?
The question to be asked is “Why did Jesus tell the man his sins were forgiven?” Just take it slowly and allow the video of this scene to be played in your imagination. The men bring their friend to Jesus and Jesus turns his attention to their need. He honours their faith. This is wonderful. If the camera turns to their faces right now, they are delighted even more hopeful that their friend being healed. Then Jesus looks down at the man lying before him and says, “Take heart, son, your sins are forgiven.” I would be willing to bet that they were all surprised but also disappointed. I may be wrong, but I can’t think of a single other situation where Jesus required forgiveness as a pre-condition for healing.
The moment Jesus uttered those words in front of the whole crowd, there was probably a gasp of shock from the part of the crowd where the teachers of the law were standing. For Jesus to speak like this was regulation blasphemy. God alone had the authority to forgive sins. Anyone who did so was making themselves out to be equal with God and that was total blasphemy. Before they said anything aloud, Jesus let the whole crowd of people know exactly what they were thinking. This was a provocative thing to do, telling the crowd that the religious leaders were harbouring “evil thoughts.” I’m sure the teachers of the law didn’t, for a moment, think that what they were thinking was evil in any way, shape or form. Quite the contrary. They were defending the faith handed down from generation to generation. The religious status quo at the time of Jesus was most certainly in error. Jesus made that clear many times, with tears. They were supposed to be the custodians of the promises from heaven to send a Messiah King to rescue and restore Israel. Not only did they twist the whole thing around to serve themselves, but their strained theological systems made them capable of rejecting and even participating in the death of that same promised Messiah. Jesus is telling the truth. They are harbouring evil thoughts.
If the context (or the whole story) is the basis for understanding the message, then the diversion from the matter of healing the paralysed man has everything to do with his love for these sincere, but sincerely wrong teachers of the law. Love, it is indeed. He is giving them a chance to get the message. That message is: HE IS, both Messiah and God. It takes more supernatural power to heal a lame man than it does to make a pronouncement about forgiveness (where there is no necessary externally measurable evidence). Jesus is offering them the opportunity to believe and accept that he is the Messiah King.
The bottom line must be that when Jesus saw a lame man being brought to him for healing, he saw it as an opportunity to reach out to the very people in the crowd who were probably farthest from the kingdom of God at that time. I cannot tell you how profoundly that impacts me as a person who wants to become more like Jesus. Think of all the alternative attitudes that Jesus could have had toward these people who shadowed his every movement with their criticism, disapproval and rejection. Think of being in a place where there are people who like you and another group who don’t. A servant of this world’s kingdom will tend to hang with the ones who approve and draw away from the ones who don’t. By stark contrast, the greatest ever Servant of the kingdom of God (Jesus) does exactly the opposite. He acts with redemptive intent toward the people who don’t like him. He draws close to them, even if it is seen to be more than a little confronting. This love gets inside their world and gives them a chance. Even if they don’t take it, it makes no difference to the intent and generosity of the offer. What if we made a habit of being like that? It would create a Jesus-looking, loving revolution. We would get in trouble for doing good things rather than the way is common these days – Christians and Christian leaders getting into trouble for doing horrible things.
Then the man got up and went home. When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to man.
The end of the story belongs to the crowd, rather than to the teachers of the law. There is no doubt the incident had an impact. These religious leaders, who were the focus of special loving attention from Jesus, didn’t get the message. The redemptive power of this is a remembrance etched in their minds that would always proclaim the gospel. In that sense, their lives would never be quite the same. I have heard too many stories of people who initially rejected but, like Paul, couldn’t sustain the internal “pricking” of the Holy Spirit. These men would always remember that it wasn’t just that a man was healed. It was the message Jesus was conveying through the healing.
The crowd reacted quite differently. They saw a man brought to Jesus who couldn’t walk and saw that same man get up and walk home carrying his mat. What was once a sign of his suffering became the trophy of his redemption. He met Jesus twice. Once as the rescuer from sin and again as the champion of the disabled. The crowd didn’t just see a man who could work miracles. They saw it as it genuinely was – something that made known the glory of God. They knew it was Jesus connection to God that had made this possible. That was as good an entry point to the kingdom as any.
WHAT IF THIS WERE COMPLETELY FULFILLED IN MY LIFE?
Jesus provides us with a beautiful display of God’s constant redemptive purpose. What we pay attention to matters. If Jesus was always operating according to what he saw his Father doing (cp. John 5), then we can assume that on this occasion the Father’s attention was drawn to these stubborn, defensive religious leaders. Probably they were only there to criticise and condemn. Not the warmest and cuddly people in the crowd. If I were in that kind of crowd, I would have probably avoided them rather than reaching out to them. It seems from the moment a paralysed man was set down in front of him Jesus was intent on giving these leaders their best shot at getting the message about who he was. It was hardly subtle, but it was intentional. A simple healing agenda became inclusive of a special outreach to the people in the space who were furthest from God.
I think I am a bad judge of who is closer and who is further from God. Besides, if you go for those who are furthest, you will, by definition also reach those who were closest. That happened in this incident. If this kingdom focus were a part my life, I would always be open to an agenda that was designed to reach those furthest from God in any group. I can remember one time when some of us who were seeking to reach people for Christ in our spheres decided that we would make a special effort to reach the “hardest” person in the given space. In my case, that started a relationship that is ongoing, close, valued and still having kingdom impact.
I’m going to look for the un-obvious agenda as well as the obvious one. I’m also going to practice looking for the unlikely people as well as the likely ones. This is a feature of the kingdom of God.
HOW THE GOSPEL WAS PROCLAIMED
When a lame man gets up and walks at the command of Jesus, the gospel is proclaimed. Both the man himself, his friends and the crowd all witnessed the same work of grace and power from heaven. This gave them a clear revelation that Jesus was the Messiah, and they were able to put their faith in him.
When Jesus exercises the authority that only belongs to God by forgiving sins, and then backs it up through the demonstration of God’s power to heal, the message is the same: this man is the Messiah, the Son of God and the King of the kingdom of God.
In this instance, the ordinary people in the crowd got that message. We are not told whether or not they became believers, but we know they got the message because they saw what happened and praised God – not just Jesus. They made the connection. When the religious leaders were challenged to believe that Jesus was God through the demonstration of healing power, regardless of their response, they saw and heard the gospel.