Jesus Forgives and Heals the Paralyzed Man:
Sermon for Healing Service,
Psalm 103, James 5: 13 – 16, Mathew 9: 1 – 8
This is classic Jesus — a healing, and a controversy We are, in this time and this space, quite used to hearing these healing stories. The fact that Jesus was a healer during the time of his ministry on earth is not news to us. That Jesus forgives our sins, is also not earth shattering news for those who are regular church goers. So when we hear a bible story of forgiveness and healing, I wonder if we no longer hear the fullness of the impact Jesus made in his lifetime ; and the effect he had on the people in the communities to whom he ministered—let alone what that can mean for us in our lives today.
So let’s try to hear this story with new ears. Consider, two millennia ago, Jesus healed a paralyzed man. Now, even with all our specialized doctors and technology, all the amazing medical advances of even the last two decades, modern medicine and science still can’t heal those who are paralyzed. This paralyzed man had some friends who believed strongly enough in Jesus’ ability to heal, that they carried a fully grown man, on a mattress to Jesus. And Jesus, being Jesus, knew the depth of their faith, and heals the paralyzed man. Yes, that is awe-some, no matter when or to whom it happened. And oh so very worthy of glory and praise to the power of God in this man, Jesus the Christ. Who else could heal a paralyzed man beside one with the power of God? I mean, really! Truly, think about it — and think about it the scribes obviously did, and they were not happy campers.
What is of note in this story, is how Jesus goes about this healing. It’s as though Jesus was deliberately trying to get the crowd to give some thought as to who he was because of what he was able to do. Otherwise, why would he have said what he did? He could have gone directly to the “Stand up, take your bed and go to your home” part. And the crowds still would have been awestruck by the power in this man. But he didn’t do it that way, he begins this healing episode with “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” It’s like he’s provoking them, pushing them to think beyond their accepted patterns of belief. Just who is this guy that he can actually forgive sins? In fact, who does he really think he is anyway? Only God forgives sins – that was in their scriptures, the Hebrew Bible. We sang it in our psalm for today, “The Lord forgives your sins and heals all your disease”. (paraphrase Ps103 v3) And don’t forget, the psalms were written way before Jesus’ time, so the “Lord” in the Psalms is the Lord God Almighty.
Let’s also remember that in ancient times it was common belief that the illnesses and bodily dysfunctions that beset people were caused by evil spirits, and evil befell those who were sinful. Sickness, accidents and the like were brought about as a result of sinful behaviour on the part of those who were stricken. So those suffering in some way with ill health, well somehow they had brought it onto themselves, they’d done something wrong and deserved the consequences of the sinful behaviour, even if the stricken one wasn’t sure for just what sin.
So by Jesus saying to the paralyzed man on the bed, “Take heart son, your sins are forgiven”, and later telling him to get up, roll up his mattress and go home, this was a full and complete message that this extraordinary healing was done in the power of God, by one with the power and authority of God to do so. And that Jesus was the one with the power and the authority of God, the Father Almighty. And this was akin to saying he was like God. No wonder the scribes were upset. Now, the scribes were the teachers of the Laws of Moses, and this statement went totally against all Jewish teaching, for them this was blasphemy. They couldn’t get past that idea, get past their training, their traditional thinking. They saw what happened, heard what happened, were right there when this extraordinary event happened– but refused to believe. I do think Jesus was being provocative by taking this tact, it’s like: “Wake up and smell the coffee folks, who else could do this but one given the authority of God!” Who else can forgives sin?
So, what is sin? This is a complex theological question, discussed, debated and studied by the brightest of theologians and mystics for centuries, one which I will not be able to solve for you in a short homily, to be sure! But sin is a concept we all need to understand, one that is important to understand; one that takes a life time to get a good handle on. And maybe I can shed a little light on it for you.
What is crucial to remember, in fact something to never forget, to hold onto with both hands, so to speak, is that God is our Creator, our Father, our Mother and loves us like crazy, and wants nothing more than to be in a loving relationship with us. God wants wholeness for us, completeness, to be at one with God, for us to be well and whole, in body mind and spirit. As parents, what do we want for our children? We want nothing more than goodness for them, and we do what we can – and go to great lengths as parents sometimes– to do just that. We love our kids, regardless of what they do. We don’t always like what they do, maybe don’t even always like them, but we never stop loving them, any more than God can stop loving us, we who are God’s Children. Jesus explained it like this in the gospel of Luke:
“… if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead? 12 Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not! 13 So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” (11.11-13)
We, in our humanity, are less than perfect. And we want nothing more than to keep a loving and caring relationship between us and our children, our parents, our grandchildren. Yet, those relationships are seldom ideal either—for oh so many different reasons and causes. Rifts between parents and children this can cause us great grief. God, our heavenly parent wants nothing more than a loving, caring relationship with us too. And as God looks upon humanity, I’m sure the way we behave saddens God too. While it’s not a perfect analogy, to compare the relationships between parents and children to our relationship with our heavenly parent, I think can be helpful for us to understand this aspect of God. It is one Jesus used too in the parable of the prodigal son. Things we do and don’t do, things we say and don’t say, and the thinking that guides our behaviours—both good and bad, very much determine what our relationship with our children and with our parents is like. And so it is with our relationship with God, with the exception of course that God is always there for us—
regardless. However, as much as we sin, as we widen the gap, or build a higher wall between ourselves and God, it is never insurmountable—God in Christ is always there when we are ready. In fact Jesus even calls us, but we don’t always hear, or like the scribes in our story, even want to hear. Yet, we know God always, always welcomes us back, forgives us and never, never stops loving us. God can be no other way, because God by God’s very nature is Love. And, as the apostle Paul reminded us, nothing, nothing can separate us from the love of God. (Romans 8: 39). And Christ’s gave us his Holy Spirit to be with us.
Our sins are what cause a separation, a rift in our relationship with God. It’s like an incompleteness in the relationship between God and ourselves. That’s what can prevents the flow of the Spirit’s love and care to us and through us, and stops us from being in full union, in fullness, in oneness, in full communion with God. It’s like a hole in us that only God can fill. Sin “is the state of living outside of union”1 with our Creator.
That’s why Jesus came to earth, God born into a human frame, to walk among God’s children, to show us God’s way to live as true children of God, following Jesus’ example. That’s what it means to be Christian, to follow the way of God; as taught, as shown by Jesus—so we find our way back to union with God, with our Creator. As we open our souls to God’s healing Spirit, as we spend more time in prayer and contemplation, we come closer to God, in thought, word and deed. It is a releasing within ourselves, of wanting to do things our own way, instead of fulfilling our ego’s desires we fulfill God’s loving desires for us. And in so doing fulfill that longing within each of us, the longing we all have for God’s forgiving and healing love. And we change, we come closer to God, our hurts heal, our pain heals, and we grow spiritually—and we become closer to Jesus, and we want to live the way Jesus taught. This is the ultimate “letting go and letting God.”
And this, my friends, is our raisin d’être, our reason for being, this is our life-long spiritual journey, to come closer and closer to God’s will for us, to be healed of those sins that block us from a complete and loving relationship with our Creator, and to become one with God.
The Anglican Parish of Hanover – Durham
The Rev. JoAnn Todd
1 Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation for August 21, 2017. Received via email.