“Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. Not that we were competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. Since we have such a hope, we are very bold.”Paul, II Corinthians 3:4, 5, 12
Grace proclaims the awesome truth that all is a gift. All that is good is ours not by our right but by the sheer bounty of a gracious God. While there is much we have earned – our degree and salary, our home and garden, a Miller Lite and a good night’s sleep – all this is possible only because we have been given so much: life itself, eyes to see and hands to touch, a mind to shape ideas, and a heart to beat with love. We have been given God in our souls and Christ in our flesh. We have the power to believe when others deny, to hope where others despair, to love where others hurt. This and so much more is a sheer gift; it is not reward for our faithfulness, our generous disposition, our heroic life of prayer. Even our fidelity is a gift. “If we but turn to God,” said St. Augustine, “that itself is a gift of God.” My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.
– Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel
17One day as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law, who had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem, were sitting there. And the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick. 18Some men came carrying a paralytic on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. 19When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.
20When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”
21The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
22Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? 23Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? 24But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins….” He said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” 25Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God. 26Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, “We have seen remarkable things today.”Luke 5:17-26
Jesus is out teaching the good news of the kingdom of God – this is the starting point for many of our encounters. He is not out actively looking for people to heal, rather they come to him. Word is spreading, as we just observed in the last encounter.
Jesus has by now attracted not only seekers and followers, but also caught the interest of skeptics and opponents, “Pharisees and teachers of the law, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem.” The growing awareness of Jesus’ healing power (“the power of the Lord was present with him to heal the sick”) continues to attract people in need of healing from all over as well.
In this encounter, it is so crowded in the house that Jesus is teaching in, the friends of the paralytic need to bust a hole in the roof in order to lower their friend down to Jesus. Visualize this: Jesus standing before a crowd on all sides and now a crippled body descending down “right in front” of him . . . chaos.
We saw in the last encounter how Jesus responded to the faith of the leper that approached him in humility and faith; falling on his face in front of Jesus he says, “if you are willing, you can make me clean.” In this case, Jesus responds to the audacious faith of the friends of the paralytic in need of healing – they are presumably still on the roof holding the ropes they used to lower the man, gazing down at Jesus and their friend now lying in front of him.
The paralytic’s friends did whatever they had to do to get to Jesus. They were desperate and clearly believed that Jesus could/would act, hence their bold and unorthodox approach to access Jesus (the effort to haul the limp body of their friend up onto the roof in the first place is a faith statement in and of itself). The passage says that Jesus responded, “when he saw their faith,” referring to the faith of the man’s friends.
Our faith that God desires to bring healing to friends’ lives is honored by God and should be actively pursued. We should be “lowering friends through the roof” to Jesus in active prayer, with an unwavering belief that our loving and powerful Master can, and is indeed willing to, heal.
As the man descends before him, Jesus first says: “Friend your sins are forgiven.” While Jesus has the power to do this, one can’t help but think this overt statement serves to challenge those in the audience who are there to catch him in error or blasphemy.
True to form, the Pharisees are about to make just such an accusation. Jesus “knew what they were thinking.” As noted, he likely knew what they would be thinking before he issued the pardon. Jesus’ response is to preempt their thoughts with a question: “Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or say, ‘Get up and walk?’
It is, to the naked eye, easier to say to someone that his sins are forgiven than to instruct him to get up and walk and then actually have a paralyzed person do so; in reality, the ability to forgive sin trumps physical healing (there are examples of healings through followers of Jesus later on, but only God can forgive sin). However, because the tangible example of seeing a crippled man get up and walk is a proof statement of Jesus’ divinity – hence supporting the claim that he can forgive sin – he proceeds with the healing.
“But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins . . . I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” Jesus uses the visible and temporal (physical healing) to support his claim to do the invisible and eternal (forgiving sin).
While physical healing, emotional healing or relational healing are all good things that we should have faith God can and will do, spiritual healing – occurring when people embrace God’s grace through Jesus – is the ultimate healing that takes precedence over all others. This is available to every human that walks the earth right now, but, to Brennan Manning’s point above (and in Scripture concerning election and predestination), even our ability to believe and receive grace itself is a gift from God. In spite of our present need for healing in other areas, we should be brimming with gratitude that we have been fully healed in the only way that transcends our lives on earth to eternity. We should likewise crave this for those around us who have not received this grace.
The man immediately stands up, rolls up his mat and “went home praising God.” “Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God.” Healing is a primary means Jesus uses to reveal himself – it brings glory to God and results in people becoming his followers. This brings Jesus’ reading from the scroll in Luke 4 full circle: healing and his “preaching of the kingdom of God” go hand-in-glove in moving those who seek to active response. May we have faith that God can heal us and our brothers and sisters in Christ in all the ways we need to be healed beyond the ultimate healing we have already experienced, and may we be used as his instruments to participate in the healing of others, to God’s glory.
May we likewise desire the ultimate healing – receiving God’s grace and salvation in Christ – for those around us that are not yet Jesus’ followers and be as fervent as the paralytic’s friends in pursuing this desire through prayer, words and action.
“The path of the righteous is the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day. Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you. Make level the paths of your feet and take only ways that are firm.”Proverbs 4:18, 25, 26
“I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs. I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body will also rest secure. You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasure at your right hand.”Psalm 16: 7-9, 11