By Pastor Jeff Fox-Kline
17 One day, while he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting near by (they had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem); and the power of the Lord was with him to heal. 18 Just then some men came, carrying a paralyzed man on a bed. They were trying to bring him in and lay him before Jesus; 19 but finding no way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the middle of the crowd in front of Jesus. 20 When he saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven you.” 21 Then the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, “Who is this who is speaking blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 22 When Jesus perceived their questionings, he answered them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? 23 Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’? 24 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the one who was paralyzed—“I say to you, stand up and take your bed and go to your home.” 25 Immediately he stood up before them, took what he had been lying on, and went to his home, glorifying God. 26 Amazement seized all of them, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen strange things today.”
Tracy Ebarb from the Medical Benevolence Foundation joined us in worship on Sunday, and I was thrilled to share worship with him. If you want to learn more about some incredible work by the Medical Benevolence Foundation you can click here (https://medicalmission.org/?fbclid=IwAR30k8vFNCMTOwA-aS-Wmjn0dmb-4c4hmOSDlXM7yu1tT169f0vNJbnLepE). The work they do is amazing, and the way they do it respects the autonomy and leadership of the places they serve. They’re responsible and faithful and we are blessed to be able to support them.
Tracy’s sermon was a dramatization of the story of the paralytic who was lowered by his friends to be healed by Jesus. One thing that I really respected about the sermon was you could tell he did his research without making it obvious. The little details and specificity was really instructive. Check it out if you have the time.
The story is a powerful and dramatic testament to the reality of Jesus as containing the power of God that lived through him. He forgave sins and healed. He did so despite the accusations of blasphemy and proved God’s power in the process.
But I do wonder how the man felt when Jesus told him “Your sins are forgiven”. I’m going to ignore Tracy’s (more accurate) interpretation of the passage, because it really amuses me to think about this.
Just picture it – you’ve been paralyzed for years, outcast and ostracized. And then a great healer with the power of God comes to town and your time has finally come. Your friends show incredible loyalty and bring you to the house. No obstacle will not be overcome. They climb to the roof! And you finally make it. This is your chance! You’ve been paralyzed for so long. You’re down there in front of the healer, he looks down on you with compassion and says…
“Your sins are forgiven” . . .
. . . Can you imagine how disappointing that must have been? You came all that way for ONE THING, and when you finally get there…
With all due credit to Alanis Morissette, “It’s like ten thousand spoons, when all you need is a knife”.
And then a bunch of guys start arguing about whether or not it was cool of Jesus to say that, and you’re just lying there on the ground watching this go on.
But then the magic happens, and you can finally walk again. Phew.
But did we need to take that time to get there?
It was a great way to illustrate a point about who Jesus was – a sort of “you think forgiving sins is hard? Watch this”. And it drove home the point that Jesus power was truly from God, that the forgiveness of sins was real, and that the accusations of blasphemy crashed hard into the reality of Jesus’ holiness.
The story tells us that the guy who was healed went off glorifying God, which is right and good. But I wonder if he ever looked back at that time and realized he was healed in order to teach people a lesson. I wonder how he felt about that. I can’t imagine he has any bad feelings about the day, and I’m guessing that having his sins forgiven was as wonderful as the healing itself (Once again, Tracy made this point very eloquently). But I wonder if there was ever a day where he thought “what if Jesus was never accused of blasphemy? Where would I be now”? or “why couldn’t he have just healed me? I didn’t really want to be the object lesson of the day”
As a pastor, I preach sermons. In these sermons I sometimes tell stories. Sometimes they’re my stories, but sometimes they belong to others. Stories of hope, or love, or faith, or compassion. And the way I know these stories are because they’re public. I’m not going to tell a personal story without asking permission. So I know the stories are out there, and at that point they leave the possession of those in the stories. I wonder if I’ve ever told a story about someone where if they heard it, they’d resent being used as a lesson. I don’t know, and I likely will never know. But I hope that the stories I tell and the ways I talk about people honor who they are, not just who they were in the moment of the story.
Pastor Jeff Fox-Kline