One day, while he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting nearby (they had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem); and the power of the Lord was with him to heal. Just then some men came, carrying a paralysed man on a bed. They were trying to bring him in and lay him before Jesus; 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. When he saw their faith, he said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven you.’ Then the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, ‘Who is this who is speaking blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ When Jesus perceived their questionings, he answered them, ‘Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, “Your sins are forgiven you”, or to say, “Stand up and walk”? 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 paralysed—‘I say to you, stand up and take your bed and go to your home.’ Immediately he stood up before them, took what he had been lying on, and went to his home, glorifying God. Amazement seized all of them, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, ‘We have seen strange things today.’
What a puzzling story. There is a crowd, Luke mentions Pharisees in his usual judgemental way, a man is dropped through a roof, and some political jostling conversations roll out alongside a miracle. What gives?
The forgiveness is a puzzle. Why forgive the paralysed man before healing? Is this the old chestnut about sin causing illness? We read in John’s gospel that there is no connection, so what is going on with the earlier Luke? One reading is that Jesus was showing his power to his own Jewish community, by declaring forgiveness – something immediately interpreted as blasphemy. Another puzzle is those friends who worked this man to the centre of the crowd. Were they desperate for a friend, or wanting to join Jesus in demonstrating just who he was?
Often, I feel sorry for those healed by Jesus. Many people turn into object lessons: “So that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…” The man is healed so that Jesus can demonstrate that he has authority. Were I the man, I’m not sure that I would mind, but it doesn’t feel very personal. It doesn’t feel loving in the particular, but we know that it’s loving in the long run.
Where is Good News? “We saw strange things today,” says the crowd. God is God of simple and strange. However illness happens, God brings wholeness – the physical result not always what we anticipate. However our lives are lived, God always forgives. Always. Jesus’ actions were indeed object lessons – each and every one. They are millennia old testimony to the power and love of God. God in Jesus doesn’t have to make sense; we need the faith to live in the mystery, prepared to be loved and forgiven, and be prepared to share the strangeness where we can.
Awesome God, we often want things to make sense and they don’t. Let us live with your love and healing whether that makes sense to us or not. Let us share your stories and let them make the difference they will make. In our conversations about your Jesus life, open our eyes to new truth. By your Holy Spirit, enliven our faith with no need for answers. Amen and amen.
The Rev’d Elizabeth Gray-King, URC Education & Learning Programme Officer, member St Columba’s URC (Oxford)