Matthew 9:1–8 (ESV): Jesus forgives a man’s sins, and then heals him
In the last passage, Jesus healed two men who had demons. In this passage, he returns to his own city and is brought a man on a mat, who is paralyzed. He sees their faith, and tells the man that his sins are forgiven.
Of course, this offends some of the scribes, who are there at the time. They think that he’s blaspheming; it’s not explicitly said in this passage, but in the parallel passages in Mark 2:1–12 (ESV) and Luke 5:17–26 (ESV), they say it a bit more clearly: “Who can forgive sins, but God alone?”
Jesus knows that they’re thinking this, however, and he tells them that what they’re thinking in their hearts is evil.
But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men. (verses 4–8 (ESV))
Whenever I read this passage, my first thought is always about the paralytic on the mat: what did he think of Jesus telling him his sins were forgiven? I’m sure it’s not what he was expecting, he was probably expecting to be healed of his paralysis. It’s easy for me to look at this from a distance, and say of course it’s better to be forgiven from your sins and live as a paralytic than to be healed of your paralysis and still be condemned as a sinner; I’m guessing that he was probably still faithful to Jesus in his heart, because Jesus had no condemning words for the man. (Of course, in this case the man got the best of both worlds, and was healed and forgiven, so it’s a moot point.) Of course, I’m assuming the reason Jesus didn’t heal the man in the first place was so that he could have the conversation with the scribes. If he had simply healed the man right away it would have been a miracle, but it wouldn’t have sparked the conversation that followed.
When it comes to the scribes, why was it “evil” for them to question Jesus for forgiving the man’s sins? They are, in a sense, right: It would be blasphemy for anyone other than God to claim to be forgiving someone’s sins. If Jesus wasn’t God, then it would be blasphemy for him to say what he said to the man. So the “evil,” in this case, was not recognizing that Jesus was God. Jesus’ point seems to be that the miracles he’s performing should convince the scribes that he is who he says he is.
A final note: Although sin and sickness are not necessarily directly related—meaning your sickness might not be a judgement for a sin you’ve committed (see, for example, John 9 (ESV))—they can be. The authors of the ESV Study Bible think that in this case, the man’s sickness might indeed be a direct result of his own sin, and that this may be the reason that Jesus tells him his sins are forgiven, instead of just healing him.