SynopsisIn this passage Jesus is at home in Capernaum, and when people find out that he’s there they essentially swarm the house, so he preaches the word to them. Four men come to the house bringing a paralytic friend of theirs on a bed, hoping for Jesus to heal him, but the crowd is so dense that they aren’t able to get the man in front of Jesus. So, in an act which has subsequently become very famous, they go up onto the roof of the house, remove the roof, and lower the man down to Jesus through the roof.
Instead of being angry about the new hole in his roof, Jesus commends their faith and tells the paralytic that his sins are forgiven. (That first part was a joke; one wouldn’t expect to read about Jesus getting angry with them for putting a hole in his roof.)
However, there are some Jewish scribes in the crowd around Jesus, and they’re not comfortable with Jesus telling the man that his sins are forgiven:
Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (verses 6–7 (ESV))Jesus realizes this, though, and calls them out on it.
And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? … (verses 8–9 (ESV))Whereupon Jesus tells the paralytic to get up, pick up his bed, and go home, which the man does—to the amazement of everyone present, who glorify God and say that they’ve never seen anything like this before.
ThoughtsThis is another very famous passage, and one that I’m sure has been the source of innumerable sermons, so I doubt I’ll have anything original to say. Of course, when it comes to talking about the Bible, if one thinks one has discovered something new after 2,000 years one is probably either wrong or blaspheming, so I’m not worried about having nothing new to say…
My first thought when reading through this passage is always to wonder if the man was disappointed at Jesus’ initial response: he has come to be healed physically, and instead Jesus has pronounced him healed spiritually. And my response is to assume that no, he probably wasn’t disappointed. This man—and his friends—has come to Jesus in faith, knowing that Jesus can do what is impossible for them to do on their own, and Jesus has taken away the man’s sins. This is the Gospel! I’m especially of this opinion because of Jesus’ initial reaction: he praises the five men for their faith. They haven’t simply come to a healer, they have come to Jesus in faith. True, I’m guessing that that faith was at least in part faith that Jesus could and would heal the man physically, but based on Jesus’ praise of their faith I have to assume that it was more than that, too.
So no, I doubt the man was disappointed, although I have only my own assumptions to go on since the passage doesn’t address this question. Perhaps, if the rest of the story hadn’t played out as it did and he hadn’t been healed of his paralysis, there might have been times throughout the rest of the man’s life in which he would have had moments of disappointment; “I’m glad to be saved from my sins, but I wish Jesus had healed my body, too.” That would be human nature, and although a saved person wouldn’t (I don’t think) be thinking that all the time, I couldn’t blame the person for thinking it on occasion.
Of course this is just unimportant speculation; Jesus was very capable of healing a person’s physical infirmities and he did so here, too. Based on how the rest of the passage plays out it looks like the only reason Jesus doesn’t initially heal the man’s paralysis is that he wants to make this point to the scribes in the room. He had every intention of healing the man both spiritually and physically; he did it in this particular way to make his point to the scribes. (In what is, in my opinion, a rather dramatic way.)
Speaking of which, my initial reaction to the scribes’ reaction is that… yes, they’re absolutely correct. It’s true: Only God can forgive sins, and for anyone other than God to have told that man that his sins were forgiven it would have been blasphemy. I can’t forgive your sins, and neither can my pastor, and neither can anyone else; only God can. The key point that the scribes are obviously missing is that Jesus is God.
So Jesus proves this to the scribes by healing the man and sending him on his way. And I wonder to myself: When it says in verse 12 that they were all amazed, and glorified God saying that they’d never seen anything like that, did the “all” include the scribes? Were they convinced by this action that Jesus really is God?
The deeper reality of course is that it’s actually easier to heal the man’s paralysis than to forgive the man’s sins; both are impossible for humans—perhaps with modern medicine we can heal paralysis, or will be able to someday—but for Jesus, who can do both, it’s actually easier to heal the paralysis than to forgive the man’s sins. But when he claims that the man’s sins are forgiven, for the people sitting around him it is sort of an unprovable thing; how are they to know that the man’s sins are really forgiven? The natural assumption would be that Jesus really is a blasphemer, and that nothing has actually happened. But the healing of the man’s paralysis is indisputable; that can’t be argued. It proves that Jesus really does have power, and the people around Jesus recognize that the power being displayed is the power of God.
Incidentally, when Jesus’ first response is to tell the man that his sins are forgiven, I don’t think it means that the man’s paralysis is the result of some sin(s) that he has committed; in other words, I don’t think that he has been punished by God by being paralyzed. We definitely know from passages such as John 9 (ESV) or Luke 13:1–5 (ESV) that not all physical ailments or other problems in this life come as a result of punishment for sin, so technically this might be a punishment for the man’s sin or it might not be. But I don’t see anything in the passage that indicates that it is, and unless the Bible specifically attributes something to punishment for sin I never assume that it is. This man seems to have been paralyzed for the same reason that the man in John 9 was born blind: to demonstrate God’s power.