Note: We will have our normal 10 AM stay-in-your car worship service this Sunday, but there will also be a 9:30 AM Memorial Day service on Monday in the church cemetery. The American Legion from Waconia will be here to lead a short service and 21 gun salute. Please come, but remember that we need to maintain social distancing for everyone’s safety. Wear a mask if you have one. If you don’t have a mask, we can get you one.
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
So, Jesus returns to the hometown of at least two of the four fisherman he called in the first chapter. We assume that he returns to Simon Peter’s house, but we can’t be sure. Even this early in his ministry, Jesus is welcomed and followed by large crowds. So far, not much has been told of his teachings, but he is first known as a healer.
The story of the group of friends who lowered the paralyzed man on the mat is well known. House’s weren’t too substantial in those days, but I doubt the homeowner was pleased with the hole in his roof. Jesus is impressed by the faith of the men that brought the paralyzed man, and he says, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” But is forgiveness what the friends were hoping for? Perhaps they thought the paralyzed man was dying and they were looking for a blessing, but most people would assume that they were looking for a physical healing instead of forgiveness.
We will eventually see that physical healing is secondary to what really matters most. Jesus has come into the world to bring atonement, a renewal of the relationship between humanity and God. Throughout the long centuries since God made his covenant with Abraham, the relationship between God and the people has become more and more distant. This failing relationship is similar to that of children who have left home, but have little contact with their parents because they are ashamed of how poorly they are doing.
The dictionary definition of sin is “an immoral act considered to be a transgression against divine law.” The divine law is not an arbitrary set of rules, but is a code of behavior that makes living in community possible. God’s law has many parts, but some of the essentials are listed in the Ten Commandments. To have a safe and secure community or nation, you need to prohibit murder, theft, and other transgressions while supporting family responsibility and devotion to God. God does not need our service, but we have a need to serve God if we are to be caretakers of his world and neighbors to his children.
These sins are what build a barrier between us and God. With each rule we break, the relationship deteriorates more and more. That is why we are called to turn back to God (called “repentance”). God does not need to punish us for sins because each sin carries its own punishment. Each evil thing we do distances us from God and our community. A person who lies is not trusted. A person who murders has thoroughly compromised their relationship to the human race. A person who does anything shameful is burdened with a need for continual secrecy. So, the goal of the divine law is not to suppress us, but to enable us to live in peace with ourselves, each other, and God.
I have brought forward all this groundwork to understand why Jesus forgives the man’s sins instead of healing his body immediately. The reason is that our spiritual and emotional brokenness needs to be healed for us to live with God forever. The healing of any physical wound is only good for while we live this short and complicated life on Earth. Since the forgiveness of sin relates to eternity and all physical healing is temporary, spiritual healing is always seen as more important than physical healing. Even death is preferable to having a spirit lost in continual rejection of God’s love and the life to come. This resembles the sentiment of “better to die a hero than live as a coward,” but it goes much deeper: It is better for death to be a door into eternal life, than to live in fear and denial until death brings extinction.
So, Jesus forgives the man on the mat, and it upsets people who came along to criticize Jesus.
Now some teachers of the law (Scribes) were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
We get the sense that the atmosphere among groups of believers (like the Pharisees, Scribes, the Zealots, and Sadducees) was very confrontational. By the way he talked and the content of his teaching, most people would assume that Jesus was a Pharisee. This immediately made most groups resistant to him, and it made the Pharisees wish he would follow their guidance and behave like an obedient member of their party. Eventually, every established religious group would turn against him for failing to live up to their warped expectations. He was still a Jew, but not in full agreement with any of their political divisions.
Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat 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 man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”
So, Jesus takes this opportunity to heal the man in two stages. He says that the healing of the man’s body should prove that he has the authority to forgive sins. Then the healing comes so swiftly and completely that Jesus reminds the man to take his mat when he leaves. I can only imagines that the healed man’s friends are over-joyed. And the people are amazed.
Why did the Scribes accuse Jesus of blasphemy? Because Jesus forgave sins on God’s behalf. The Scribes thought that you could forgive people who had done you wrong, but you could not forgive people who had done God wrong. Just as it would be weird for me to forgive a neighbor for burning down my sister’s house. My words of forgiveness only makes sense if my sister has asked me to forgive the neighbor on her behalf. So, for Jesus to forgive a person for all their sins, he must be speaking on behalf of God. It is blasphemy if he is just a misguided man, but it is holy if he actually speaks for God. Either way, it impressed the crowd and probably scared the Scribes.
Questions to Ponder: “How do you think it felt to be the person carried and lowered to Jesus? And what would you feel in response to his forgiveness… and the healing of your body?”