“One day Jesus was teaching, and Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there. They had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal those who were ill. Some men came carrying a paralysed man on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.
When Jesus saw their faith, he said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven.’
The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, ‘Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?’
Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, ‘Why are you thinking these things 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, ‘I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.’ Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God. Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, ‘We have seen remarkable things today.’” (Luke 5: 17-26)
I return again and again to this familiar story of a miracle, for it has so much to teach us.
Its positioning in Luke 5, following the account of the healing of the “man covered with leprosy,” is instructive, because it forces a contrast between two different healing miracles. The first encounter is initiated by the sick man himself, who proactively makes the statement “If you are willing, you can make me well.” Based upon this statement, you might argue that your healing depends upon your “standing on your rights, “so to speak; that you need to strongly assert what God can do, before He does it.
I’m overstating the point, but I’m sure you see what I mean.
The second story is quite different. It makes the important point that not all of the miracles of Jesus depended upon the faith of the recipient. Here it is the faith of the stretcher-bearers that is commended, not the faith of the sufferer. It was “When Jesus saw their faith” that He spoke into the situation.
And there’s a second point right here -something of great significance. It’s the connection between sin and suffering.
The question has been asked of me (as a pastor) many times: “Am I suffering this sickness because of my sin?” Sometimes the answer is a clear yes. There’s a clear causal connection between, say, drinking too much and cirrhosis of the liver. If you classified drunkenness as sin, then yes, the one has produced the other.
But in many cases, the answer is not so straightforward. And Jesus specifically denied the causal connection in John 9. Look at this passage: “As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.’
Here we have a case where the whole situation has a bigger context and explanation than can be immediately understood. God’s ways are not our ways, after all. And as Rob Bell put it: “The moment God is figured out with nice neat lines and definitions, we are no longer dealing with God.”
So when Jesus sees the man on the stretcher, after commending the faith of the stretcher-bearers, he doesn’t announce healing but forgiveness.”When Jesus saw their faith, he said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven.’ “
They believed in Jesus the healer, but Jesus ignored the sickness! “Your sins are forgiven.” Jesus goes deeper… deeper than the outward evil ; down to the root of evil.
The point is: there’s a burden worse than the burden of disability. There’s a rest more profound than healing. So Jesus says what is necessary. He is saying: God knows your heart, and He is here for you.
So does this mean there’s a connection here between inner and outer condition? Well, if cancer linked to stress, and ulcers to guilt, it seems so in some cases.
But if that’s the case in the story, then only two people knew it: Jesus and the man himself. And I suppose that when Jesus comes to us, we know it, too. We know we are the products of our own past. Do you recall that novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray? We all have such a picture, tucked away, of what we are really like inside, at the deepest level. And we are marked -disfigured- by sin. And if this guy knew it, then he was paralysed into immobility. He was stuck in a condition of moral darkness, outside the possibility of help. And when Jesus announced forgiveness, He flung open the door and let the light in. He showed what love is, that it means forgiveness as an initiatory step, healing, renewing, a bringing-home!
It means Jesus comes in, just like the paralytic into the room, Jesus comes into the heart! Imagine you receive a really wonderful guest and the whole house changes in character. “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God.” God’s love is not an offer but a gift; it is not clogged with conditions, but free as the air we breathe and just as refreshing.
And then He heals… but it’s a bonus to what He has already given! Of course, healed people still died, but forgiven people are changed for eternity! And of course, the consequences of past deeds remain and emotional scars do too. But God’s forgiveness, in the cross of Christ, is a complete remedy for sin, acting on its consequences by transformation. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Cor 5:17)
This is a picture of TOTAL healing! Inside and outside.